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State Superintendent’s new parent advisory group will have an odd and worrisome makeup

Superintendent Catherine Truitt

As Policy Watch education reporter Greg Childress reported on Wednesday, state schools Superintendent Catherine Truitt is establishing a new “Parent Advisory Commission” — the members of which she says, will be charged with sharing “their aspirations for public education in the state” and discussing “challenges it faces, helping to put together recommendations for elected officials and policy makers in North Carolina, while providing direct feedback to Truitt.”

Ok. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea. One might have thought that Truitt would already have numerous tools at her disposal for obtaining parental input, but if she wants to establish a new group to provide suggestions and feedback in a more formal and organized fashion, that’s certainly her prerogative. One hopes that the parents selected will speak up loudly and often about our underfunded and threadbare schools and the huge challenge they face these days in recruiting and keeping quality educators during an era of low pay and sustained assaults on their profession by the political right.

Unfortunately, Truitt’s announcement contained a bright red flag which indicates that strong support for repairing our battered and struggling public schools is unlikely to be a top priority for this group.

Take a look at how the announcement said the members of this new group will be selected. The first part makes sense:

“The 48-member advisory board will include six parents or guardians from each of the state’s eight educational regions…”

But now check this part out — the announcement indicates that each of the eight regional groups will consist of representatives from:

“…2 traditional public schools, 1 charter public school, 1 homeschool, 1 private school, and 1 at-large public-school member from the largest county in each region, including: Buncombe, Catawba, Cumberland, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Pitt, Wake.”

You got that?

In a state in which traditional public schools number in the thousands, still represent the overwhelming majority, and educate the overwhelming majority of students, parents representing that population will apparently be guaranteed only 33% of the seats.

Another third of the seats will be allocated to private and home schools — schools over which the superintendent has no meaningful oversight authority and that are, in many places, working aggressively to undermine public education. Meanwhile charter schools — a group outnumbered by traditional public schools more than ten-to-one, and of which many are “public” in a very limited sense — get at least one out of six seats (and maybe more depending on how the provision regarding representatives from large counties is interpreted).

This isn’t a plan for constructing a truly representative group designed to bolster our public education system; by all appearances it’s an ideologically-driven scheme designed to advance (or, at least, provide cover for) the right’s destructive school privatization agenda.

But, of course, given Truitt’s disappointing performance during her first year in office — a period in which her early talk of finding common ground and building bridges was quickly abandoned in favor of playing the role of loyal lackey to the ultraconservative Republican majorities at the General Assembly, their cheapskate budgets, and absurd racism-tinged blather about Critical Race Theory — it comes as little surprise.

The bottom line: Maybe the group Truitt selects will surprise and act as something other than a rubber stamp/cheerleader for the right’s longstanding to effort to reverse decades — even centuries — of progress the world of public education. Hope springs eternal. But right now, that hope seems like a very thin reed upon which to hang one’s hat.

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