Commentary

That’s funny – Berger and Johnson didn’t oppose January education rally

Sen. Phil Berger

Supt. Mark Johnson

State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson have been voicing opposition to the big teacher-led education rally that’s taking shape next Wednesday in Raleigh. Berger attacked the one-day event and even likened it to a teacher strike, which he proceeded to describe in a thinly veiled threat as “illegal.” Johnson also criticized the rally because it is on a school day and said he would not attend.

Funny that neither Berger nor Johnson raised such concerns earlier this year when conservative school choice advocates – including teachers, parents and students – held a rally in Raleigh on, Tuesday, January 23 – a school day.

At that time, Johnson thought it appropriate not just to endorse the event, but to attend and serve as a featured speaker. Johnson told the crowd:

“I’m excited to celebrate school choice and I’m excited to celebrate the fact that North Carolina is actually one of the leading states in our nation, giving choices to students and parents for them to decide the best way they learn.”

For his part, Berger took to his Facebook page on January 25 to praise the event and to celebrate Johnson’s appearance. Neither voiced any concerns about teachers and students missing school for a day.

As this morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal observes, Berger, Johnson and other state leaders ought to be taking the same approach to next week’s event – not playing partisan and ideological games:

“We encourage our state representatives and senators to take the time to meet educators and hear what they have to say.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, who hasn’t always been treated kindly by the teachers’ union, says he won’t attend, but he should. The event has not been billed as a ‘protest,’ as he’s stated, but as a rally that will focus on such issues as teacher pay, per pupil spending, classroom resources, school safety and more, the Journal reported….

It’s an understatement to say that our schools have not been supported as well as they should have been over the last decade — longer, really. Teachers and students have to deal daily with crumbling school buildings, out-of-date textbooks and a lack of other resources. Our legislature has prioritized tax cuts for the wealthy over preparing the next generation to take the reins and lead our state into success.

Several teachers’ groups across the country have gone on strike to gain better pay and working conditions. Ours are asking for a conversation. That’s not unreasonable.”

The bottom line: The Journal editorial is on the money. Neither man is going to do any good by treating teachers as the enemy for speaking out for better state policies. Both should get over their selective amnesia and start working with teachers rather than against them.

Commentary

Editorial: The nine questions legislators need to answer when teachers descend on Raleigh next week

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com. Among other things, the editorial (“Next week legislators should greet teachers as partners, not the enemy”) lists nine questions that lawmakers need to answer next week when thousands of teachers come to Raleigh:

  • Why is it that North Carolina teachers earn 5 percent less, on average, than they did before the recession (when adjusted for inflation)?
  • Why do legislators force educators to wallow, year after year, in uncertainty by making school funding decisions at the last minute?
  • Why has pay stagnated for the most experienced classroom teachers?
  • Why has the number of teaching assistants been cut by 7,500?
  • Why are family health insurance premiums taking a bigger bite out of teacher pay checks?
  • Why is a new pay plan for school principals actually resulting in many seeing a pay cut?Why isn’t there money for basic classroom supplies and textbooks for students?
  • Why are legislators mandating cuts in students per classroom, but not providing funding to build the new classrooms the mandate necessitates?
  • Why is staffing for school nurses and counselors so far below industry standards?
  • Why aren’t teachers compensated on the same basis, and at the same rate, as other professionals who must have similar education, training and credentials?

Keep your fingers crossed that legislative leaders do the right thing and heed the headline in the editorial. But don’t hold your breath.

Commentary, News

Multiple incumbents lose in party primaries

Congressman Robert Pittenger

Rep. Duane Hall

Though turnout was typically low, North Carolina’s primary election wasn’t without some notable fireworks last night. Topping the headlines was the defeat of Charlotte-area congressman Robert Pittenger, who lost the Republican primary in the 9th congressional district to Mark Harris — a far right preacher. Harris will face Democratic nominee Dan McCready — a marine combat veteran — in the fall. National analysts were quick to upgrade the prospects of Democrats to capture the GOP-leaning seat, as Harris is seen as a much weaker general election candidate than Pittenger.

Incumbents and/or one time incumbents suffering defeat in state legislative primaries included:

  • State Rep. Duane Hall of Raleigh, a Democrat, who lost overwhelmingly to political newcomer Allison Dahle. Hall, of course, was the subject of a Policy Watch investigation earlier this year in which multiple witnesses came forward to accuse the lawmaker of inappropriate sexual conduct.
  • State Rep. Justin Burr of Stanly County, who lost convincingly to his Republican challenger Wayne Sasser. Burr, a bail bond agent and powerful committee chair at the General Assembly, has been the driving force behind controversial GOP efforts to remake the state judiciary.
  • Former State Senator Bob Rucho, now a member of the UNC Board of Governors. Rucho lost in an attempt at a political comeback to Vickie Sawyer in the Republican primary in Senate district 34 — a location far from his former district in Mecklenburg County.
  • State Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte, who came in a distant third in the Democratic primary in the 99th House district to newcomer Nasif Majeed.
  • State Senator Joel Ford,  a conservative Democrat who was defeated in his bid last year for Mayor of Charlotte. Ford lost by more than 10 percentage points to Mujtaba Mohammed in Senate district 38.
  • State Rep. Beverly Boswell from the Outer Banks who faced criticism for controversial remarks on multiple issues and incorrectly describing herself as a nurse despite not being licensed as one. Boswell lost by six points to Currituck County commissioner Bobby Hanig.

You can check out all state and local election results by clicking here.

Commentary

Another danger signal regarding our investments in public schools

It’s already clear that North Carolina educators are badly underpaid – especially in comparison to people with similar education levels who work in the private sector. According to one study, North Carolina ranks 49th in this important category.

But there are other measurements that demonstrate North Carolina’s disinvestment in public schools over the last decade. Take the sheer number of teachers for example. The latest edition of the NC Budget and Tax Center’s “Prosperity Watch” series explains:

Operating a quality public school system is one of the primary responsibilities of state government. North Carolina’s Constitution and general statutes place a particularly high level of responsibility on state lawmakers. Our constitution requires the General Assembly to “provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools,” and our statutes clarify that the state government is entirely responsible for providing schools’ operating funds.

When it comes to operating expenses, no input is more important than the classroom teacher. Studies consistently demonstrate that the teacher is the most important in-school factor for student success. Smaller class sizes allow teachers to personalize instruction and provide more hands-on assistance to struggling students. Further, investing in teachers provides an important signaling effect, enticing families of means to keep their children in the public school system and thus providing the socio-economic mix in the classroom that has been demonstrated to support children’s learning. A recent study in California found that performance of all students rose after smaller class sizes created greater socio-economic integration in the public schools.

Despite what we know about the importance of teachers, North Carolina lawmakers have failed in recent years to prioritize investment in teachers.

The number of state-funded teachers per student fell during the Great Recession, as revenue shortfalls required substantial budget reductions. But even though our state’s economy has begun to rebound, lawmakers have failed to restore state investment in teachers to pre-Recession levels. While per-capita state wealth is nearing pre-Recession levels, investment in teaching positions remains flat. Rather than restoring investment in our public schools, North Carolina lawmakers have prioritized tax cuts that have mostly benefited corporations and the wealthy.

These tax cuts have made it increasingly unlikely the state will ever fully restore investments in our inclusive public school system. Recent-year tax cuts are reducing state revenues by approximately $3.5 billion. A further round of tax cuts that go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, will reduce state revenues by another $900 million. Restoring the number of state-funded teachers to pre-Recession levels would cost approximately $249 million.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

The warm-up for November has arrived

Granted, there will be a lot more on the line six months from now when the first fully-fledged opportunity to render a verdict on Trumpism arrives, but today’s primary election is extremely important as well.

As this morning’s Wilmington Star News explains in its lead editorial:

“This is your time to govern. On Election Day, the PEOPLE are in session

Are citizens going to put a ballot where their mouth is?

Political passions have been running high since Donald Trump’s victory. Marchers have hit the streets and social media is in maximum overdrive on all sides. Not a day goes by that we don’t receive a letter and/or a swarm of Buzzes with passionate political pleas.

But talk is cheap — political energy is for naught unless people vote. And May 8 is a big test, as North Carolina voters choose candidates for Nov. 6, the first post-Trump-win general election. While Trump’s name is not on the ballot, his presidency looms large over today’s primary — perhaps not on specific issues, but certainly on general political direction and party momentum.

Primaries, of course, are intraparty affairs — there are no clashes among D’s, R’s and L’s today, but turnout and which candidates get their party’s backing should provide some insight on what to expect this fall….

With political passions seemingly high on all sides, we hope to see a better-than-usual turnout. Granted, we’ll take greater civic engagement any way we can get it, but voter turnout shouldn’t have to rely on passions running high. We should stay informed about our government and vote regularly, not because we are angry or suddenly motivated by a big issue, but because it’s our primary responsibility as citizens in a representative democracy.

So give someone a ride to the polls; take your children or grandchildren (school is out for many) and let them see democracy in action; vote in honor or in memory of a veteran, perhaps one who died so you could exercise this right.

Whatever it takes, get out today and perform your most important civic responsibility. If you voted early, thank you.

Remember, this is your time to govern. On Election Day, the PEOPLE are in session, and there is work to be done. How can we legitimately criticize our leaders for not fulfilling their governing duties if we do not fulfill our own?

Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. You can find your polling place and a sample ballot at vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup