Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger bases much of his defense of the deep cuts to public schools in the Republican budget on two things, that the cuts will not affect the classroom and that the state’s low high school graduation rate is evidence that the current education system is broken.
Reports from school systems across the state prove that the first claim is not true. Teachers and teacher assistants are losing their jobs every day thanks to the cuts in the budget.
Local school systems have nowhere else to go but the classroom to make the discretionary cuts the budget demands and Berger knows it, or he ought to. Virtually any superintendent or principal can tell him that his talking point about protecting teachers is off base.
A report released Tuesday by Education Week proves that Berger’s assertion about the state’s graduation rate is also false. Berger claims almost every day that the state’s ranking of 43rd in the percentage of students who graduate from high school shows that recent investments in schools have not paid off.
The Education Week report, 2011 Diplomas Count, finds that the North Carolina’s graduation rate is now 72.8 percent, ranking the state 25th in the nation, not 43rd, and is now above the national average for the first time in the state’s history.
The report also shows that North Carolina’s graduation rate improved more in the last ten years than all but one other state.
The graduation rate for African American female students led the nation at 79.5 percent and the rate for African American students overall was third highest at 72.3 percent.
There is still plenty of work to do. The new graduation rate means that more than one in four ninth graders still do not receive a diploma four years later, but North Carolina schools are clearly moving in the right direction, not stalled and floundering as Berger suggests.
Berger’s response to the report was to first question its validity, an odd response given that past Diplomas Count reports often have been cited by conservative legislators and right-wing think tanks alike when the results pointed out the struggles of North Carolina schools.
Berger’s second reaction was to declare that the numbers are “nothing to brag about” since roughly 30 percent of students still don’t graduate. The point isn’t to brag about the numbers, it is to recognize that the state is making significant progress in the very area that Berger likes to cite to support his claim that the schools are failing.
Berger is wrong about North Carolina schools. They are heading in right direction, at least for now.
One ranking he never seems to mention is how the state fares in per-pupil spending, where North Carolina is currently 46th.
The budget Berger and his Republican colleagues support would drop that to 49th, just below Mississippi.
If Berger is sincere about his efforts to help North Carolina schools, he can do two things immediately.
He can stop misrepresenting the facts about graduation rate and the impact of the budget cuts he proposes.
And most importantly, he can rethink his support for the ill-advised, education crushing budget that slashes funding at the very time our schools are making progress.