The transparent election-year conversion on education

The transparent election-year conversion on education

- in Fitzsimon File


Here we go again. The propaganda machines on the Right are kicking back into high gear, trying to convince us in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary that the folks currently running the General Assembly are actually big supporters of public schools.

The evidence they offer is this year’s teacher raise and the claim that they increased spending on K-12 education in the budget passed this summer.

The numbers tell a much different story but let’s consider the rhetoric first.  For years, Republicans and the think tanks that support them blasted calls for more education spending, most often with the refrain that more funding was not the answer and that we shouldn’t throw more money at every problem, including the push to fix what Governor Pat McCrory repeatedly called our “broken” public schools.

Now it appears the same people want us to believe they love public education because they have increased spending on it, or thrown more money at the problem.

Just a year ago, legislators were waging a war on teachers, taking away career status protections, ending professional development programs, demonizing teachers professional organizations, even dismissing salary concerns with bitter tirades about teachers working only ten months a year and getting holidays off.

This year, legislative leaders and Governor Pat McCrory made raising teacher pay their top priority. The raise they finally came up with was a confusing mess that left many veteran teachers with virtually no increase at all, but that hasn’t stopped them from boasting about giving teachers one of the biggest raises in history, just a year after shrugging off calls for salary increases and criticizing teachers instead.

They questioned the value of teacher assistants last year too, slashing several thousand TA jobs with the assurance that it would not make it harder for students in the early grades to learn.

This summer, House leaders and Governor McCrory vowed to protect every single teacher assistant position and initially they claimed that the final budget achieved that, though they later acknowledged that wasn’t true.

A last minute provision to address the teacher assistant problem didn’t pass and school systems across the state eliminated TA positions before the school year began.

This year all of a sudden teacher assistants were valuable, at least in political speeches and press releases.

There’s an obvious explanation for this newly discovered affinity for public schools. It’s called an election.

The last three years of deep cuts to education and no significant pay raise for teachers prompted outrage across the state from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Lawmakers returning home from last year’s hard right tea party session expecting to be treated like ideological heroes returning from the policy battles in Raleigh instead were berated at town hall meetings for damaging public schools and making it harder for teachers to do their jobs.

This year’s legislative session, built around a pay raise for teachers, was designed to soften lawmakers’ anti-public school image as voters head to the polls in November, to convince the folks back home they care about teachers and TAs and making sure public schools have the resources they need.

That is what’s behind the rhetoric and propaganda offensive now underway on the Right, to change how the public perceives the attitudes of legislative leaders towards public schools.

But it’s a tough sell. Not only does the election-year conversion seem transparent, the numbers don’t add up either.

Spending on public schools didn’t increase this year over last year. It went down slightly. Teacher raises were never counted as part of the public school budget until this year. They were a separate item in the budget, part of the salary and reserves line item.

Under that traditional way of assessing the public school budget, spending is down from last year and way down from 2007-2008 when adjusted for inflation.  This year, lawmakers slashed other funding for schools to help pay for the teacher raise.

And people across the state don’t need to descramble the budget tricks to figure that out. They see it every day in their child’s classroom. There are not enough textbooks to go around. Classes are larger, teacher assistants are gone, buses are older and schools are begging parents to buy classroom supplies because the state budget doesn’t pay for them anymore.

Meanwhile, lawmakers expanded the voucher program created last year that diverts money from public schools to completely unaccountable private and religious schools.

The battle in the courts over the constitutionality of the voucher scheme is another frequent reminder that the attacks on what some of the same politicians in non-election years disparagingly call “government monopoly schools” aren’t over.

The folks currently running things in Raleigh and their propaganda outlets are working hard to make us believe they have seen the light about public education.

But the facts about the decisions they have made in the last four years and the daily realities in classrooms across North Carolina speak much louder than their disingenuous political spin.