Truth, or dare

August 3, 2013 

Saying something doesn’t make it so, goes the old saw, but somewhere along the way Gov. Pat McCrory didn’t pick that one up. In a speech to the conservative North Carolina Chamber last week, the governor demonstrated his disconnect with teachers and workers even as he tried to connect the dots between education and jobs.

Billed as an education speech, McCrory hit an old theme: North Carolina’s educational system isn’t doing enough to connect with its employers. It is a simple analysis the governor has offered many times, but that’s the problem. It’s too simple.The governor’s truth is not reality to tens of thousands of North Carolinians.

Instead of confronting the real problems and real solutions to North Carolina’s high unemployment rate and the challenges in the public education system, McCrory reported that he had employers practically breaking down his door with jobs just waiting for qualified workers.

“When employers are begging for qualified applicants in a state with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation...that tells me we have a disconnect between commerce and education,” McCrory said. “All of us need to come together and eliminate this gap.” First up, he implied, should be the schools, training those workers, doing their part.

Here’s an idea

OK, well maybe there’s a way for the governor to do his part. Unemployed North Carolinians report that jobs are hard to find. He says there are employers begging for qualified applicants. Therefore, he could call a gathering of all those employers at the Raleigh Convention Center. It would be knee-deep in jobs and job applicants. Jobless problem solved, McCrory ’16 bandwagon rolling.

Really, if the governor knows where the job openings are, he should let the jobless know.

The reality is that the long-term solution to high unemployment, or at least a major part of that solution, is quality public education. And North Carolina’s public schools and public school teachers aren’t getting the same breathless support McCrory expresses for business.

The Republican-controlled legislature killed teacher tenure, cut staffing, offered no raises and watched as the state’s rank for investing in public education headed for the bottom.

Angry because some members of the North Carolina Association of Educators criticized previous cuts in education, Republicans made them pay. They’ll be in crowded classrooms, and many won’t have help from teachers’ assistants, who’ve been cut. Oh, yes, that will make the children pay, too. That’ll show ’em.

How so?

Just how are schools supposed to do this job of helping good ol’ commerce when Republicans tie a hand behind their backs?

Here’s the governor’s answer: the fanciful notion of creating a special fund that would give 1,000 “master teachers” a $10,000 reward, to be voted upon by their peers.

These teachers, he said, “will not only be teaching students, they will be schooling us in the most important subject in education – what works actually in the classroom.”

But what about the thousands of teachers who won’t be recognized? What about the thousands of teachers in pursuit of graduate degrees who won’t get a raise when they complete those degrees, courtesy of the GOP in the legislature? What about the teachers who haven’t seen a raise in five years? No answers there.

McCrory may offer all the high-flying rhetoric he wants in front of a friendly audience, but saying it doesn’t make it so.

When former Gov. Jim Hunt pushed to raise teacher salaries, and created his Smart Start initiative, and focused his last two terms on education at all levels, he made his case, a successful case, in part by convincing lawmakers and the people that a quality education system was an investment that paid dividends, not a drag on the treasury. He became the chief advocate for public education, not its prominent critic.

Regrettably, Gov. McCrory would rather focus on tax cuts for the wealthy and for business. He’d rather talk about fracking. Education? A speech to affluent business types with a couple of minutes of clichés about training people for jobs and getting the public schools on the stick ought to do it.

And then there’s this gap he talks about, between education and commerce. Instead, there’s a leadership gap.

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