Something’s going on in the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory with regard to public education. Actually, the governor would say, a lot’s going on, what with his having university, community college and K-12 leaders working on various proposals to address challenges in public education.
And then there’s his teacher advisory group of 24 K-12 teachers, launched this week, with a charge from the governor to report recommendations on what to do about teacher pay, student testing and technology.
But given how Republican legislative leaders have cut funding, bashed teachers and put together a voucher program for some parents to send their children to private schools with public dollars, what’s “going on” may be more political than educational.
McCrory is not riding high in public opinion polls, not like he was when the living was easy and the cotton was high during his time as mayor of Charlotte. And there’s considerable public concern about the sometimes-embarrassing performance by Republican leaders in the legislature, who have occupied themselves with dismantling Democratic programs and done little in the way of positive lawmaking or improving the tax code for peopleother than the wealthy.
But the governor’s actions of late on education, indicating he wants to pay teachers more, may indicate he has felt the blowback from the public about the teachers-as-targets strategy in the GOP-run General Assembly. The state has 90,000 public school teachers. Many of them are greatly admired by parents, evidenced by the turnout on the teacher “walk-ins” at schools Monday. Yes, it may be that the governor or those around him have figured out that attacking teachers may be a poor political strategy.
But McCrory’s problem, in terms of his pronouncements having credibility with the public, is that Republican Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger has criticized teachers, and this year, after GOP House Speaker Thom Tillis had teachers and administrators in for public meetings about important issues in education, lawmakers virtually ignored everything they said.
Teachers stressed low morale, bad pay and the importance of tenure. Superintendents spoke against public money providing vouchers for private education. The legislature did nothing, money-wise, ended tenure and killed salary supplements for those teachers with advanced degrees. And they started a voucher program.
So now teachers are supposed to believe that McCrory is serious about helping them?
They do have an opportunity here. If they come back to the governor with strong recommendations on pay (without raises, the state will be facing a serious teacher shortage) and make their case about tenure, McCrory is going to have a hard time ignoring them. And if he does ignore them, the political damage may be even worse. If a governor asks for advice and doesn’t take it, he’s got a bigger problem than if he’d never asked at all.
Frankly, the governor might be better off forming an advisory panel on how he and GOP leaders in the General Assembly can change the course on which they’ve been engaged in the politics of destruction and for which they have little to show except revenge taken on Democrats and the positive agenda they tried to set over the last 20 years.