Two Durham Democrats took aim at the Republican-led state General Assembly’s education funding and policies at a press conference Friday.
State Sens. Floyd McKissick and Mike Woodard spoke at Jordan High School after meeting with about 10 teachers and Durham Public Schools Board of Education members Natalie Beyer and Steve Unruhe for about 90 minutes.
“In speaking with this group of public educators, it is abundantly clear that those in charge in Raleigh are failing our schools and our students. We need to give our teachers the resources they need to succeed,” Woodard said. “I’ve heard that over and over again in our session today.”
Woodard and McKissick criticized the expanded Opportunity Scholarship program, which offers low-income families vouchers of up to $4,200 per year for private school tuition. More than 400 schools participate in the program financed through the state’s general fund. About 19 of those schools are in Durham.
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“We are diverting $25 million from our public schools to private schools this year,” Woodard said. “We cannot justify funneling public dollars into private education when public school funding needs are not being met.”
The budget adopted this summer calls for continued increases of about $10 million each year for the next 10 years. Supporters of the program created in 2013 say it helps students who are struggling in public schools. Opponents say public dollars are being sent to private schools that bar gay and other students, among other criticisms.
McKissick said Republican leaders are privatizing education at public education’s expense.
“Over the next decade, they will literally increase the number of kids in private school from 20 to 25 percent, just with public school scholarships,” he said. “We need to make our traditional public schools strong.”
Woodard and McKissick also criticized what they described as dwindling resources supporting teachers in the classroom.
Since 1970, the public schools’ share of the General Fund has decreased by 13.7 percent, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Woodard said DPI estimates that the state will spend $30 per student on classroom supplies compared to $60 per student in 2008.
McKissick said state funding for classroom technology and textbooks has dropped from $100 million in 2008 to $70 million today.
Meanwhile, McKissick and Woodard said, teachers are spending hundreds of dollars on supplies on salaries that don’t reflect the increases Republicans took credit for.
“This false message and fallacy which is being preached about how we are making these significant gains in North Carolina education are nothing more than fallacy,” McKissick said.
NaShonda Cooke, a fifth-grade teacher at Eno Valley Elementary, said Republicans touted raises averaging 4.7 percent but her increase will be less than 1 percent.
“And that is (for) a teacher with an advanced degree,” said Cooke, who has been teaching about 18 years and is an eighth-generation educator in her family.
When her 12-year-old daughter talks of wanting to teach in the state, Cooke said, she wants to support her, “but I also have to be realistic.”