He said, she said. There’s the theme so far for the 2014 U.S. Senate campaign between incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House.
A first debate was unsatisfying, with no memorable exchanges or substantial moments.
And that theme seems to be continuing as Hagan and Tillis make an issue of public education. Each is crunching numbers to favor criticism of the other candidate.
In Tillis’ case, he is unsurprisingly trying to align Hagan with President Barack Obama on virtually all issues. Hagan as a Democrat has supported the president’s policies, including the Affordable Care Act or, as Republicans call it derisively, “Obamacare.” That issue, though, is getting a little frayed, as millions of Americans have been able to get insurance and polls show the strong knee-jerk opposition to the health care law has weakened.
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Tillis the touter
Tillis now has gone to casting himself as the education candidate, boasting of the average 7 percent raise Republicans provided North Carolina teachers. Indeed, the GOP did put through a teacher raise. But the details show that, while some younger teachers and those with five to 11 years of experience get good raises, veteran teachers didn’t do very well, with 0.29 percent for those with 30 years’ experience. Republicans have indicated they’ll do more later, but they’re hindered, of course, by their own tax cuts that limit what they can do.
And Tillis the education champion touts his support of charter schools. But the rapid expansion of charters is a double-edged sword, as the money for them drains the public education budget for conventional schools.
Tillis also talks about giving school vouchers to poor families to free them to send their kids to private schools. But Republicans know that vouchers, which so far have been stymied by the courts, also would drain money from the education budget.
Hagan and Tillis are playing some numbers games as well.
Tillis touts the teacher pay increase, but his critics say that while appropriations for public schools ($8.68 billion) are more than a third of the state budget and per-pupil spending is up, more of the budgeted money has to go for employee salaries and benefits than for textbooks and activities connected to classrooms. Textbook money was $67.15 per student in 2008-09, and now is $14.86.
That’s why Democrats love to talk about Tillis as the knife-wielder on public education. Indeed, the University of North Carolina system has taken budget hits, and drastic cutbacks in teachers’ assistants were narrowly avoided.
These two candidates owe voters more than either has delivered thus far. On the education issue, what about debates over expanding higher education opportunities for all, lowering college costs that have far outpaced inflation, even the issue of run-wild college athletic programs? And in elementary and secondary education, let’s hear Hagan and Tillis discuss the achievement gap, better and more constructive testing and how American education can better compete on a global scale.
Substance. That’s what the people want and deserve.