Make no mistake. The compromise reached by the state’s Republican-run legislature to save arts and PE classes in public schools this year was no triumph of conscience. It was a victory for parents and local school officials who loudly and forcefully opposed class-size reductions that would have required the end to arts and PE classes in order for local systems to cover the cost of additional teachers and facilities.
Republicans made great show of cutting class sizes, but their obsession with tax cuts for the wealthy and business left them no room, practically or philosophically, to boost funding for schools to the level needed to save the classes that parents and children value. The House passed a compromise, House Bill 13, to alleviate the pressure for big reduction in lower grade sizes in the next academic year. That change will make it possible for local systems to use money designated for regular teachers to cover arts (and music) and PE.
It’s a maneuver, and a good one, that local systems have been using. They shouldn’t have to do so, of course. Lawmakers ought to increase school funding to cover the cuts and the arts classes.
But Republicans, lacking enthusiasm for conventional public schools (in favor of charters and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools) aren’t about to do that.
And even with a compromise, cuts to these valuable, life-enriching programs are spared only for a year.
Gov. Roy Cooper, who steadfastly supports the courses, should now come forward with a strong plan to preserve them, and force Republicans to answer.
What happened here is simple: When it became apparent that these classes were in jeopardy, parents and local administrators howled. GOP leaders had no choice but to listen or face the wrath of the folks back home.
How sad that it had to come to this. Arts and music and PE classes can make a difference in children’s lives. Often, triggering a child’s interest in music, for example, will keep him or her interested in school. The arts bring kids of different backgrounds together in a supportive, nurturing way. And PE, in this age of wall-to-wall electronic devices, is vital to get young people interested in indoor and outdoor activities that will set them on a path for better health all their lives.
These programs ought to be something that all lawmakers, Republican and Democratic, can wholeheartedly support without hesitation. We can only hope that now that “parent power” has been flexed on Jones Street, GOP legislators will have learned their lesson.
And that means, for Republicans, the need to recognize they serve all North Carolinians, not just big business and wealthy North Carolinians who have received excessive tax cuts.
For now, some good programs have been saved. Now they must be preserved.