Public school advocates are agitated, and rightly so, over attempts by conservatives in the General Assembly and elsewhere to paint public education in North Carolina as a failing relic of the past. That is a lie, pure and simple.
Yes, Republicans have used public schools as a convenient political target, boosting charter schools (which are, by the way, funded by taxpayers) as some kind of semiprivate alternative, which they are not. And a voucher program wherein parents of some children are given state money, up to $4,200 a year, to send their kids to private school is touted as a way to help kids who can’t be helped in public schools. That also is a deceptive characterization, as public schools offer many programs for children with all kinds of needs.
But vouchers are a boon to private schools. Although, those who get the state money still can’t afford to send their kids to the most prestigious private schools.
Yes, it’s true that enrollment in charters and private schools is up, which critics of public schools would like to characterize as proof that people don’t like public schools and that criticisms of public education are entirely justified.
Yet traditional public schools still educate 1.4 million children in North Carolina, or 82 percent of the state’s K-12 students. So Republicans who want to paint public schools as struggling for survival and unpopular are engaged in wishful thinking or worse. And it’s important to note that the increases in private school enrollment and that of charters has come, mostly anyway, in the last few years, when Republicans have been sending taxpayers’ money by the millions into the voucher program while diminishing the funding for public schools wherever they could. (And trying to do it where they couldn’t, as when they sent clear signals they were prepared to cut arts and music programs, until parental blowback stopped it.)
The public school system in North Carolina, more than 100 years old, kept this state from slipping into the depressive state of other schools in the Deep South where support was not as strong. It raised horizons for many students, who completed the public school cycle and then enrolled in a state university, as the first in their families to go to college.
In other words, the public school system that Republicans so gleefully attack changed North Carolina for the better and gave millions of North Carolina children some opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Republicans who want to destroy that system seem bent on that mission just for political sport, without any thought as to the consequences of weakening public education. Their sight is short; their attitude is disgraceful. And stupid.
And it’s not supported by the people. Take note, Republicans: 82 percent is a substantial majority. And it’s one you can’t reduce with shenanigans like partisan redistricting and Voter ID laws. In this arena, the people will speak and you cannot stop them.