Editorials

Chipping away at DPI — and hurting kids

N.C. Secretary of Public Instruction Mark Johnson talks with some of the adults in the room after he read books to kids at the Wake County Child Health Clinic in Raleigh, NC, on June 6, 2017.
N.C. Secretary of Public Instruction Mark Johnson talks with some of the adults in the room after he read books to kids at the Wake County Child Health Clinic in Raleigh, NC, on June 6, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

The knife came out Tuesday and children in the public schools of North Carolina are the ones who are wounded. The State Board of Education made $2.5 million in budget cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, all of it mandated by the Republican-led General Assembly, which has long had public schools in the bull’s-eye. Another $700,000-plus is coming.

And next year, the board will have to cut $7 million more.

It’s all part of the Republican plan to essentially dismantle public education in North Carolina as we know it. Or rather, public education as it has built up this state and raised the horizons of its children for more than 100 years.

But GOP leaders couldn’t care less. They want to invest more in vouchers so people can send their kids to private schools of widely varying quality and standards – and they want to hand out that money with virtually no accountability attached. They like the idea of expanding charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but operate outside some of the rules of conventional public schools. But charters also need more accountability and more consistency, though many do an excellent job.

But Republicans will be fine if charters eventually morph into public schools that essentially operate under the same rules as private schools.

Meanwhile, conventional public schools, the choice of roughly 80 percent of North Carolina families, struggle with fewer teachers, fewer teaching assistants, inadequate training, arts and music programs under threat of closure. And the budget cuts DPI and its board were forced to make will affect most the schools that can afford cutbacks the least. That’s because the poorer schools need the most state assistance.

Among those things cut: money for coaches, some of whom will go to 10 months instead of 12, temporary employees, travel expenses, supplies, even money for phones and postage.

Phones and postage. This is what it’s come to in North Carolina, a state that has long been proud of its public school system. That system, without a doubt, along with the state public university system nurtured by people like Frank Graham and Bill Friday, kept North Carolina from sinking into the education and economic doldrums of other states in the Deep South.

Mark Johnson, the new state superintendent who taught school for a couple of years before becoming an attorney and served on a county school board, could have fought against the cuts to his own department, and could now be standing up for conventional public schools and teachers and more funding – standing with Graham and Friday.

But he has chosen a different path, to advocate for more charters and more public money for vouchers and to stand with the Republican leaders of the General Assembly. Johnson clearly is the dream superintendent for Phil Berger, president pro tem of the state Senate, and state House Speaker Tim Moore. He will do what he’s told.

North Carolina’s public education system is in jeopardy. The public – parents, teachers, advocates – is going to have to stand up for the schools where Johnson will not.

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