Editorial: Legislature after crossover - little good, plenty worthless
Posted May 2
A CBC Editorial: Tuesday, May 2, 2017; Editorial # 8155
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
The North Carolina General Assembly’s “crossover deadline” came and went last week. The dust’s settled with an opportunity to see more clearly the good (not much), the bad (more than enough) and the even worse (where do they get these ideas?).
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction has compiled a list of 202 public schools-related bills. The state Association of School Administrators says 62 survived “crossover.”
If the state’s school children, educators and taxpayers are fortunate, the vast majority of this legislation will simply gather dust in a real or virtual legislative file cabinet.
Thankfully, it wasn’t all a complete loss. The legislative leadership’s reluctant agreement to ease the impact of its unfunded mandate to cut class sizes in early grades, is still a mere step in the appropriate direction.
While the action will enable local public school systems to better plan for the new school year and avoid laying off hundreds of teachers, it by no means solved the issue. If the legislature wants smaller classes in the early grades – and that is a good idea – it should also provide the means to pay for it.
Proper funding of schools; paying teachers and principals salaries, at least at the national average; reviving the Teaching Fellows Program, are all far greater priorities than piling on more tax cuts and giveaways to corporations and wealthy individuals.
Ill-considered legislation flew out of the state Senate that would both alter, and weaken, independently-elected public school boards by taking away their ability to sue county commissioners over funding. Current law requires negotiation in the event of a disagreement between county commissioners and school boards over local education spending. There’s no reason to change.
While the obvious solution would be to give local school boards their own taxing and spending authority and dispense with the unnecessary involvement of county commissioners, the commissioners don’t want to give up access to such a huge portion of county revenues. The current near-sighted proposal is another opportunity to short-change the education of North Carolina children. Legislators, more of whom are former county commissioners than ex-school board members, should wait for a recommendation from a study they’ve already initiated and let this bad idea languish.
Coupled with this effort is the misguided initiative to transform non-partisan school board elections into partisan campaigns. This goes hand-in-hand with some legislators’ desire to impose gerrymandered redistricting schemes in various counties. There are five bills that would change the way school board members are elected in 11 school districts – requiring candidates to take on partisan labels as the easiest route to getting on the ballot.
There has been almost no grassroots demand for this legislation that would do nothing to encourage more participation in schools or turnout in the election. It certainly wouldn’t give voters any better idea of candidates’ positions on key local education concerns. All this does is fan the flames of the kind of hyper-partisanship that has distracted and immobilized the current General Assembly from truly addressing the crucial needs of the state.
Lastly, legislators advanced more bills diminishing oversight and accountability for charter schools and private schools that are accepting millions in taxpayer-funded “opportunity scholarship” vouchers. This lax regulation is going in the wrong direction and comes as evidence is mounting – 40 percent of a Durham charter didn’t earn the diplomas they received – that more oversight is needed.
In Fayetteville, an employee of the state’s top recipient of private school voucher funds is embroiled in charges of embezzlement connected with failure to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in state withholding.
It is not unreasonable, in return for the operational independence of publically-funded charter schools and the willingness of private schools to accept vouchers, that these schools be held just as accountable as traditional public schools for how they spend taxpayer dollars. They should also have to demonstrate achievement of the students they’re supposed to be educating – just like public school systems.
While there’s been no lack of effort taken on public education issues, the evidence following “crossover” is that the General Assembly’s leadership has little appetite to offer up proposals to make public schools better and improve learning. Much of what the legislature’s produced thus far focuses on politics not learning. It makes the jobs of running public schools and teaching students more difficult.