Editorial: NC Chamber is AWOL in fight for public schools
Posted April 28
A CBC Editorial: Friday, April 28, 2017; Editorial # 8154
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
The argument over spending for public school teachers and class size has been the most significant and contentious of this legislative session.
Local school boards have been preparing budgets for the next school year in an atmosphere of uncertainty. The fate of the jobs of thousands of teachers, the quality of education for each of their 1.6 million students and hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded mandates on local schools and taxpayers were at stake.
At the height of the debate last week North Carolina’s foremost business organization, the state Chamber of Commerce was asked how it stood on House Bill 13 (which only partially deals with the problem, was passed and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper this week).
“The North Carolina Chamber does not currently have a position on House Bill 13 and remains focused on policies that return accountability to the talent pipeline while raising student and school achievement,” was the reply.
“Does not currently have a position,” is a curious answer from an organization that has a board of directors made up of executives from the state’s major corporations.
This non-answer, answer represents the unfortunate lack of leadership the state Chamber has shown in those issues most critical to supporting North Carolina’s public school system.
The Chamber of Commerce’s top public policy expectations, are a misguided narrow quartet of self-interests:
- Lowering corporate taxes
- Keeping worker wages low (no minimum wage increases)
- Keeping workers out of North Carolina courts (provisions in HB2)
- Cutting assistance to unemployed workers.
None effectively generate growth or build a quality workforce.
The selfish and short-sighted set of priorities reflects the failure of North Carolina’s business leaders to support the public schools in the communities where they operate. These schools are where their employees send their children. They are where the people who will eventually work for these businesses are developing the knowledge and skills to be productive.
The Chamber has been silent on teacher and principal pay – which have tumbled and today rank among the WORST in the nation. The Chamber should be the loudest voice demanding our schools are funded to at least the national average.
It was not too long ago that the state Chamber was the lead advocate for North Carolina’s public schools. Its leaders were directly involved in public education policy and support. They recognized public education’s value and direct relationship to the prosperity of their businesses and the communities.
Has the Chamber simply cut a deal with the legislative leadership? Did the Chamber agree to grab the tax cuts, wage restrictions and unemployment benefits cuts, and then shut up about everything else?
It looks like it to us. Today’s legislators will be replaced by other soon enough. But our communities will still be there, wondering what happened to our school systems.
The unfortunate reality is that the state Chamber today is a toothless servant to an ideologically-driven leadership of the General Assembly. The legislators’ actions show they’re bound and determined to diminish the public schools regardless of the consequences.
The state Chamber should be in the forefront of holding legislators accountable for their support – or lack of support – for public education. It should be uncompromising in demanding legislators make support of public schools the top priority. The Chamber’s silence is deafening.