MARK JEWELL: Standing strong for public schools is best school choice

Posted September 10

Editor's note: Mark Jewell is president of the North Carolina Association of Educators and taught fourth and fifth grade in Guilford County public schools.

The sounds of a new school year reverberate around the state—school bells signal the start of class, hall lockers slam, school bus stop arms creek, and the fans cheer at Friday night football. I love this time of year. As a teacher, I confronted it with excitement and jubilation, but also some trepidation at the uncertainty a new school year brings. School doors fly open and welcome ALL students to the opportunity of a public education.

Unfortunately, our students also start this school year with: Sights and sounds of hate and discrimination emanating from President Donald Trump; Deafening silence on Jones Street when it comes to giving our public school students the resources they need to succeed; and the sucking sound of tax dollars being drained from public education and siphoned into private school vouchers or to millionaires and corporations through excessive and chronic tax cuts.

Schools are where students should feel the safest. We have tremendous educators. They work every day to go beyond just teaching our students what they need to be successful, but to make sure they feel safe and welcome.

For too many students a hug from an educator may be the only one they get that day; a meal at school may be the only one they eat. Every day students and teachers in our public schools face the injustices of poverty, joblessness, and education opportunities that are not equal for everyone.  Educators have their work cut out for them in the current national climate of divisiveness fostered by our president.

Even in the face of these challenges, I have immense trust in our educators’ skill to help our students learn and at the same time understand and appreciate diversity, acceptance, compassion and respect.

As bells ring in a new school year, too many of our elected leaders are tardy, or worse yet absent, when it comes to investing in our students’ future. National rankings confirmed that North Carolina continues to be one of the worst states in the nation in spending per student. Worse yet, North Carolina is projected to fall another spot to 43rd this year, more than $3,000 per student behind the national average. Instead of investing in our classrooms, the General Assembly’s leadership focusing on bolstering corporate boardrooms and millionaires through a series of tax cuts.

The Budget & Tax Center estimates that tax cuts over the last four years result in an estimated $3.5 billion in less annual revenue – money that isn’t going to boost classroom technology or instructional supplies -- compared to the tax system in place prior to 2013. Public school teachers and parents have had to resort to GoFundMe campaigns just to provide for our students’ most basic needs.

As the General Assembly sends money to big business and the wealthy, it deprives public schools by diverting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools through a voucher scheme. By the end of this decade, at the current rate, North Carolina will spend more on private school vouchers than on textbooks and digital resources for 1.5 million public school students.

In the last century, public education has transformed North Carolina into a beacon of opportunity. Public schools have made – and can continue to make -- a dramatic impact on generations of families. But we must make a choice:

Instead of sitting quietly through the systematic dismantling of public schools, we should stand strong for the heart and soul of our state—a thriving public education system.


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  • Nick Edwards Sep 10, 10:09 a.m.
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    "Unfortunately, our students also start this school year with: Sights and sounds of hate and discrimination emanating from President Donald Trump"

    Really? The hate is emanating from Trump? It's quite clear to even the simplest of minds where the hatred is "emanating" from. Colbert giving nazi salutes, texas lawyer calling for DeVos' rape, celebrities blaming hurricanes on the president, mocking of hurricane victims, Antifa, etc, etc. And that's just the last two days. It would take hundreds of pages to list the hate from the left. Get a grip on reality man.

  • Nick Edwards Sep 10, 9:20 a.m.
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    Yes, we should inject more partisan politics, double down on a system that is clearly failing its students and blame everyone but the correct people for public schools being garbage. Thanks for highlighting everything that is wrong with public schools with this laughable garbage editorial.

  • Colin Burch III Sep 10, 8:58 a.m.
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    THE BEST EDUCATION PLAN IS ONE THAT INCLUDES ALL VENUES. There is no 'one size - fits all' in education. Public schools have their place but they do not meet the needs of all the students. Home schools, private schools - both secular and religious, charter schools and online education all should be part of the set of options. It is the parents, not the state, that should make the decision about which venue is best for their child. Those who advocate for public schools should do what they can to improve them but they have no right to insist that the public school is everyone's best solution. It is obvious to the most casual observer that the public school system does not meet the needs of all students. The problem is not money. It goes much deeper. It is time to make clear to the NEA and other groups that they do not own our children and that teachers can not use their positions to teach dogma contrary to religious and cultural values taught at home.

  • Jerry Sawyer Sep 10, 8:06 a.m.
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    Standing strong for socialist schools. May God help our children.

  • Eugene Irene Sep 10, 7:45 a.m.
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    Jewell exhorts us to support failing public schools. He bad mouths the President and other politicians presumably to justify the failures of the educational system and promote the failed leftist educational agenda. No one wants to send their kids to failing schools to protect unions and ameliorate the left. Most folks believe that competition via vouchers and other alternative schools such as Charters etc must be injected into the educational system rather then repeating the failures we all see...except Mr Jewell who chooses to blame everyone else and promote the status quo.