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

Posted September 10, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated September 10, 2017 7:05 a.m. EDT

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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