>>I know I’m late to the party, but this is the first school year when I’ve been concerned about the state of my daughter’s public school education. Up until now, their fine arts magnet school has been chugging away – under the support of a wonderful PTA, solid school leadership and amazing grade teachers and specialists.
This is the first year I’ve had no less than three conferences at the school, multiple emails and phone calls with school leadership and fellow parents feeling the same thing.
Having friends in public education, I’ve thought long and hard about how to discern between genuine staffing issues, and issues caused by an impossible Catch-22 of a lack of funding and unfunded mandates from the state and federal government.
This month the Women AdvaNCe writing team and our fabulous group of guest authors are focusing on education in North Carolina. The school year is wrapping up in most corners of the state but the issues that confront us this year will be greeting us in August no doubt.
Here are areas we’re watching from our headquarters:
Class size debate: Recent action by Governor Roy Cooper bought us a year before we have to face this again. The State General Assembly was pushing forward a bill that would have cut class sizes for Grades K through 3rd. It’s hard to argue with a smaller teacher:student ratio – but how it would have played out had some unintended consequences. Specifically, school systems said the class size change would have forced them to eliminate specialist classes like art and music in order to adhere to the law. Once again – an example of lawmakers passing legislation without a thorough understanding of the practical ramifications. I’d like to challenge lawmakers over the next year to devise a way to reduce class sizes and increase funding to cover the change.
Charter Schools: There are several bills before the State House that would lead to an increase in charter schools in the state. HB 514 would allow Charlotte suburbs Mint Hill and Matthews to start their own charters. HB 800 provides enrollment priority to children of “charter partners” – defined as people who have donated at least $50,000 to the school. What are the issues here? The state is obligated to pay their per-pupil spending to charter schools – instead of the local school system. So if parents are opting for a charter school because of concerns over quality, enrolling in a charter actually further propagates the problem. Additionally, there are numerous >>bodies of researc h that demonstrate that charter schools are creating a system of legal segregation. Charter schools are increasing in number and size, yet only enroll about 2.5% of all public school students. Additionally, I have seen among my own friends that charter schools often fail to meet the needs of students requiring additional assistance, since they’re not equipped with the special services often required.
School Vouchers: North Carolina is one of 14 states in the country that have a school voucher program to provide low-income families with assistance up to $4,200 to attend private schools. There are two problems – one is most private schools cost at least triple the amount of that voucher. Secondly, the state cut funding to public schools by $11 million to finance the program.
Quality of Education and Teacher Pay: After decades of leading the country in terms of quality of education and teacher pay – North Carolina has taken a noted downturn in recent years – ranking below the national average consistently in recent years. It’s having an impact on our students as well is large corporations’ interest in locating to the state – citing concerns their employees won’t have the ability to offer a high quality education to their students.
So we encourage you all to engage with us this month and join us in understanding what’s happening to our public education. Whether you have children in public schools or not – how we move forward as a state on this issue will impact us for generations to come.
I found this quote to consider as we begin this month.
Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats