GOP policies to blame for Central closing

schoolsBy Jimmy Rogers • Guest Columnist

If Central Elementary in Waynesville is forced to close because of budget cuts and losing enrollment to charter schools, Haywood County will know who to thank — politicians like Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, who have voted time and time again for budgets that shortchange our public schools in order to keep tax breaks for folks at the top.

Over the past few years, Presnell and her GOP allies in Raleigh have pushed through legislation that expanded funding for charter schools while doing little to nothing for public schools. Their budgets have eliminated thousands of teacher and teacher assistant positions across the state, and cut funding for textbooks and other classroom supplies.

When you adjust for inflation, North Carolina’s education investment has dropped by $815 per student since the Great Recession began in 2008.

All the while, politicians have been burdening our public schools with unfunded mandates that leave our teachers increasingly over-worked and under-paid.

What effect has all this had here at home? Haywood County schools have lost over $2 million in state and local funding — some of that to charter schools — over the past year, and enrollment has fallen off a cliff.

Students are flocking to charter schools that aren’t as accountable as public schools and don’t have to provide the same services like bus transportation or reduced lunch for low-income students.

According to multiple reports, North Carolina charter schools are also more segregated than traditional public schools.

Central Elementary isn’t a failing school. In fact, our district is one of the best in the state (15th rated). If the school closes, it will be because politicians who do not value education have siphoned off funding and enrollment and given it to unaccountable charter schools.

These politicians would rather help line the pockets of special interests than reinvest in our children’s education.

Our public schools provide more jobs than anyone else in the county, but state budget cuts have forced them to cut hundreds of positions over the past few years. That means fewer jobs for the people who need them and fewer educational opportunities for the students who need them most.

We are losing teachers to South Carolina and other surrounding states because those states are making a better investment in education and student spending.

For example, South Carolina’s average teacher salary is nearly $8,000 higher than ours. When it comes to student spending, South Carolina spends $800 more per student than we do. Our teachers and students deserve more than just empty rhetoric — they deserve the resources and the support they need.

Education is one of the most important factors behind economic growth and development. When a business decides to relocate, one of the main things they look at is the quality of schools. As our quality of education declines, businesses will go elsewhere — and our job market and property values will suffer.

Small towns have a hard enough time as it is, and the politicians in Raleigh are only making things worse by refusing to invest in public education.

Here in Western North Carolina, we know our kids will only have a fair shot to compete for good jobs if they have a good education.

But Republicans like Pat McCrory and Michele Presnell think it’s more important to cut taxes for corporations and people at the top than to adequately and responsibly fund our public schools. If Michele Presnell won’t stand up for us in Raleigh, who will?

 Jimmy Rogers lives in Clyde and is a member of the Haywood County Schools Board of Education.

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