School boards need to fight the good fight
The Haywood County School Board narrowly voted (5 to 4, with Chairman Chuck Francis breaking a tie) to contribute money toward a lobbying effort by the N.C. School Boards Association. The decision is the right one given the current situation in Raleigh and hopefully will be money well spent.
Lobbying is a catchall phrase that often has a negative connotation. I get that. When business groups direct thousands of dollars to candidate campaigns and then try to use that support to influence legislation, things often get sleazy. We’ve all read about it happening too many times.
And lobbying efforts by public employee unions very often ruffles feathers. The N.C. Association of Educators is an important group — and I personally agree with much of its legislative agenda — but there’s no doubt the GOP-led legislature in North Carolina and this group have been butting heads. In fact, at campaign forums around our counties during this past election, there was a very noticeable friction between GOP lawmakers and teachers.
Our own Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, wrote in this newspaper that he believes the NCAE is an outright supporter of the Democratic Party. From my perspective, it seems a better way to put that would be to say the NCAE supports candidates who support their agenda. More Democrats are in that camp than Republicans, hence the NCAE’s support of those candidates.
Anyway, the reality is that the School Boards Association will likely have a better chance of influencing this particular legislature than the NCAE. This organization of elected school board members is very similar to the N.C. League of Municipalities or the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. These groups are generally well respected in the legislature and get the ear of the leadership, particularly since many state lawmakers began their political careers as town board members, county commissioners or school board members.
And what is it the School Board Association wants? Their legislative agenda is pretty straightforward and can be found at www.ncsba.org.
You know, I’ve had two kids graduate from public schools and a third nearly there. My wife is a teacher, and I’ve been on PTOs and advisory councils throughout my children’s educational years. So I just don’t like it when the General Assembly — Democrats or Republicans — votes to take resources away from schools.
And that’s just what has happened. To sum up what has happened since the 2012 Republican revolution in the N.C. General Assembly, I’ll quote from an article written by Duke University Professor Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, who is a former education editor of the N.Y. Times and edits the Fiske Guide to Colleges. This appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer last September:
“Since taking power in 2012 Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican leaders have enacted a series of efforts aimed at weakening the state’s commitment to public education. They have, among other things, reduced the number of classroom teachers, teacher assistants, assistant principals, guidance counselors and nurses in North Carolina schools. They have cut funding for textbooks and other learning materials and eviscerated teacher professional development — all the while giving favored treatment to charters and adopting a voucher program that diverts funds from public schools and puts them in the hands of religious and other private schools immune from private accountability.”
In my humble opinion, the vote and our public school system are the two great equalizers in this country. One’s a right, the other is an institution, but it’s the two together that have helped mold the culture of the great middle class that is this country’s greatest asset.
So if we must work to shore up what I’d call an assault on our public schools, then let’s do it. If that means lobbying by our elected state school boards, then more power to the them.