From a Teacher: Why 2020 Election in NC Will Leave Many With Buyer’s Remorse

NC educators protest near the General Assembly building in Raleigh in 2018. Education funding was a major point of conflict in the state in the last decade, particularly longstanding funding inequities between urban and rural counties. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

By Kim Mackey

November 9, 2020

Voters in NC can expect GOP winners at the state and federal level to invest more in school choice and less in public education. 

On Election Day, North Carolinians voted for candidates who would rather support applesauce factories instead of polishing our public schools. 

Since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, 80% of parents like me choose public schools for our seedlings while $85 million of state funds rots in the private school voucher fund for which parents have shown little appetite given its lack of demand.  

If our kids are our ballots, public schools win in a landslide.  No statewide candidate earned anywhere near the 80% support of our public schools.

Instead of recognizing this fact as a mandate to support public schools, Sen. Phil Berger reads slim margins of victory for Republicans in key races this year as voters expressing a “clear choice” for “expanded school choice.”  

He continues to gaslight North Carolinians with claims of “large investments in education and teacher pay” despite weaker spending-per-student than before the last recession and average 10% weaker teacher pay compared to the salary schedule they inherited from Democrats in 2011.

Deceptive marketing among Republicans by inflating their support for public education resulted in a discrepancy between where parents choose to send their kids to school and the candidates communities chose to send to Raleigh.

Unbeknownst to too many in our state, this election was between those who would polish the apples—our public schools—and those who would pulverize them to sell applesauce and market it as “choice.”

“School choice” and public schools are not the antonyms some prefer North Carolinians to believe and magnet programs prove choice exists in public schools.

When I registered my children for kindergarten and each year thereafter, I’ve had choices within the public school system.  I look across that list and see many apple varieties ranging from Granny Smith to Pink Lady.  These magnet schools in the public school system offer a variety of specialized programs like engineering, world languages, medicine, health, arts, academically gifted, and early college.  

Whereas charter schools further segregate, magnet schools integrate.  These choices are not unique to my home district and magnet programs should be expanded in other districts as an effective innovative model.

So why do folks from a supposed fiscally-conservative party like Senator Berger and Catherine Truitt emphasize applesauce factories instead of the farmer’s market?

The direct dealing at farmer’s markets is designed for the mutual benefit of both parties. Customers get a lower purchase price and the farmer receives a larger profit margin.  But instead of supporting this market efficiency, Republicans support ideas that allow others to skim off the margins with pre-packaged curriculum, testing software, vouchers, and charter schools.

Peddling these things as “personalized,” as if it must be pre-packaged to meet that goal, is willful blindness. Insisting on a manufacturing process to make this possible exposes the true motives of the peddler.

Given the efforts over the last decade to undermine public education, one can assume that the continued pursuit to dismantle public schools will leave many North Carolinians with buyer’s remorse from this election.

Despite a court-ordered report offering action steps for how the state can fulfill its obligation to provide a “sound basic education,” folks like Sen. Berger and Rep. Tim Moore dismissed the recommendations.

What now?

The report tells us we need more apple farmers.  Our teacher pipeline is dry, average K-12 class sizes are larger and early grades teaching assistants (who Sen. Berger compared to typewriters) have not been restored but were replaced with a failed investment in the “Read to Achieve” program championed by Berger.

We need more orchards.  North Carolina is $8 billion behind in school infrastructure needs.  It’s distracting to learn in moldy or overcrowded classrooms. 

We need more rain.  According to the court-ordered report, we need $8 billion over the next 8 years just to catch up.  Instead of investing in our schools, Republican lawmakers harvested our state’s tax base with large tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

We need more sunshine.  Clouding the truth about our public schools by insisting they are “failing” without regard for how our state fails to fulfill its obligations or help lift 43% of NC’s children out of poverty hides the roots of the problem.

Whereas apples grow on trees, money doesn’t.  Perhaps if we invested more in apples instead of peddling applesauce we’d reap more rewards for all, though less profits for some.


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