Saturday, May 19, 2018
North Carolina used to be remarkable for achieving the most integrated and stable schools in the nation. Save a couple of small exceptions, the state ran its school systems on a county-wide basis, which allowed more integrated, less white flight, and more shared interests in support of public education. This structure alone made North Carolina stand out. And this structure helped facilitate some of the lowest racial achievement gaps in the nation in places like Raleigh. North Carolina also funded it education system relatively well. Its teacher salaries, for instance, were right around the national average—in a state with a relatively low cost of living.
In the last decade, the state legislature has proven bound and determined to undo its successful public education system. First were budget cuts in excess of 20%. In a span of just three years, North Carolina reduced its per-pupil funding from over $10,015 to $7,235.
Next was the enormous growth of charters. Immediately before the recession, North Carolina spent $169 million on charter schools. By 2014-2015, the state had more than doubled its commitment to charters, spending $366 million a year.
Next was the attempt to eliminate teacher tenure. The state passed legislation to take it away from all teachers, although the state supreme court held that taking it away from teachers who already had it was unconstitutional. North Carolina was once a great place for teachers, but policies like these caused the rate of departure to other states jump by 30%.
Next was a voucher program. While seriously constitutional problems existed with it as well, the court allowed the state to move forward.
Next were huge tax cuts. While the state was cutting its education budget, it was also enacting massive new tax cuts for the state’s highest income earners. Those cuts were some of the largest state level tax cuts ever seen.
The state’s economy, however, has done well enough that it eventually began to produce tax revenue surpluses notwithstanding its low tax rates. The reason was that it was refusing to fairly fund public education. Even the poorest of states could run surpluses if they simply started eliminating state funded programs. North Carolina inexplicably maintained its education cuts in 2015 even though it had a half-billion dollar surplus in tax receipts.
Next was a change in the appointment process of statewide education officials. A lame duck legislature changed various rules to deprive the new Democratic governor of the authority to begin reversing regressive policies.
With policies like these, the question is not why North Carolina teachers are protesting, but what took them so long?