Editorial: Nameless bureaucrats aren’t N.C. public schools’ problem, it is legislative neglect

Posted December 24, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2021 8:58 a.m. EST

Miles Turmon teaches an elementary school class in Durham. (WRAL/Lora Lavigne)

CBC Editorial: Friday, Dec. 24, 2021; Editorial #8724
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

It seems Phil Berger, leader of North Carolina’s legislature, now agrees that our state’s public schools do, in fact, fail to meet the State Constitution’s guarantee of making sure every child has access to a quality education.

“Lagging achievement,” he says of our public schools. “Outright failure,” he goes on. So, he does agree that the state –which by the way includes Phil Berger and the other legislators who serve under his leadership – is in violation of the Constitution. It is good to see that he’s come around to agreeing with no fewer than two affirmations of that by our State Supreme Court since 1997.

Judge David Lee, who Berger regularly personally insults, denigrates and mischaracterizes, did what he was assigned to do by former state Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin (a Republican like Berger). He brought the plaintiffs and defendants together in OPEN court, reviewed the facts of the matter and the positions of the opposing parties and facilitated a mutually agreeable resolution.

What Berger doesn’t like is that it is an affirmation of public education and our state’s constitutional principle that it is state government’s responsibility to provide every child with access to a quality education.

Does Berger believe that’s what is happening today? The Education Law Center, in its “Making the Grade 2021: How fair is school funding in your state” gives North Carolina an “F” in funding level – 49th among the 50 states and Washington D.C. The state gets another “F” in funding effort – 47th. Who’s responsible for those bottom-of-the-barrel levels?

Berger blames “a failed education bureaucracy.”

Is he talking about the state Board of Education, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the women and men who serve on local boards of education, school district superintendents, the classroom teachers and their students?

Of course this presumes Berger and his legislators have no responsibility.

Blame the bureaucrats. It’s a nebulous, meaningless dodge of the responsibility Berger shoulders. Who was the champion of abolishing the Teaching Fellows program? Who continues to push private school vouchers that funnel millions of dollars to schools that aren’t required to show reasonable or transparent measures of student achievement – they aren’t even required to show that students show up at class.

In a transparent and methodical way, the plaintiffs (local school systems, students and parents) and defendants (the state of North Carolina and the state Board of Education) worked together under Judge Lee’s guidance to reach agreement on specifically where North Carolina’s schools were failing to provide for a quality education and what specifically needed to be done to remedy the situation.

It’s not, as Berger suggests, an “unconstitutional scheme to funnel $1.7 billion in extra money to a failed education bureaucracy.”

It’s far from a “simple application of more money,” as Berger suggests. That, in fact, has been the way he’s going about directing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund his private school voucher program.

It does take a lot of money to address the decades of neglect that North Carolina’s public schools – its teachers and students – have suffered.

The plaintiffs and defendants, working with the Friday Institute for Education Innovation at N.C. State University, the Learning Policy Institute in Washington and coordinated by WestEd, came up with a comprehensive plan to deliver a sound basic education for children in North Carolina public schools.

It is no broad-brush solution but a highly detailed program that pinpoints specific areas of need throughout the public education process to help make teachers more effective and provide students with resources and support services so they’ll be better learners.

It is an example of leadership that Berger should be praising and supporting.

Current Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt should be in the forefront to support and fund this critical effort – instead of sheepishly and quietly remaining on the sidelines.

Now that Berger has said he agrees that North Carolina has been violating the State Constitution when it comes to meeting its obligation to provide a quality education to all children it’s time for him to speak up.

If you don’t agree with the detailed program outlined in the Leandro remedial program tell us, just as specifically, what you’d do to right this awful wrong.

Just blaming un-named bureaucrats is a dodge.

Throwing more money at the situation – as is being done through his private school voucher program – is just more of what he says are unproductive efforts.

North Carolina students deserve the quality education they’ve been promised and too-long denied. Berger and his legislators need NOW to put-up or get out of the way.