In The Race To End Public Education, North Carolina Is Leading The Charge

The state's legislature seems intent on disempowering and dismantling the state's teacher corps.
05/04/2017 04:32 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2017
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In December, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill as part of the annual budget to lower the maximum number of students allowed in K-3 classrooms in public schools. There remains no size limit for fourth grade and above.

On the surface, this sounds like a move in the right direction. It makes life easier for K-3 teachers and allows them to do more teaching and less crowd control.

The problem is that nowhere in the budget is there an appropriation of funds necessary to pay for the extra teachers and classrooms. According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, the new law will cost $388 million to implement.

The obvious question is, “Why would our government pass a law without providing the money to pay for it?” It makes absolutely no sense if the intent of this bill is to help public education in North Carolina.

But it makes perfect sense if the aim is to destroy it.

So why would the North Carolina legislature want to eliminate public education? The answer lies in who would benefit from privatization. In order to understand this, we first need to take a look at how a public program becomes privatized.

Here are the three basic steps to eliminating a popular public program:

1. Defunding

Parents want their children to have the best possible education at the lowest cost, and public education provides this free of charge. This makes public education very popular with voters. In order to make it unpopular, the perception of public education needs to be radically changed.

Defunding the program achieves this goal by making public education appear unworkable. This has already begun. In 2007/8, the state spent $6300 per student as compared to $5616 in 2016/17 (adjusted for inflation). The drastic budget cuts already put in place for 2017/18 will rapidly accelerate this process.

These budget cuts, however, can result in an environment that is unsafe for students by forcing schools to abandon the formerly essential full-time nurse.

For example, in Durham County, only six of its 52 schools have full-time nurses (not including the nine schools that have nurses assigned specifically to classrooms with students who have severe health problems).

The remaining 46 schools share 18 nurses. That’s a less than 2-to-5 nurse-to-school ratio. Many schools have a nurse only one day per week.

Clearly, this puts children’s lives at risk and can have life-threatening consequences. The following is an example:

In the spring of 2017 a substitute teacher was working one-on-one with a severely disabled wheelchair-bound student in a Durham County elementary school. The student, who had a number of medical issues that the substitute was not made fully aware of, had a sudden asthma attack, the severity of which led to the student not being able to speak. Unaware of exactly what was wrong, the substitute took the student to the main office. There was no nurse on duty that day, and nobody in the office seemed to know what to do. Thankfully, the substitute managed to find the student’s asthma inhaler and administered the medication. This stabilized the student sufficiently for her to be able to be transported to a hospital where she remained for the next three weeks.

As incidents like this become increasingly commonplace, the NC legislature may be able to leverage them into the agenda of public education being not only unworkable, but also actually dangerous for children. This will lead to step 2.

2. Declare the Program a Failure

The $388 million budget shortfall for 2017/18 has forced schools across the state to begin the process of eliminating the following ‘non-essential’ programs:

Physical Education

Art

Music

Foreign Languages

Media & Technology

Many teachers have already gotten their pink slips. There are also plans to eliminate planning periods as well as nap times and recess.

The removal of these programs will force teachers, students and administrators to work the entire school day without rest or recreation. It will be only a matter of time before this oppressive and distressful climate causes emotions to flare and optimism to wane; the strain on the system will soon become impossible to ignore.

Once it has become clear that public education in North Carolina is cracking at the seams, options will be put before the public on what can be done to fix it.

3. Announce Privatization of the Program and Begin the Bidding Process

By the time the formal announcement is made, bidding will already have been underway for some time. In the case of public education, bids will be submitted to the state, and the lowest bidder will be awarded the contract.

Salaries will then fall under House Bill 2 (the notorious bathroom bill). HB-2 contains a clause that gives government contractors complete control over wages, the only restriction being the federal minimum wage. Before HB-2, municipalities, towns, counties and cities and had the authority to set wages for government contract workers. Now wage levels will be strictly up to the corporation.

Already-low wages will be drastically cut, forcing teachers out of the housing market, and apartments will also be out of reach for many. The solution for this will be dormitory-style housing for teachers built next to schools. This plan is already being implemented across the state.

Tenure will also be eliminated, and the corporation will be able to fire teachers without cause.

Ironically, this isn’t about a lack of money. There is plenty of money in the state coffers to fund a healthy public education system. The problem is that the money that could go to schools is given to multi-billion dollar corporations. Here’s just one example:

This means that the more Duke Energy spends, the more it makes. Guaranteed. And this guarantee amounts to billions in taxpayer dollars.

And North Carolina’s legislature imposed a $388 million dollar program on the Department of Public Education and left out the appropriations bill to pay for it.

There are many such areas where the government of North Carolina is giving away billions of dollars simply because the corporate establishment has a pipeline directly to the politicians.

HB-13, a bill that would temporarily raise class sizes slightly, reducing the $388M shortfall to about $126M (the exact number is tough to pin down), is languishing in a state senate subcommittee as of this writing. Ironically, it is virtually identical to G.S. 115C-301, except that G.S. 155C-301 came with its appropriations bill, HB-998 in 2012. But even if HB-13 passes, it will be no more than a delay the plan to privatize the education system in North Carolina.

Honorable mention goes to the state lottery, which distributes two thirds of its profit to “Non-instructional Personnel.” These personnel seem nowhere to be found.

Where is this all headed? It’s reminiscent of the cliché of the child stealing from the cookie jar. After he takes one and his parents don’t say anything, he then takes three, and then five and then all of them. Somewhere along the line, the parents get wise to what’s going on and take matters into their own hands.

It won’t be much different with what’s going on in North Carolina. Only this time, the people need to be the parents.

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