The following is a column by Mark Shiver, host of the “What Matters in North Carolina” podcast.
Has a fuse of revolution been lit in North Carolina education? A few comments from a state senator in a recent hearing hints that a sacrosanct idea is being challenged, and that’s how revolutions start.
Over the past couple of weeks, public education in North Carolina has been front and center in many media reports, blogs and other venues where opinions are presented. Mostly the focus has been on House Bill 13, “Class Size Requirement Changes” and inaccurate accusations that the NC General Assembly has not funded mandates for smaller class sizes.
A recurring, underlying theme that has caught my personal attention has been the “off-limits” sign that guards the institution of public institution. For example, calling into question the transparency and accountability of public schools put Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) in the social media spotlight in a not-so-positive way:
— SeaLevelMama71 (@SeaLevelMama71) April 26, 2017
I wrote a piece a couple of days ago, “Barefoot Takes Superintendents to School,” wherein I recounted his comments before the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee Monday, April 24.
I found one of his statements, “The lack of transparency and accountability in our school system is completely unacceptable,” to be revolutionary.
For decades, the institution of public education has been portrayed as beyond scrutiny. Lawmakers are expected to ask “how high?” when the education elite says “jump! ” The bureaucracy that is public education has grown without a commensurate demand for accountability and transparency. Until now.
But now Barefoot has turned a spotlight on this bureaucratic behemoth, and the question is whether others in the General Assembly will join him in demanding that North Carolina school districts take responsibility for how they spend taxpayer money.
Now is the time to break down the door that Barefoot cracked open. Now is the time for accountability and transparency from public education.
The victims from treating the education establishment as exempt from scrutiny are teachers and children. A parent of school-age children was telling me today how every year teachers send home a laundry list of “needed items” with his kids. Things like paper, glue, pens and pencils and other supplies typically make up the list. His question to me was, “Why are teachers not provided these things by the schools?”
Leftist agitators will point the finger of blame at the General Assembly, especially the Republican majority. But the school districts and schools are to blame. The state is sending over $8 billion to the local school districts.
What they won’t say is where the money is going.
This has become a hotly debated point over the past week, with some defending the school districts by pointing to aggregate amounts that are sent to each district by the state. There are even spreadsheets that show “X” amount being spent for teachers, etc. But is this information enough?
It is time for a line-item accounting for what school districts and schools are doing with the tax dollars they receive. The fact is, as Barefoot pointed out, money for class-size reductions has been sent to the school districts.
But, when he asked for an accounting of where the money has gone, the answer was instead a reprise that more money is needed at the risk of losing art, PE, music and other “enhancement teachers.” He says only a few school districts responded.
The attitude seems to be, “Don’t dare question public education.”
Hopefully we are drawing near the time when lawmakers will stop being bullied by leftists on things like teacher pay, teacher assistants and now “enhancement teachers.” Instead, a full, detailed accounting of tax money received and how it is spent should be required and available at a moment’s notice when requested by lawmakers.
Yes, education is important. But, when accountability and transparency are lacking, teachers, children and taxpayers suffer. Barefoot has opened the door. The General Assembly needs to keep it open and dispel the notion that public education dare not be questioned. The fuse has been lit. Let’s hope the spark of revolution bringing transparency and accountabilty to NC education will be fanned into a bright flame.