State Senator Phil Berger (and president pro tem of the North Carolina State Senate has championed budget cuts that hurt the public schools in his district. He has also championed charter schools, which have minimal accountability. Stuart Egan, a North Carolina teacher, explains what appears to be inexplicable:
“It’s getting deeper here in North Carolina. Literally.
“A recent news story in the Winston-Salem Journal highlighted once again that North Carolina’s General Assembly is bent on starving our public schools into submission with lack of funds and shortage of resources – even the most basic of necessities like toilet paper.
“Danielle Battaglia reports that the Rockingham County school system is literally having to rob “Peter to pay Paul” just to keep schools open and functioning. Classes lack textbooks; copy paper is unaffordable; basic janitorial supplies cannot be bought. You can read about that here: http://www.journalnow.com/news/state_region/rockingham-county-schools-short-on-the-basics/article_61b15a34-bcfd-5407-83a4-86a2830c5ab2.html.
“One really big irony here is that Rockingham County is the home of our current and newly reelected NCGA Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Berger, Sr. He was one of the champions of the current state budget that is crippling the very schools he serves, especially the ones in his hometown of Eden, NC. That current budget also is supporting the exponential growth of charter schools which are able to take public funds, surreptitiously hide how the money is spent while escaping oversight and eluding state standards that are in constant flux.
“One of those charter schools, Providence Charter, gained final approval from the state board this year to open in Rockingham County and will possibly enroll 500 students. Rockingham County Public high schools only have around 4200 students total. That amounts to well over 10% of available students being siphoned off to a school that can claim to be a public institution in order to get state funds, but then assert itself as a private entity so that it cannot be audited with the same transparency as public schools are. The fact that many who start and operate charter schools are financially motivated is not a secret. What makes this one charter school especially suspicious is that it is co-founded by Phil Berger, Jr., the state senator’s son. You can read about that here: http://www.newsadvance.com/rockingham_now/news/providence-charter-officially-approved-to-open/article_06f3390c-7976-11e3-904c-0019bb30f31a.html?mode=jqm.
“When small school districts lose numbers like Rockingham County, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds. Imagine what happens to a school system when it loses over ten percent of its students; the financial impact can be staggering. Textbooks cannot be bought; facilities cannot be maintained. Bathrooms lack toilet paper. Students suffer. Communities stagnate.
“Providence Charter in Eden, NC will be the first charter high school in Rockingham County, but there already exists a charter middle school, Bethany Community Middle School. Who is on the board of that school? Yes, Phil Berger, Jr. In essence, Sen. Berger is allowing and enabling his own son to weaken the very public schools in his home district.
“This is not only a conflict of interest, but a growing trend to “reform” public education here in North Carolina. It would make more sense to take all of the resources, energy, and funds that would be siphoned off to the charter schools and work to improve the public schools that already exist. It seems to me that an elected official would make sure that as many people in his district as possible benefit from tax-payer money, maybe even enough to get some toilet paper and even new textbooks in schools that actually reflect the curriculum (which is about to change again).
“What hurts the most is that we as citizens keep electing these people to office and allow them to do detrimental things to our public schools under the guise of civic service and school choice. And it’s not just a school level problem; it’s an overall education problem.
“We as North Carolinians are not educating ourselves well enough to sift through political doublespeak and partisan propaganda. We are voting on perceptions and not truths. But it is hard to know the truth when facts are covered and avenues to learn are blocked and tampered with. What occurs is an environment where personalities are placed before principles. That causes people to suffer, especially our students.
“For example, last August a legislative assistant for Rep. Tim Moore named Nancy Garriss had an exchange with a veteran teacher on the phone and referred to the teacher as an “idiot” for even questioning the treatment of public education in the new state budget. This did not go unnoticed (http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/09/what-north-carolina-teachers-say-about-that-historic-pay-raise/). Yet once again, North Carolinians in Cleveland County, NC selected Rep .Tim Moore to go back to Raleigh and in another example of cruel irony, he was just elected by his GOP peers as the new House Speaker of the NC General Assembly to replace Thom Tillis, who defeated the incumbent Kay Hagan for the US Senate. Less than half of registered voters in North Carolina came to the polls for these past midterm elections and the results were not favorable to public schools. But that could change.
“The operative word here is “midterm.” As soon as one election cycle ends, another ramps up and begins to take shape, and this next one can be a great time to take back our public schools. Historically, more registered voters go to the polls during presidential and gubernatorial election years. And all NCGA members will again be campaigning (or not) to be sent back to Raleigh. Imagine if just over half of the registered voters in North Carolina went to the polls, then people who champion public education could be put into positions to help our students.
“Look at this metaphorically. As a teacher, I look at midterm grades as a marker of sorts. It is not the final course grade, but an indication of what work needs to be done and a way to reflect on how teaching and learning can be improved. Our midterm grades in North Carolina are not stellar by any means. Declining support of public schools, lack of medical insurance coverage for those who need it most, voting restrictions, and lost revenue only begin to explain what North Carolina faces. Yet, it can change. The “final” grade can be much better. I just hope no more damage occurs in our state before we learn the lesson.
“By then we may need more than toilet paper to clean it up.”
Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School