In response to Sen. Ronald Rabin’s guest column, “Facts aid education debate,” I would like to address a few of the “facts” he cites.
First, former congressman Bob Etheridge was not the host of the education forum; he did serve as the event’s moderator. Had the senator turned his program over, he would have seen that the event’s hosts were the Johnston County Association of Educators, Public Schools First NC and a group of concerned educators, of which I was one.
Second, Sen. Rabin writes that certain groups have created a myth about what the key issues in education are, including teacher salaries, teacher tenure, compensation for master’s degrees and class size. These might not be the only issues, but substantial research reflects that each of these directly impacts student outcomes. So they are critically important.
Third, Sen. Rabin states that “the state’s education budget has increased in the last two Republican-led biennial budgets.” The fact is that when dollars are adjusted for inflation, the $7.7 billion allocated for education in 2007-2008 would translate into $8.4 billion in today’s dollars; however, the current legislature only allocated $7.9 billion for 2013-2013, which is $500 million less. This is a decrease in spending, and the current budget does not take into account that North Carolina schools are now serving an additional 48,000-plus students.
Fourth, the senator points to graduation rates. He states that “it is a fact that more than one in four high school students do not graduate.” He doesn’t state where he got his data. The last report I saw from the N.C. Department of Public Instructions was that North Carolina boasted an 82.5-percent graduation rate, up 14.2 percent over the last seven years.
Senator Rabin goes on to highlight that “back to basics has been a key element in the education strategy of the current Republican majority in the General Assembly.” We would be in agreement that strengthening literacy, improving graduation rates, rewarding teacher excellence and even accountability are all important; however, we part ways when it comes to the means to achieve these ends.
He continues to say that those who think money is the answer must understand that 56.3 percent of our state tax dollars go to fund education; he then asks if we should cut dollars to other services or raise taxes or borrow money to fund education. It seems to me the lost revenue from the tax cut for wealthy individuals and corporations passed this year by the Republican majority would be a good place to start. That cut amounts to $438 million immediately and $650 million when fully implemented next year.
The senator states that in his “opinion the critical factor is the family.” He is correct in stating that a critical factor in education is the family and, I would add, their economic circumstances. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 34 percent North Carolina children live in households where no parent has full-time, year-round employment, and 25 percent live in poverty. Numerous studies show a direct correlation between poverty and learning outcomes.
Finally, the senator seeks “to end on a happy note.” He says, “I believe the mood of the General Assembly all but ensures a raise for teachers (and some other state government employees) in the next budget.” Sen. Rabin, your reference to “mood” aside, a raise will be appreciated, but don’t expect teachers to fall all over themselves to thank you.
The writer is an educator, president of the Democratic Women of Johnston County and immediate past president of the Democratic Women of North Carolina.