Education bills attacked
CARY — Public education advocates in North Carolina say proposals in the General Assembly would deal a major blow to a system that's already hurting.
Former Congressman and State Superintendent Bob Etheridge joined about 30 teachers and parents Friday to raise awareness about legislation they said will harm instruction, student preparedness and the financial health of public schools. Also joining the crowd was former Democratic Congressman Tim Valentine.
Etheridge said people are not paying attention to proposals that seek to limit eligibility for the state's pre-kindergarten program or remove class-size limits in some elementary classrooms. He also complained about cutting upwards of 4,000 teacher assistants and taking money from public schools through tax credits for parents who send children to private schools.
"To the folks now running our state government in Raleigh, education reform is just another code word for cut, slash and burn," he said.
A voucher bill expected to be debated this week would set aside $90 million to offer tax credits to the families of as many as 14,000 students per year, which is about 1 percent of the 1.5 million students in public schools across the state, according to a bill sponsor.
Another measure making its way through the General Assembly would eliminate or change how teachers earn tenure, which allows educators with career status to demand a hearing if an administrator tries to fire them.
Supporters of the education agenda say the ideas will save money, offer greater control for school management and greater choice to the parents of children attending inadequate schools.
The speakers assembled at Green Hope Park Friday argued the policies will only further reduce investment in a public education system that's fallen from 24th nationally in teacher pay a decade ago to 48th. North Carolina also ranks 48th in per-student spending, according to the National Education Association.
Rodney Ellis, president of lobbying group NC Association of Educators, said narrowing eligibility for pre-kindergarten ignores the progress the state has made with graduation rates. He also said research supports investments that emphasize smaller class sizes.
"All the data says that one of the most important factors for student success is class size," he said. "Why on earth would we eliminate that benefit for hundreds of thousands of North Carolina students?"
Lynn Edmonds, a retired educator and parent, said many of the proposals demonize teachers and discourage young talent from entering the field. The only thing tenure guarantees is freedom from arbitrary termination, she said.
"It simply gives teachers the dignity they deserve," she said.
Jen Ferrell, a parent from Apex, said she first moved to North Carolina from Northern Virginia in part because it boasted top-notch schools, but she's concerned the state's best days are behind it.
"I worry if we don't stem the tide of bad legislation that threatens our great public schools, North Carolina will no longer attract families, jobs and investment," she said.