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Wednesday, 28 August 2013 02:13

Cutting education spending is like eating your seed corn

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op frI’ve always loved school. Consequently, I detest what the General Assembly is doing to education.

As a kid, I knew that looking forward to school each day put me in a minority. Maybe it was my parents’ influence. My dad was a high school graduate and the son of a textile mill foreman in Cheraw, S.C. He joined the Navy as soon as he could and got the hell out of Cheraw. My mom quit high school when she got married at 16 but earned her GED when she was in her 40s. I always felt that they both had high expectations for me — the youngest of three boys — from a very early age.

 

I certainly know my first three teachers played a huge role in my lifelong love affair with learning. So I’ll give credit to my first-grade teacher at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Mrs. Chambers), and my second-grade teacher at Berkley-Peckham Elementary in Middletown, R.I., Mrs. Paranzino. By third grade at a third school, Aquidneck Elementary, also in Middletown, I was Mrs. Finch’s favorite and was all in. That is, part of my identity as a youth was trying to be the best student in class and please those teachers. 

By the time I got to junior high school, there were a lot of distractions in the part of Fayetteville where I lived, and there were also challenges in my home life. Still, I was an A student and had no intentions of slipping. Good grades got me a scholarship to college, and once there I realized public schools had prepared me pretty well. I also considered myself extremely fortunate to get paid to study rather than having to play a sport for my scholarship and jump through all the hoops athletes were forced to jump through. I simply went by the financial aid office every semester, picked up my check, paid my tuition, bought my books and headed to the library to start studying. 

So when I attend rallies like the one Monday on the courthouse lawn in Waynesville, where dozens of teachers, retired educators and their supporters were protesting the cuts to education, I get livid. It was a series of inspirational, caring, hard-nosed and smart teachers who played a huge role in my life and kept me focused in at least one area — academics — while other parts of my life were a whirlwind of change. What if those talented young teachers had decided on other career? What will today’s smart college students considering education as a career think when they research public schools in this state?

They’ll learn that legislative leaders passed a budget that spends less per student now than we did in 2008. That per-pupil spending in North Carolina ranks us at 48th in the nation. As for teachers, they once again did not get a pay raise, and we are now somewhere between 46th and 48th in salaries, depending on which gauge one uses. Instead of encouraging teachers to go back to school for a master’s degree, legislators cut the extra pay teachers would get for attaining that advanced degree. Statewide, we have 5,200 hundred fewer teachers and 3,800 fewer teacher assistants. There are no limits on class size.

Maybe worse than all these short-sighted decisions, though, is the implication from current legislative leaders that our schools are fine, that their budget is an education budget, that teachers have all they need. That is simply a lie. 

I was researching for this column when I read the Aug. 25 piece by my friend Jim Buchanan, the editorial page editor of The Asheville Citizen-Times. Here’s his description of the current attitude in Raleigh: “Now, we have never really appreciated these daily miracles (teachers perform) to the extent we should. However, we’ve never actually sneered at them, but boy, we sure seem to be treading that line these days.”

Well said. Everything that promotes the prosperity of North Carolina is directly linked to better support for education — public schools, community colleges, universities and, of course, teachers.

I’ve never been a one-issue voter. However, the next time state elections roll around, I hope voters do their homework and support those who will invest in education.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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