However, even if I had not spent my adult years as a teacher, my awareness of sociological and economic research would still drive my attention to public schools because they are where the majority of the population receives its education and, therefore, the single largest factor within our influence in determining what the United States will look like in 10, 20, or 50 years.
That said, I give full credit to local elected officials. Jackson County’s commissioners have voted unanimously in support of education measures for many years. It is clear that, whether Democrat or Republican, the commissioners here want to provide all they reasonably can for the county’s public school system and the students it serves.
Unfortunately, most funding decisions come from the state, not the local level. That is why the commissioners we elect here must go further than just local support. They must be willing to pressure our representatives in Raleigh to do the same as they, to pass legislation that will support all children across North Carolina by creating and committing to an environment that will attract and retain the best teachers, which will, in turn, have the effect of higher quality instruction for years to come. Otherwise, our public schools will continue to struggle to fund necessary programs, to provide needed services, or even to hire enough teachers, the most pervasive and difficult issue currently facing administrators.
Five years ago, when we had a Republican governor, The Smoky Mountain News published a column that I wrote about the negative impact of Republican legislation on increased class size. Four years ago, with the same governor and legislators who gave up Medicaid coverage for thousands of poor children, I wrote about absenteeism in the classroom, which is deeply affected by lack of health care. And about six months ago, I wrote about the long-term detrimental effects on the quality of teaching (and teachers’ morale) as a result of the Republican legislature’s decision to cap teacher pay after 5 years in the classroom.
And although some Republicans have recently voted for increased education funding, these increases do not repair the damage of their previous cuts: one step forward, two steps back cannot be called progress. It is easy to twist numbers, and both parties do it, so I’m careful in my reading. I compare current budgets to past budgets, to inflation, and to public education monies spent in other states. And North Carolina still looks bad.
Those we elect must do better because the big picture is this: our society’s cultural and economic future will be decided by the generations that are being educated right now. So, I will give my vote to the party that has, over the years, most consistently supported public schools and its children at every level, not just here in Jackson County, but throughout North Carolina. I vote for Democrats.
(The Raleigh News and Observer does an excellent and balanced job on education. I recommend their article on how Republicans have reshaped education: www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article200250829.html.)