Government schools

Published January 7, 2022

By Thomas Mills

Back when Democrats controlled the legislature, they threatened that if Republicans ever gained a majority, the GOP would harm public schools. Republicans angrily claimed that Democrats were using scare tactics and that Republicans were committed to “fixing” public schools. They routinely claimed that public schools were “broken” and that GOP policies focused on competition would set them straight.  

Now, after ten years of controlling the legislature, Republicans claim that public education is irreparably broken. If that’s true, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Despite denials, they have slashed per pupil funding while shifting funds to private and unregulated charter schools. As a result of GOP polices, teachers are fleeing the classroom because of poor pay and deteriorating working conditions. They have intentionally broken public schools so they can now claim that they should be scrapped.

Republicans have started to refer to “government schools” as a derogatory term for traditional public schools. They’re trying to attach a stigma to public education while pushing for more funding for voucher schemes that drain both resources and talent from public schools. Their goal is to increase demand for private academies and charter schools that have little oversight despite being largely funded with taxpayer dollars. They will continue to shift money from schools that teach our most vulnerable students and put it into schools that teach kids from more privileged families. 

 As I’ve written before, the GOP is pursuing a modern day Pearsall Plan. In 2018, I wrote, “The plan would allow students to be exempt from attending court-ordered integrated public schools and would allow for tuition vouchers for students in areas with integrated schools to attend private ones.” Today, the GOP claims money should “follow the student” instead of funding the system. They call it school choice, but it’s really an attempt to dismantle the public school system by shifting resources from schools that provide services and opportunities to our most economically disadvantaged children to ones that serve our more prosperous families. 

Fortunately, the North Carolina Constitution demands that “The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.” In other words, the Constitution requires that money supports school systems and does not “follow the student.” If the GOP wants to change the Constitution, let them try. I suspect a vote on a constitutional amendment would lay bare their true objectives of public schools. 

 The GOP’s attack on our public schools is part of a pattern of reversing the progress made on civil rights over the past 60 years or so. Just like they have largely scrapped the Voting Rights Act, they are attacking society’s commitment to public education. It’s, in part, radical individualism. They don’t believe in the concept of public good. And they don’t believe that any government programs can improve the lives of our citizens. I believe they are dangerously wrong.