February 20, 2024

Nora De La Cour: North Carolina School Privatizers Are Subverting Democracy

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Nora De La Cour writing for Jacobin details some of the ways North Carolina privatizers are getting around pesky democratic conventions to push their agenda.

What does it mean to say that privatization threatens public schools and the diverse communities that depend on them?

Here’s one way to illustrate that point: if the funds recently allocated for OS expansion had instead been used for teacher salary increases, the salary increases could have been doubled. North Carolina has among the lowest teacher salaries in the nation, which translates to crippling teacher shortages, unexpected school closures, and an overall inability to meet kids’ most basic educational needs. Last school year, one in eighteen North Carolina classrooms lacked an appropriately licensed teacher.

“When you really understand what the General Assembly is doing,” Rodney Pierce, a public-school teacher and parent of three students in the resource-starved Halifax County school district, told Jacobin, “it’s just diabolical.”

In 2022 the organization Carolina Forward published polling showing that a bipartisan majority opposes the use of tax dollars to subsidize religious schools, which have been claiming the lion’s share of North Carolina vouchers. And last spring, Jerry Wilson and the Center for Racial Equity in Education found that 59 percent of North Carolina voters would prefer to address K-12 deficiencies by spending more to support struggling public schools, rather than experimenting with risky private options.

“We can all go down the list of things we’d like to change about our public school,” Sarah Montgomery, senior policy advocate with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project told Jacobin, “but by and large, people are pretty happy with them. People want their schools to be funded, and they want educators to be able to afford to continue in their chosen profession.”

Given all this, Wake County public-school parent and advocate Renee Sekel told Jacobin that the legislature “knew darn well that people wouldn’t support voucher expansion, even with a Republican supermajority.” So how did they manage to push through provisions universalizing Opportunity Scholarships and guaranteeing them an annual half a billion dollars by 2031? Strangely enough, the answer has to do with Medicaid coverage.

North Carolina was one of the last states to expand Medicaid, delaying for nearly a decade after the federal government made expanded coverage available under the Affordable Care Act. Finally, in 2023, the General Assembly opted North Carolina into the expanded program, but made its launch contingent upon passage of the next budget. That turned the budget into a must-pass bill, because hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians were still missing out on vital free and low-cost services like annual checkups and prescription drug coverage. “Well now they could add in anything they wanted,” explained Sekel, who is cofounder of the group Save Our Schools NC, and North Carolina deputy director for the organization Red Wine and Blue. “If Governor Cooper had tried to veto it, then they would be able to say that Governor Cooper vetoed Medicaid.”

Read the full article here

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