Robbing Peter to pave for Paul.
That’s what a recent amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister would do. According to the News & Observer,
A budget amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister, a Greensboro Republican, cuts $2.5 million in road maintenance money to provide grants for charter schools that serve low-income students and want to provide student transportation – a service that many charter schools don’t offer.
“If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school,” Hardister said (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article153682054.html).
Hardister, a former board member of the Greensboro Academy Charter School (which now has Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes on its board of directors), has not been shy about his championing of “school choice.” Along with the Opportunity Grants, the Achievement School District, and charter school cap removal, Hardister has been a leading voice in offering “reforms” that have not shown any empirical evidence of working on a broad scale.
So, it is not surprising that he offers this amendment. But his quote above gives another glimpse into the disconnect that many in Raleigh suffer from when it comes to low-income students and academic achievement.
Hardister said, “If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school.” That’s true.
But if a student is on free or reduced lunch, it can be harder for that student to learn. Period.
Beginning his fourth year in the state House, Hardister has watched his own political party craft social policies and voted along party lines on the very issues that affect why so many students are on free and reduced lunch to begin with.
Ironically, Hardister serves an area in Guilford County that literally borders the infamous 12th congressional district that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court for racial profiling. In fact, it was considered one of the top ten most gerrymandered districts in the nation by many watchdogs. That charter school he was a board member of? Yep, it’s in that 12th district.
It seems that if Rep. Hardister really wanted to make sure that kids who were on free and reduced lunches had a better chance for a quality education, he would have spoken loudly about how the very students who fit that description in his hometown and their families had their voices muffled because of the GOP’s redistricting efforts to place minority voters in the same voting areas.
And since Hardister is an ardent supporter of vouchers, he probably subscribes to the standard party mantra that “parents know best where to send their kids for school.” Give those parents a voice in voting and they may choose that what’s best is that the state fully fund public schools where their kids already have transportation and are already part of the community.
Did Rep. Hardister stand against recent budget proposals that literally wiped out a quarter of the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction? No. But he surely knows that while DPI is far from perfect, many rural counties with high populations of free or reduced lunch students depend very much on DPI’s services.
Did Rep. Hardister question the further investment in the Opportunity Grants when there still is a lack of oversight of the schools that take vouchers? Did he read the report by the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University that showed how flawed the voucher system really is all the while voting on budgets that brought down the per-pupil expenditure for traditional public schools?
Did Rep. Hardister consider that the budgets he greenlighted made the state’s public university system more expensive for the graduates of our high schools? NPR did a report just yesterday that talked about how the dwindling investment by states like NC in their university systems is actually preventing more low-income kids from going to college. And after the catastrophe of Betsy DeVos’s first 100 days in office, the promise pf getting a student loan that could actually be paid off in a reasonable amount of time disappeared.
Did Rep. Hardister even fight to expand Medicaid for those in the state who have students in their families that receive free or reduced lunches? Hungry students have a hard time learning. Sickened ones do as well.
So this amendment to take money from the transportation budget to make sure that some of these charter schools can transport students to and from school seems more like lip service from a politician. Because if Rep. Hardister really wanted students who received free or reduced lunches to succeed in school, he would do everything in his power to make sure that those students did not have to get on a bus already hungry or sick.
But if those students did come to school hungry and sick, why not fully fund the public schools and give them the resources to combat the very needs that plague these students. More teaching assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, counseling, before and after school programs would help, but that would require investment. Is he willing to do that?
If Hardister is keen on helping kids, then he would invest in the very things that helped them.
And if education is the road to a better life in both the literal and metaphorical manner, then Hardister better not take money from the “road” budget; he should be adding money to it.