“As Clear As The Setting Sun” – Sen. Phil Berger Should Not Be Re-elected

hamlet skull

To be or not to be: that is the question.
Whether to suffer under Berger more,
Or elect someone who works for us all
And not swim against a sea of troubles.

If Shakespeare has taught us anything about human nature and our lives (actually he has taught us much), then we would certainly know that the state of the king’s palace usually dictates the state of the kingdom. Just review perhaps his most famous play, Hamlet, where the greed of one man for power (Claudius) causes a chain of events that literally bring down a kingdom, takes innocent lives, and even makes the dead come back.

Consequently, the state of the General Assembly and the actions of its players has direct effects on the state of North Carolina as a whole. But one of these players has had the leading role for a while in Raleigh, Sen. Phil Berger.

In this drama of an election year, it is worth beseeching our fellow North Carolinians who live in Rockingham and Guilford counties who also have Sen. Phil Berger as their state senator to seriously contemplate his actions as a legislator and the effects they have had on the rest of the state. Why? Because…

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Marcellus, I,iv).

Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina. The list of offending actions causing this state of decay is long and well-documented. And Sen. Berger has been the chief architect in most all of them.

There was the religious freedom bill. There was the Voter ID law. There was HB2. There were the countless attacks on public education. There was the tax “reform” that has placed more burden on the middle class of the state. There was the marriage amendment. There was a reduction of benefits for the unemployed. There was the refusal of Medicaid expansion.

All of it has been poison poured into the ears of North Carolinians. It adds to the madness of North Carolina.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Polonius, II,ii). 

While many of our constituents may debate the merits of who should go into what bathroom or who should be able to marry whom, there have been deliberate, calculated attempts at consolidating power on a state level by this man at the expense of others. Sen. Berger has thrown out so many red herrings to take attention away from what has really happened in legislative sessions that many are convinced it is madness to go against his policies.

But there is a method to it. The thought that some would want grown men to go into girls’ locker rooms at a public school is madness. But that is the deception – a method to extend power over local municipalities about how people can sue in state courts or how local municipalities can contract work.

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (Hamlet, I, v). 

Shakespeare was often very wary of how villains presented themselves. Iago was “two-faced” showing a public side to hide private motives. Edmund people-pleased in order to destroy them. Richard III smiled constantly in the very faces of people he eliminated.

The public facade can often be a mask for other motives. Rather than focus on the smiling visage of a politician, listen to his words, read his explanations, and then compare them to his actions. And why? Because…

“The Devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape” (Hamlet, II,ii).

No, Sen. Berger is not the Devil. But I do think he will have a lot to answer for when he greets his maker as he is asked what he did for those who needed the most help. So, I beseech you to…

“Listen to many, speak to a few” (Polonius, I,iii). 

Yes, he is an incumbent for your district. He supposedly represents your ideals. But consider that his actions have had deleterious effects on all North Carolinians. In his efforts at gerrymandering districts, he has shown us all his conscious efforts at squashing voices who disagree with him.

Ask any public school teacher outside of your district and nine times out of ten, that teacher will be able to directly name Sen. Berger as an adversarial presence in public education.

Ask any person in the LBGT community who has faced discrimination.

Ask any parent who needs Medicaid to help with healthcare coverage for his/her child.

Ask any of the almost one in four kids in our state who live in poverty.

Ask any small municipality (even Hamlet, NC) about having Raleigh overrule their own local ordinances.

 “This above all: to thine own self be true” (Polonius, I,iii).  

The operative words here are “true” and “truth”. Don’t allow political double-speak and platitudes to cover up what is the truth. And the truth is what affects lives. Sen. Berger has affected a lot of lives – negatively.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Hamlet, III,i).

Maybe the question should be, “To vote, or not to vote.” The answer is yes, you should. But please consider who you vote for, because if life is a stage, then the rest of the state and even the country is watching the play.

Don’t let this end tragically. Don’t let us be haunted by ghosts of actions past. We can have a new script.












Opportunity Grants and Missed Opportunity Refunds

Irony makes this world go ‘round and North Carolina is providing plenty of it in the form of vouchers, or as proponents call them in North Carolina, Opportunity Grants.

In truth, they should be called Missed Opportunity Grants, because the money that the North Carolina General Assembly has spent and wants to spend on vouchers is literally being taken away from the traditional pubic schools who need them the most.

The following definitions for the word “voucher” come from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/voucher):

1:  an act of vouching
2a :  a piece of supporting evidence :  
b :  a documentary record of a business transaction
c :  a written affidavit or authorization :  
d :  a form or check indicating a credit against future purchases or expenditures
3:  a coupon issued by government to a parent or guardian to be used to fund a child’s education in either a public or private school

How ironic is it that the first definition of the word “voucher” uses the word “proof” in it and there is no substantial evidence that the use of “vouchers” (refer to third definition above) actually even work well? Even without any “voucher” to “vouch” for the use of educational “vouchers”, the General Assembly seems hell-bent on expanding the Opportunity Grants program.

On May 31st, Sen. Phil Berger officially rolled out the senate’s budget proposal and in it set appropriations for further funding of the Opportunity Grants, NC’s version of vouchers. The table below is from page 64 of that actual budget proposal. It asks for a %300 increase in funds by the year 2027.


Add up all of the money for each pf the years and you will get a sum of nearly just under a billion dollars. A BILLION DOLLARS!

Now, look at the list of eligible schools that can receive Opportunity Grants – https://www3.ncseaa.edu/cgi-bin/SCHOOLROSTER/NPS500.pgm. It ‘s a long list.  But here it the first part of it.


Yep, they are mostly religiously affiliated. If you look at the entire list, you will see that trend stands true throughout. Religious schools do not have to use the same curriculum. They can and have altered admission requirements (LGBT students for instance). They can teach creationism and eschew evolution. They can use their own “tests” to measure students. They can indoctrinate students based on the belief system of the school’s religious affiliation. Also, these religious schools are associated many times with non-taxed entities.

And public tax money is being used to finance it.

Even more ironic is that literally days before this budget was presented a study by Mark Dynarski at the Brookings Institute spoke directly to the negative effects of vouchers. A link to the study was provided by Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2016/05/31/new-study-voucher-students-doing-significantly-worse-than-public-school-counterparts/). He also highlighted the Executive Summary of Dynarski’s report and it is stirring.

“Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

That does not vouch well for vouchers, especially since North Carolina’s program has hardly had enough time to even show results that would validate such an increase in funds in the budget proposal.

It has been shown that much of the money from Opportunity Grants has been used in tuition costs for small (oftentimes religious) schools who do not have to show test results unless they garner an extremely high amount of money from the voucher system. It’s like they do not even have to show growth, the very variable that lawmakers continue to hark on for public schools.

Put simply, the NCGA has created a moving and insanely difficult target for public schools to show proficiency that then creates a false need for vouchers to schools that do not even have to show any growth, a need so great that it will cost almost $900 million dollars in the next ten years to “fix”.

Until vouchers can be shown to improve academic outcomes and the recipient schools show the same transparency with tax money as public schools school must, then these are not Opportunity Grants. They are missed opportunities.

So what is to be done? Well, I propose the “Missed Opportunity Refunds”. It revolves around five basic principles.

  1. All schools who are willing to accept Opportunity Grants should be willing to submit an application to the state stating why an Opportunity Grant would be a good investment on the part of the state. Those schools should also disclose the tuition costs and the amount of scholarships available and it should be public. This would make them eligible to receive an Opportunity Grant. However, by the same token, they would now be responsible for a Missed Opportunity Refund.
  2. Missed Opportunity Refunds would be financed by the very private schools that receive Opportunity Grant money that fail to show gains in reading and math standardized tests that public schools are forced to measure students with. The Missed Opportunity Refund would go to the public school that the student would have naturally attended.
  3. When a Missed Opportunity Refund is given back to a public school, the state will have to also pay another $4,200 to the school to help make sure that the student make up for the digression in academic achievement. That money would come out of the budget for Opportunity Grants established by the NCGA.
  4. All schools that receive Opportunity Grants have to be on a registry, like the one alluded to earlier – https://www3.ncseaa.edu/cgi-bin/SCHOOLROSTER/NPS500.pgm. But now there would be a new registry kept by the state that would show how many “refunds” had to be given back to public schools and it would be accessible to the public.
  5. If a school has to give back a certain number of Missed Opportunity Refunds, then that school no longer is eligible to receive Opportunity Grants at all.

Seems fair to me.

When the chance or occasion or prospect arises to spend money on a student to be more successful in a school, then does it not make sense to spend money helping ensure that all students become more successful in school?

And we already have that opportunity  – by fully funding our public schools.