About the NC Gerrymandered Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform

Beginning this month, a “Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform” is meeting in Raleigh to start “investigating” how to “best” fund public schools with state money.

And they are now looking at possibly eliminating the salary schedule for public school teachers and what might be another disastrous, planned “reform.”

As Billy Ball reported in a post yesterday on NC Policy Watch,

“A pivotal legislative task force may be just beginning its dive into North Carolina’s school funding maze, but lawmakers’ hints that they may abolish the state’s teacher salary schedule or other state-set funding allocations is already spurring criticism from local district advocates.

Talk of nixing a state-set pay scale emerged this year when lawmakers took on a revamp of school principal pay, and it’s resurfaced multiple times in the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform’s first meetings in November.

Yet local district leaders and their advocates in Raleigh say the proposal may only exacerbate the state’s looming pay disparities between wealthy and poor counties, spur employment lawsuits and complicate matters for local school boards” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/11/17/legislators-consider-abolishing-teacher-salary-schedule-study-nc-school-funding-labyrinth/).

The word “task” is certainly “pivitol” here in this context. Why?

Because if you simply take a look at the members of the “task” force, you can easily see that there already was a “task” at hand and it was started years ago when the GOP powers in Raleigh took control of the General Assembly.

That “task” is tightly linked to an agenda that has been executed and carried out long before this “pivotal task force” ever convened: dismantle the public education system.

Below is a list of the members on the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform.

Task Force

19 people appointed by each branch of the General Assembly. That makes it already under the control of Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Tim Moore, two of the biggest “reformers” in the state.

Look at that list of 19 people.

  • 16 of the 19 are republican.
  • 15 of the 19 are male.
  • 17 of the 19 are white.
  • 17 of the 19 were never in education as a profession (although Lambeth was on the school board of Forsyth County for a number of years).

And they as a group are to help revamp the way that public education is to be funded for a public that they are grossly unrepresentative of?

That list is a great example of the effects of gerrymandering.

Go further and look at that list more closely. It includes some of the major players and champions of the “reforms” that really have hurt public education in North Carolina.

  • Chad Barefoot
  • David Curtis
  • Jerry Tillman
  • Jon Hardister
  • Craig Horn

Sen. Barefoot has been a champion for the watered down version of the Teacher Fellows, the original sponsor of SB599 which allows people to enter the teaching profession with minimal training, and was an original architect for HB13, the class size bill that is threatening so many districts with layoffs and seismic budget constraints.

Sen. David Curtis is a stalwart supporter of charter schools and has been rather vocal on his views of what public school teachers are “worth.” One only has to revisit that rather caustic letter he wrote a young teacher a few years ago and see that his view of public education is set in stone – http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0.

Sen. Jerry Tillman has probably been the staunchest supporter of the unregulated charter school industry here in North Carolina. He also was instrumental in helping craft legislation to bring in the Innovative School District. His abrasive nature against debate and constructive criticism has been well-known for years.

Rep. Jon Hardister has been part of the “reform” since he took office. On one instance, he wrote an op-ed pretty much proclaiming the same platitudes and generalities that Rep. Moore recently did on EdNC.org. They were easily refuted – http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf. Hardister also has tried to help further charter school growth by financing it with other state money – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/06/01/robbing-peter-to-pave-for-paul-rep-jon-hardisters-misguided-amendment-for-charter-schools/.

Rep. Craig Horn has literally been in the center of every education “reform” in this state, the most recent being the principal pay plan. When backlash for the plan became rather quick and vocal he exclaimed,

“Legislation is not an exact science” – – Craig Horn in EdNC.org on Sept. 21, 2017.

But science requires thought, reflection, observation, and objectivity. This “task force” being led by Rep. Horn is actually an exercise in rapid narrow-minded policy changes.

With over a quarter of this task force controlled by these people, it should not be too hard to realize that this “Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform” is nothing more than a gerrymandered body whose agenda to further privatize a public good is more important than actually representing the public of North Carolina.

If this really was a “task force,” then maybe it should spend its time and energy trying to validate with real research and real data the effectiveness of the very “reforms” that many on this “task force” have championed.

But alas, that would go against their narrative and would require a look at the truth.

Robbing Peter to Pave For Paul – Rep. Jon Hardister’s Misguided Amendment for Charter Schools

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

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.