Editorial: Don't play games with N.C. education

Apr. 23, 2013 @ 07:57 PM

For the kids in the fellowship hall of White Rock Baptist Church on Monday, that big Chutes and Ladders mat on the floor was all fun and games.

But for the adults gathered around it, this was serious business about the future of North Carolina’s public education system.

The mat is part of an outreach program by NC MomsRising, a progressive grassroots organization with about 28,000 members.

They’re using the mat to raise awareness about troubling statistics:

  • More than one in four children live in poverty in North Carolina. Many don’t know where their next meal is coming from and sometimes their best meals during the day are free or reduced-price school lunches.
  • One in 11 children is uninsured. It’s bad enough when adults don’t have medical coverage, but unthinkable for children who need vaccinations, preventive care and emergency treatment.
  • We’re among the bottom five states for infant mortality. In Durham and Chapel Hill, we may take for granted our top-notch health care facilities – including children’s hospitals at Duke and UNC. Despite their excellence, our state as a whole is losing too many infants.
  • We’re 48th among the 50 states for per-pupil spending and teacher salaries in our public schools.

Gov. Pat McCrory wants to cut funds even more this year, although he has proposed a meager bump in salaries for teachers that won’t catch them up with cost-of-living growth. He wants to slash the budget for teaching assistants, threatening 80 positions in Durham Public Schools alone, while increasing class sizes – giving teachers more students to manage without the help to do so.

The state General Assembly might also reduce the poverty-level percentage for pre-kindergarten eligibility. Such a move would devastate children in Durham County, said Laura Benson, executive director of Durham’s Partnership for Children.

Leigh Bordley, a member of the DPS Board of Education, said that she doesn’t want county commissioners to have to shoulder a load created by state cutbacks.

“They’re not giving us the funding that we need,” Bordley said. “In Durham County, we might be asking the commissioners for a tax increase for a burden the state should really be carrying.”

It does seem odd that lawmakers in the General Assembly – some of whom are mothers, fathers, grandparents themselves – apparently are more interested in short-term fiscal cuts than our long-term educational competitiveness.

Pro-business Republicans certainly should get the importance of investing for competition. That investment shouldn’t be limited to tax breaks and infrastructure. It must include our children.

“When we invest in kids, it makes a difference,” said Beth Messersmith, leader of NC MomsRising, in an article by The Herald-Sun’s Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan. “If we want North Carolina to compete and children to compete, we need to be investing in them.”