Durham County

State legislators discuss public education with the public at Holton Center forum

Rep. Marcia Morey speaks during a town hall meeting hosted by the Durham Association of Educators at the Holton Career and Resource Center on Saturday.
Rep. Marcia Morey speaks during a town hall meeting hosted by the Durham Association of Educators at the Holton Career and Resource Center on Saturday. ctoth@heraldsun.com

The Durham Association of Educators presented a town hall forum on education Saturday at the Holton Career Research Center.

Addressing approximately 65 people, state Democratic lawmakers from Durham Sens. Floyd McKissick Jr. and Mike Woodard and Reps. Marcia Morey and Graig Meyer expressed their views on public education policy in the North Carolina.

The four lawmakers fielded any and all questions posed by residents.

McKissick said that 20 years of data collected on public charter schools showed that only 15 percent of students who transferred out of traditional public schools into charter schools bettered themselves academically, that 25 percent performed “about the same” and that 60 percent fared worse.

“Do worse!” McKissick emphasized. “So when those people come and say ‘Charter schools is what we need,’ that that’s ‘the answer,’ they aren’t,” McKissick said. “.. They are re-segregating our school systems.”

Mckissick said the state needs to invest in public schools and make sure public school teachers have access to everything they need in terms of both intellectual training and physical school supplies and ensure that even in rural areas broadband internet connectivity is available in classrooms.

Morey, who has only been in the Legislature for five and a half weeks, said that she is “dumbfounded by the things” she sees at a state level regarding public education.

“With the budget coming up, for education it’s going to be a real fight,” Morey said.

Woodard said it was obvious that teachers need better pay and added that the Legislature has been “so short-sighted” in its funding of school resources such as school supplies. He said he recently met a high school history teacher with only 17 text books for a class of 30-plus students.

Fifth grade students at Eno Valley Elementary School Ava Dameron and Alaina Robinson posed questions to the panel.

Dameron asked the legislators why her school cannot afford to supply pencils in her classroom.

Morey said “that’s heartbreaking.”

“If you can’t afford to have pencils, I’ll buy you the pencils,” Morey said. While she said she wasn’t sure that she could purchase all of a school’s needed computers, she assured listeners that she could certainly cover the pencils.

Meyer said the State Legislature must have more members willing to invest public funds for the betterment of the public education system.

“In 2018, in Durham County when it comes to the elections, there is not going to be any competitive elections. Durham County is going to elect all Democrats ... Those people are going to support 90 to 99 percent of what you want for public education,” Meyer said. “But in Person County, Granville County and Wake County and Alamance County ... Burke County ... and Haywood County there is going to be a whole lot of competitive elections.”

Meyer called on Durham residents to volunteer inneighboring counties to help elect pro-education candidates.

Durham County Commissioners James Hill and Brenda Howerton and Durham school board vice chairwoman Natalie Beyer were also on hand.

Referring to the dozens of Durham public school teachers listening and asking questions at the forum, Beyer told The Herald-Sun that teachers in Durham — who were willing to spend their Saturday afternoons advocating for policies and educations’ funding — are “champions” for their students.

“Durham’s elected delegation listened and will continue to champion better education policies and funding for students across the state,” Beyer said.

At one point during the forum McKissick said: “We must make a relentless commitment to say that we will not accept the status quo, we will fight with everything that is in our bodies, mind and souls the regressive politics that seek to turn the hands of time backwards.”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks