Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Education
You won’t find many people who would disagree that the most important thing that state government does is education.
This year, 56 percent of North Carolina’s general operating budget will go to pay for public schools, community colleges and public universities. So, no issue should be more important in determining who voters choose as the state’s top political leader.
As the May primary nears, those vying for the job to replace Gov. Beverly Perdue have been letting loose with their own ideas on education.
The Republican front-runner, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, recently rolled out a public school reform plan that offers plenty of contrasts with Democrats’ ideas on the
The top-tier Democrats — Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, former Congressman Bob Etheridge and state Rep. Bill Faison — have made known some of their own preferences at recent forums. They’ve offered up ideas very different from McCrory’s, even if they haven’t done much to distinguish themselves from each other.
McCrory’s proposals emphasize vocational education. He’s also backing merit pay for teachers, allowing more parental choices when it comes to their children’s schooling, and ending social promotion of third-graders as a means of ensuring that younger students can read and are prepared to succeed in later grades. Unlike Perdue and the three prominent Democratic candidates, McCrory opposes restoring a three-quarter-cent sales tax hike that expired last year to reverse cuts to public education.
As for those Democrats, they all agree that tax credits and vouchers that could be part of Republican efforts to allow more school choices are a bad idea because they siphon money away from public schools. All three also have been skeptical of teacher merit pay, questioning how it would be fairly implemented.
The danger for Democrats is being seen as the candidates of the status quo, of being opposed to McCrory’s ideas without any fresh ideas themselves.
As McCrory spokesman Brian Nick put it, “It’s hard to tell if these three are running for office or having a contest for the most uninspiring campaign.” The McCrory camp will continue trying to sell the idea that Democrats have only tired ideas.
It might not work.
Dalton, for example, has been heavily involved with the state’s efforts to establish early college programs that partner high schools with community colleges, motivating high school students by putting them onto a path with a real-world career goal. Those schools report graduation rates well above other high schools.
As for McCrory, his danger lies in overselling the notion that public schools in North Carolina are broken, and that the main fix can be found in the more radical school choice options favored by some conservatives. Those proposals, taken to the extreme, will have the effect of undermining financial support for public schools.
A lot of educational innovation has occurred in North Carolina, particularly at the high school level.
Ignoring the good in the public schools is just as foolish as political course as failing to address the bad.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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