Ad Indicates GOP Fears Over Schools
The general election is more than seven months away, but the defense of the Republican-led state legislature has already begun.
Two conservative groups - Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute - have rolled out an ad praising the legislature for avoiding a tax hike wanted by Democrats while adding money to hire 2,000 new teachers. The ad is filled with images of earnest-looking teachers in classrooms.
It had barely hit YouTube before Democratic officials began doing their best imitation of a Duke basketball player crying foul while flopping in the lane.
"This ad is a despicable distortion of the truth and should be removed from the airwaves immediately," state Democratic Party Chairman David Parker proclaimed.
A political ad that is a despicable distortion of the truth? Is there any other kind?
The chief complaint from Parker and the Democrats seems to be that the ad distorts teacher layoffs. They claim 4,500 education jobs were lost in the state.
In fact, figures based on state employee benefits data suggest that state and local government last year laid off 516 local school system employees and 243 UNC system workers.
The discrepancy between those figures and the 2,000 new teaching jobs proclaimed by the ad comes from the fact that legislators also passed along discretionary cuts to local school systems, forcing them to do the pink slip dirty work.
The problem with the Democrats' complaint: They did the same thing the year before, when they controlled the legislature. The complaint also ignores that these are tough financial times, and some layoffs of state workers were inevitable.
The back-and-forth about teaching jobs creates a distortion itself, though.
Who is right about teaching jobs is far less important than the fact that this ad even exists.
Look hard enough in the faces of those faux teachers and what you see is fear. It's a fear that Republican legislators and the groups who support their policy objectives could alienate too much of the electorate by appearing anti-teacher and anti-public school.
Teacher layoffs are only a small part of that equation.
The GOP-controlled legislature also embarked on an all-out press to cripple the state's largest teacher group, the N.C. Association of Educators, by eliminating their dues check-off. It rolled through legislation giving parents of special needs children a tax credit for sending their children to private schools, a move that critics suggest will lead to more tax credits and the erosion of tax support for the public schools.
Those actions, in combination, make it easy for Republican lawmakers to be cast as anti-public education. For most, it's not an accurate portrayal.
But to prove their critics wrong, a pretty ad won't get it done.
Republican leaders need to come up with their own school reform plan that will strengthen, not undermine, the public schools. And they need to rein in those within their ranks who fail to understand that the public, by and large, won't support elected officials who don't support public education.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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