As a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher and school administrator, I have closely followed the ongoing debate over the role of public education in our state. Whenever possible, I have worked on a bipartisan basis to expand educational opportunities for all North Carolinians, from pre-K to postgraduate studies.
But rarely have the differences between the two parties on education been starker than over the past week. First, at a recent campaign stop, the Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, mocked President Obama for his proposal to hire more teachers, firefighters and police officers. Citing the results of the recent Wisconsin recall election, Romney said that its time for us to cut back on government and help the American people never mind the fact that the man who won that election, Gov. Scott Walker, has disagreed with Romneys interpretation of his victory.
Romney doesnt get it
It would be one thing if Romneys comments were an isolated gaffe. But they were only the latest in a series of disturbing statements the former Massachusetts governor has made about education. He told an Ohio college student concerned about the rising cost of tuition to just shop around for cheaper tuition. When discussing class size in Pennsylvania, Romney dismissed the notion of class size making a difference for student outcomes. And he has endorsed the budget proposed by congressional Republicans that could cut Pell Grants by up to 25 percent and slash local education spending.
Whats most troubling is that Romneys comments reflect what has become the mainstream attitude toward education in todays Republican Party. According to the GOP, teachers and first responders are nothing more than big government; struggling public schools should be abandoned in favor of private education; the government has no business trying to make college more affordable.
State Republicans cutting too much
This attitude has been on full display in North Carolina since Republicans gained control of the legislature in 2010. The impact of the Republican budget has already been felt by students in Charlotte and across the state, with nearly 5,000 education jobs lost this year alone. The budget the legislature sent to Gov. Bev Perdue would impose $189 million in cuts next year. Its no wonder that superintendents from across the state are decrying the impact of these cuts on local school systems.
Vilifying teachers wont fix deficit
There is no question that our state and our country must chart a path back toward fiscal sustainability, but vilifying teachers and other public servants is not the answer. North Carolinas economic success in recent decades is the direct result of the investments we have made in public education, from pre-K to college, and slashing these investments now is like cutting off our nose to spite our face.
President Obama understands this fact and has proposed a plan to reduce the national debt by $4 trillion over the next decade while protecting the things that make us strong. His Recovery Act kept nearly 20,000 educators in the classroom in North Carolina and put 50 new cops on the beat in Mecklenburg County, and his proposed jobs plan would create 325,000 education jobs across the country including 11,000 in North Carolina. His blueprint for an America built to last is the blueprint for our states education future.
By contrast, Mitt Romney wants to do to the entire country what his counterparts in Raleigh have done. His comments about teachers, firefighters and police officers were only the latest example of this fact. The choice our states voters will face in November couldnt be clearer.