Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Tag: education

For whom opportunity knocks?

Daily Planet, 1/2014

My last column on this page was about American exceptionalism: how we aren’t necessarily. This column is about American exceptionalism: one way we still are, so far.

The one thread that runs through American history from Jamestown to now is Opportunity. America has always been the “Land of Opportunity,” a special place for people who have had the courage to start over.

My people came from Ireland and scratched out a living in southwest Georgia. Other Irish lived in big-city slums or went underground in coal and copper mines.   Life was an outrage for all of them – but better than Ireland. They persevered. They were free, after all; they weren’t being humiliated and starved by the English.   America gave them opportunity, and they took advantage of it. My great-great-grandfather learned to farm, and his sons started businesses. My father graduated from Georgia Tech.

So it is today. We offer economic opportunity to immigrants far beyond anything in their home countries. Doctors retrain as nurses to qualify for jobs here.

America – the Land of Opportunity for the immigrant.

For the immigrant. Hmmm. What about for our own people? Is America the Land of Opportunity for my grandchildren? Yes, it is, but….

But not as it once was. We all know people in WNC who grew up poor in remote hollows, who now are successful in trades and professions. Most of these people I know, if not all, say they’re where they are because of public schools – first grade through high school and even state universities and community colleges.

Education. That’s why I wrote “exceptional, so far” above. America as the Land of Opportunity – for our own people– is teetering.

It’s my habit to encourage young people I see working in places like Ingles. I ask what their future plans are. More and more of them now say they can’t afford to continue beyond high school.   Some are discouraged; some see the military as default. The ever-rising cost of higher education has priced them out.

And then we hear from Raleigh about budget cuts to education at all levels, pre-school to university. For whatever reasons – ideology (government must spend less) or ideology (public schools are “socialist”) or greed (for-profit schools spend big for lobbyists) – Republicans in the General Assembly are dismantling North Carolina’s great legacy of state-funded education. And in so doing, they’re limiting our children’s future opportunity.

As we look around the developed world, the tight-fisted North Carolina approach is the exception. In most advanced countries, education through university is free to all, some even including graduate study.

These countries do this through taxation.   North Carolina Republicans would rather have low taxes than a well-educated population.

We can’t have both low taxes and quality universal education. Children of the well-educated will be well-educated. In recent generations, the door has been open to everybody. Now we’re heading for a day when Opportunity knocks only at doors of the elite.

3 beasts of NC GOP

Citizen-Times, 1/2013

From afar, the Republican government in Raleigh looks like a hybrid mythical beast, like the bird-lion-human sphinx. This GOP version needs to be studied because it will decide N.C.’s destiny for a few years.

The beast’s head is our new governor ─ a businessman who apparently isn’t very big on ideologies of economic theory. But the brain inside the head is pure ideology:   Art Pope, whose wealth has created a sophisticated network of foundations and think tanks and who hugely influenced the last two elections. And who now is the governor’s chief budget adviser. His ideology, simply stated, is that the “free market” can do almost everything better than government and business should pretty much be left alone by government. We’ll call this brain the “Artists.”

Another part, Christian conservatives, are not by nature interested in ideological theory. They care about “social” issues. They have strong opinions on things they see as morally correct ─ and they want their views to become law. Amendment One, that outlawed gay marriage last May, is an example of their work.  We’ll call them the “Moralists.”

The Artists sometimes disagree with the Moralists. Their idea of limited government includes government intervention in personal morality. John Hood, president of Pope’s John Locke Foundation, was outspoken against Amendment One: “I think amending North Carolina’s constitution to forbid gay and lesbian couples from receiving any future legal recognition, including civil unions, is unwise and unfair.” But the Artists do use the Moralists. When the Artists spent millions to crush Democrats in November with slick mailbox cards, one of their lines of slander was incumbent Democrats’ votes against Amendment One.

Another piece of the beast is the Tea Party contingent.   Their ideology is a mish-mash of angry negativism. They’re first cousin to the Artists but more paranoid about such as Communist and Islamic takeovers of America and the United Nations as a world government. We’ll see their hand in such as action to repeal and forbid anything to do with “sustainable development.” We’ll call them the “Herbalists.”

We’ll see “all of the above,” working together on legislation that cripples their Democratic opposition ─ with such as voter ID laws and restricting early voting.

Their interests also converge on education.   The Cato Institute, a think tank in sync with the Artists, looks “toward a future when state-run schools give way to a dynamic, independent system of schools.” In the Artists’ view, the state should stay out of education. For their part, Moralists want public school resources shared with homeschoolers and private academies. And an Herbalist recruitment letter said, “It’s the parent’s right not the government’s to raise and educate your children.”

N.C. has interesting days ahead.

For-profit schools

Citizen-Times, 3/2012

Public schools have been the center point of community life in N.C. for over 100 years—for sports, music, lunches for needy children, and most of all, where dedicated teachers have encouraged, challenged and loved generations of local people.  All run by local, elected boards of education.

That’s what made the General Assembly’s actions last year so strange to so many.  Their budget cut $459 million from K-12, leaving N.C. 49th in the nation in per-student spending. Their Midnight Override slapped public school teachers. They increased charter school competition with public schools. Odd behavior–until you look around at other states.
Wisconsin passed legislation (search “Wisconsin S.B. 22”) that takes charter schools away from school districts and puts them under a statewide, politically-appointed board. And Wisconsin also established virtual (online) charter schools where teacher-student contact is mostly by email. Indiana strengthened private and charter schools’ ability to compete with public schools. Michigan proposes outsourcing teachers to for-profit staffing companies. Ohio cut education spending by 16.4 percent.
I don’t much believe in coincidences—and this ani’t one. All these states elected Republican governors and legislatures in 2010. They all got their boilerplate legislation from the same place (search “ALEC legislation”). And they are funded by the same clutch of billionaires, especially the Koch and DeVos families.
Taken together, two words come to mind: privatization and profit. This is not really about education. It’s free-market ideology. Education is just one front in the Republican war on government, right along with privatizing Social Security. And since K-12 education is the largest budget item in all 50 states, Republicans salivate over private-sector alternatives to public education. We saw this attitude in a recent AC-T guest column titled “Schools Must Compete,” where the author saw schools through a business model. A questionable direction, you’d think, since graduates of for-profit colleges earn less, have more debt and are unemployed longer than graduates of public and non-profit colleges. But ideology is ideology.
Now we can understand last summer’s repeal of the one-cent sales tax. When William Friday on “North Carolina People” asked speaker pro tempore Dale Falwell why Republicans hadn’t kept the one-cent tax to support schools, Falwell just wandered around. The real answer quite likely is they welcomed the resulting budget shortfall because it gave them rationale to be good Republicans.
N.C.’s constitution reads, “The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools .” So we are not as vulnerable to ideological mischief as some other states. But our public schools won’t really be safe until the General Assembly is completely free of Republican experimentation.

Hise & Education

(submitted to several, 9/2012)

During his successful campaign for state Senate in 2010, Ralph Hise wrote, “I will be a strong supporter of our public schools and community colleges. I understand that long term economic development is not possible without their ability to grow, improve, and provide greater opportunities for education.”

Problem is, he didn’t do it. When Hise arrived in Raleigh, he came face to face with choices. His party, the Republicans, gained control of the General Assembly in 2010, and their agenda was, shall we say, not very supportive of public schools and community colleges. They crafted a budget with massive cuts in education at all levels.   Would Hise remember his promise to us and strongly support public schools and community colleges, or would he go along with the crowd and support the Republican budget? On June 2, 2011, and again on June 15, he voted for House Bill 200 that slashed funding for the schools he promised to support.

Hise’s support of that budget defies logic. He represents farmers, so he votes to cut Cooperative Extension services.   He represents young people with ambitions to compete in a modern workforce, so he votes to cut community college funding. He represents struggling families, so he votes for massive cuts in Medicaid.

And they didn’t have to do it. They could have extended the one-cent sales tax and balanced the budget with half the pain that their budget caused. They could have taken any number of temporary measures to keep us well positioned to wait for economic recovery.

We have representative government, and Ralph Hise hasn’t represented us well in Raleigh.   On the campaign trail, it’s easy to say, “I’m for public education. I’m for jobs.” Well, he’s on the campaign trail again right now ─ and he’s opposed by an extraordinary Democrat, Phil Feagan. That combination ─ Feagan and Hise’s record in Raleigh ─ means that Hise will probably find Spruce Pine at the end of this year’s campaign trail, not Raleigh.


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