“We don’t need no education.”
Are these words: a) Lyrics from a Pink Floyd classic? or b) the new rallying cry for the state GOP?
Now that the state Supreme Court has reversed a critical decision on school funding that it affirmed only four months ago, you have to wonder.
The court’s new Republican majority voted Friday 5-2 to reinstate a lower court’s order that blocks a judge’s order to spend millions of long-overdue dollars on public schools.
Time was when precedent, especially involving such a recent court decision, held weight. In today’s hyper partisan, take-no-prisoners political arena, not so much.
Winning is all that matters … whatever the cost.
At issue is the Leandro case, a decades-old legal battle over school funding. The Republican-controlled legislature had been ordered to spend the money on public schools after a lower-court judge ruled that lawmakers failed to meet the state constitution’s guarantee of “a sound, basic education” for all children.
People are also reading…
The GOP has countered, essentially, that the court should butt out — that it’s solely the job of the legislature to determine how state money is spent.
Once the court shifted from a Democratic majority to a Republican one in January, GOP lawmakers got their way. The state’s highest court will rehear the case.
In a blistering dissent, Associate Justice Anita Earls described Friday’s order as an “extraordinary, unprincipled and unprecedented action” that “merely seeks rehearing on issues this court has already decided.”
“If our court cannot or will not enforce state constitutional rights,” Earls rightly added, “those rights do not exist.”
Friday’s do-over ruling is disconcerting in any number of ways.
It continues the court’s slow descent into politicization, where partisan interests trump the rule of law.
The state’s schools will continue to suffer from a lack of resources even as lawmakers sit on massive surpluses and Republicans plan more corporate tax cuts.
Meanwhile, instead of the nuts and bolts of teaching children, the GOP remains fixated on waging cultural wars in the classroom, from pumped-up hysteria about critical race theory, to “grooming,” to “inappropriate” books, especially ones by gay and Black authors (heaven forbid a writer fit both categories).
The GOP also is pushing to make more and more school board elections partisan, which also sows more division and tends to focus more attention on ideology than policy.
As for the school funding question, the numbers don’t lie. According to the nonprofit North Carolina School Forum, this state ranks 48th nationally in public school funding and, when the figures are adjusted for regional differences in costs, dead last — behind even Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union. Also, the state ranks 38th nationally in teacher pay. Starting annual salaries for North Carolina teachers are 17% below what Alabama pays.
Small wonder the state began the current school year with 4,400 teacher vacancies.
Gov. Roy Cooper cited education spending as a highlight of his budget in his State of the State address Monday night.
Republican leaders, obviously, have other ideas.
What’s most unfortunate is that there ought to be more common ground.
Both parties have a vested interest in economic growth in the state and both have worked recently together to bring new jobs and industry to North Carolina. It stands to reason, then, that investing in its public schools only enhances the state’s ability to attract more growth by helping to provide a smart, competitive workforce.
Republicans counter that simply spending more money on schools will not make them better. Point taken. But spending wisely will.
Who would argue that better pay wouldn’t help to attract and retain better teachers?
And who would argue that effective teachers, adequate supplies, up-to-date textbooks and safer classrooms wouldn’t enhance learning?
Many Republicans likely see last week’s court reversal as a victory. The truth is, we’re all losers.
Being last in the nation is no cause to celebrate.