It’s just plain wrong. Period.

fatcatNC GOP leaders chose fat cats over our state’s children in this year’s budget debate — and they really don’t want you to notice.

It’s one of the most revealing chapters from this year’s General Assembly session. And it’s one that perfectly illustrates the far right’s misguided priorities for our state. Here’s what happened: Senate Republicans used a procedural gimmick during the recent state budget debate in order to dodge a vote on closing a tax loophole for NC’s wealthiest residents. Their tax loophole for millionaires is going to cost NC $336 million in annual revenues during a time in which our public schools face a $500 million funding gap.

Learn more here and sign our petition that condemns Senate Republicans and asks Governor Perdue to veto the budget if it has this provision in it.

Why we fight

Progress North Carolina fights to preserve many things that make NC great. But no issue has been more important to us then the battle to save public education in our state. Under the guise of fiscal responsibility, the far right has attacked our public schools by ramming through devastating budget cuts and turning our teachers into public villains. In doing so, they have attacked the heart of what makes North Carolina great. Progress NC has responded by fighting back on-the-ground, in the media, online and in the halls of state government. Why do we fight so hard? Here’s why:

NC Education - flag.jpgEducation built modern North Carolina. It allowed us to transition from an agricultural economy to one that now includes some of the most innovative ventures in the world. In doing so, it helped our state escape the poverty that too many other states suffer. Strong public schools and a well-prepared workforce have led to North Carolina consistently ranking at the very top of the best places in America for families and employers alike. Most of all, the breadth of our state’s commitment to education, from Pre-K and Smart Start all the way through to our community colleges and public universities, has proved North Carolina’s willingness to invest in its citizens and to support their right to work hard, be rewarded for that work and shape their own destinies.

NC education crowd- diversified.jpgCritics of public education say that it is too expensive. They take isolated incidences of failure and attempt to paint the entire public education system as worthless. They talk of expenses and nothing of the benefits. They highlight the problems while ignoring the lessons of the successes. In short, they have wrapped the reality around their beliefs rather than basing their beliefs on the reality. Education is not the single greatest expense of our government — it is the single greatest investment that our government makes. And it provides the greatest, most enduring return of any investment our government makes. Why? Because public education makes America possible. It nurtures the success of the individual and remains essential to keeping the promise of the American dream alive. It is the great equalizer and the only thing left in our society that keeps us from fragmenting into a country of haves and have-nots. Public education lets people born into poverty lift themselves out of that poverty and build a better life for their families. It creates leaders and problem-solvers who keep our state moving forward into the future. In short, it is the last thing on earth we should sacrifice to the “no taxes for any reason” crowd.

NC Education - college students.jpgWhen Progress North Carolina decided to take the lead in holding the GOP leaders in the General Assembly responsible for their cuts to education, we suspected we would find support for our position on both sides of the aisle. After all, some of the strongest supporters of public schools in North Carolina have been Republicans and our education system has long been a source of bipartisan pride. But we have been both surprised and gratified to find that protecting public education truly is a nonpartisan issue, important to Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliateds alike. As we have traveled around the state, holding lawmakers responsible, we have been welcomed by North Carolinians of all stripes and from all economic classes who are willing to join us in our fight to save public education. In a world as politically polarized as ours, it is remarkable to find such common agreement and further proof of public education’s importance to our lives.

 Could public education in North Carolina be improved? Absolutely. In many instances, we have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to its challenges with poor results and we must back off from these failed solutions and acknowledge that, like politics, good education may very well be local. Can we cut costs? Possibly. We can certainly deploy education funding in more strategic ways, putting it where it will do the most good. But we cannot intelligently reform education by cutting its budget first and asking questions later, as the General Assembly did last year. Nor can we reform education intelligently by shutting teachers out of the process and making them the enemy — they are the only ones in a position to know what truly works where it matters the most: on the frontline, where our children sit and learn. And we certainly cannot reform education intelligently if we rely on the advice of those who stand to profit handsomely from the failure of our public schools.

NC Education - kids.jpgReal reform of our schools will take adopting a far different approach than the one our General Assembly employed last year. It will take better planning, the input of many and it most certainly will take a more open mind on the part of GOP leaders in Raleigh. They must begin by listening to those who work within and who are invested in the success of our public school system, including our state’s renowned educational experts, school superintendents, teachers, families and even students. It can be done. There is room at the table for everyone. But we cannot allow those who do not have a stake in our public schools to drive their reform — and that includes for-profit educational interests who stand to make money off their demise. It is foolish to believe that inviting the fox into the henhouse will yield anything but mayhem in return.

Don’t let our state’s leaders sacrifice public education simply to satisfy the vocal demands of an extremist base unwilling to back any government-financed program. Don’t let them cripple public education so business interests can profit. Don’t let them use fiscal responsibility as an excuse to gut the most important investment in the future that our state makes. Demand that they leave ideology out of the equation. Join Progress North Carolina in asking that our state take a more thoughtful, inclusive approach to saving our public education system.

We have seen the support for our schools on the ground. We know that it is out there. Our hope is that education will become a common ground for all North Carolinians, one that inspires us to work together to turn our public schools into a shining example of a modern system that serves students effectively while respecting those who are charged with their  education. North Carolina once led the nation in public education and we can lead it again. We just have to acknowledge how important it is and try.

Propaganda on wheels falls flat

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A mobile billboard is probably the safest place for the wild claim that the state budget actually added teachers. Before someone can corner the gypsy accountant with the real numbers — like the fact that there are 915 fewer teachers and 2,045 fewer teaching assistants in North Carolina’s classrooms this year — the wheels are rolling, the bullet points are blurry and back on the road, and people are left to scratch their heads. Soccer moms have to switch lanes. They don’t have time to look closer. Art Pope probably likes it that way.

So after dumping half a million dollars in deceptive ads onto the TV airwaves, Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute billed their billboard tour as an effort to take their “message to large cities and small towns across North Carolina.” They hope people swallow the propaganda on the air and, now, on the ground. 

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But if public interest in their mobile billboard is any sign of public support for the slick TV ads and their misleading slogans on schools, the extremist agenda on education may be too much for parents to believe. There are no press gatherings to greet the billboard. No grassroots rallies. No TV news cameras jockeying for good shots. Judging from the public and media indifference, an old bromide comes to mind about a tree falling in the forest and no one hearing it. Is this billboard tour for real? Is it really happening? Well yes, actually it is, and here are the pictures to prove it. But it’s more of a vanity parade, with the billboard’s promoters taking the pictures, not the local press (that’s a staffer of Americans For Prosperity shown at left).

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In fact, most newspapers refused to cover the “NC Real Solutions” tour, even as the mobile nonsense pulled straight up to the front door of newspapers in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Monroe and other towns.  At right is the billboard pulling away from the High Point Enterprise before editors there said thanks, but no thanks.

But hey, below is a newspaper photo by Donnie Roberts at the Lexington Dispatch showing the only crowd which gathered to see the billboard on Day One of the tour. The only problem for billboard organizers: these were opponents of the tour who  gathered to refute the “NC Real Distortions.” 

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If hands could speak, those waves would say, “Quit cutting schools, and start leveling with parents and the public.”

Will you stand up for NC’s teachers?

school_apple_targeted.jpgThese are tough times to be an educator. North Carolina’s public school teachers haven’t had a raise in four years, thousands of teachers and teaching assistants were laid off last year despite lawmaker’s promises that no classroom staff would be cut, and now they find themselves as the lightning rod for far right efforts to dismantle the public education system. Teachers are being blamed for everything from only caring about their jobs and not caring about the children to lower test scores and budget woes. For a profession that requires long hours in exchange for a modest salary, this kind of targeting seems unfair at best and woefully misguided. Teachers shape our future every day. They save lives. They lift children out of poverty. They inspire, support and care about children, even when they are sometimes the only ones who do. Unfortunately, the current climate in North Carolina’s legislature is so poisonous toward teachers right now that many educators are afraid to speak out about being targeted. Don’t let NC’s teachers go voiceless! Stand in for a teacher at a Progress NC rally near you by joining our Rapid Response team and leave your memories of a favorite teacher here, on a page where we pay teachers the respect they deserve but are not being given by our state’s elected officials.

NC’s children are being sold out to private profiteers

Don’t let a handful of lawmakers sell out NC’s children to private school interests

The 2012 General Assembly session has not yet begun but already we are looking at a proposal that would open the door to privatization of North Carolina’s public schools. With no input from education experts or local school leaders, an NC House committee has recommended that all Pre-K classrooms in North Carolina be privatized. They have also recommended that eligibility be limited to families making less than $22k a year. This move would leave thousands and thousands of NC children who are hovering just above the poverty line out in the cold.

This is a disaster. Not just for North Carolina’s at-risk children, but also for our democratic process. Education experts have condemned the recommendation, saying the move would create a system of haves and have-nots. Many children would be not able to attend the program, even if they qualified, because they could no longer rely on public school transportation. The move would also dramatically decrease the number of classrooms with licensed Pre-K teachers and could put the education of our children in the hands of daycare workers with no training. We believe this recommendation is a sign of things to come as the far right seeks to dismantle our public education system.

So what can you do?

Please contact the members of the Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement to tell them to slow down, gather input from education experts and allow the public to comment before they move forward. Committee members should also immediately disclose any financial ties they have to special interests that stand to profit from privatization of our public school system. We have created an easy way for you to send your e-mail to all 11 members of the Committee at once - just click here to get started with a sample email you can easily edit. ACTION COMPLETE.  

Editorial Boards Applaud Gov. Perdue for Action on NC Pre-K, Blast Republican Efforts to Cut the Program Even Further

Wilmington Star News: Smart move by Perdue on preschool funding

Preschool education programs have proven their worth, in North Carolina and elsewhere. And now Gov. Beverly Perdue has reshuffled the state budget to serve another 2,000 children in a program whose funding was slashed by the General Assembly. Good for her. …

 

Under the current state definition, that’s any child whose family income is less than $39,000 per year, or 75 percent of the state’s median income. A Republican-led legislative committee proposes to reduce eligibility to families at or below the poverty level, which is around $22,000 for a family of four.

 

That would be a serious mistake.

 

Raleigh News & Observer: The investment

Gov. Beverly Perdue, emboldened perhaps by her decision not to seek re-election, now has taken strong action to help the low-income children of this state. It is an admirable step, even a courageous one. She has assigned $9.3 million in unspent federal child care subsidy money to create 2,000 more slots in the state’s pre-K program.

Unfortunately, of the 67,000 children who qualify for the program under state guidelines, only 24,700 are currently enrolled. Having 2,000 more children in a program that will improve their lives, and North Carolina’s future, is good.

 

But it’s not nearly enough. The state needs to fund the remaining slots, and Republicans need to forget their disgraceful intent to narrow the definition of “at-risk” so they can cut more children out of the program. They’d lower the family income level whereby eligibility is determined, thus kicking more kids to the curb.

 

Fayetteville Observer: North Carolina’s 4-year-olds need help, not hindrance

Gov. Bev Perdue is making the most of her lame-duckness this election year, carrying the controversial fight over pre-kindergarten funding to the same legislature that restricted admissions to the North Carolina Pre-K program last time around.

 

The lawmakers, mostly Republicans, have been unable to see beyond the 25,000 preschoolers now enrolled to the 67,000 who are also eligible – or would be, if the legislature hadn’t erected a barricade by demanding a co-payment that the poorest families can’t make.

 

Rocky Mount Telegram: Pre-K funding doesn’t address long-term needs

There is little question about the value of early childhood education. Study after study has shown that small children who learn the basics of letters, numbers and colors at an early age are considerably better prepared for kindergarten and elementary school than kids who don’t learn those fundamentals.

 

North Carolina has been celebrated nationally for its pioneering efforts to better prepare children for school, particularly those from disadvantaged households. But the state has wrestled with the cause, especially in the face of huge budget challenges facing North Carolina in the last couple of years. …

 

It came as a welcome surprise, then, when Perdue announced this week she’s going to move $9.3 million from an unused federal child care subsidy fund to enroll another 2,000 children into the state’s pre-K program. The window of opportunity to reach 4-year-olds is tight, so every opportunity is cherished.

 

Perdue’s news is certainly worth celebrating, but it doesn’t address the bigger issue. How will the state continue to fund the pre-K program in the face of long-lasting economic challenges?

 

Miller, Bowles top Progress NC online gubernatorial survey

After 1993 total votes, Brad Miller and Erskine Bowles have topped Progress NC’s next governor survey. Brad Miller got the highest vote total with 504 votes. Bowles came in second place with 442 votes. Neither candidates have official thrown his hat into the ring, though Brad Miller is still considering it.

 

Of the announced candidates, Walter Dalton place highest with 179 votes, good for 12% and 3rd place. Pat McCrory got 5.5% (7th place), Bob Etheridge has 5% (9th place) and Bill Faison 2% (14th place).

 

Cal Cunningham led the write-in votes with 8. Jim Neal and Josh Stein received 5 write-ins.Screen Shot 2012-02-06 at 2.25.35 PM.png

Tillis “clarifies” his stance on NC Pre-K

At a town hall in Pittsboro on Monday night, Thom Tillis “clarified” his comments on NC Pre-K and early childhood development. Earlier Tillis had indicated he was in favor of more resources for Pre-K. On Monday he set the record straight (Tillis starts around 1:25):

 

 

The cliff-notes version is that Tillis says he’s in favor of more resources for early childhood education as long as he doesn’t have to raise any new revenue for it. He’s even in favor or shifting money from older K-12 grades into early childhood. Not sure how’s that going to be helpful.

 

Tillis has another town hall in High Point tonight.

 

What will he say next?