A BYH to the grammar challenged staff at the DR. Friday's front page indicated that cigarette butts "lay" on the...

Fitzsimon: The false and telling choice for public schools


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The 2017 General Assembly session is only a few weeks old but there’s already a compelling example of what’s wrong with the way things are being done in Raleigh and why the conventional wisdom about the legislature often misses the real story.

State lawmakers took up legislation Tuesday that would give local school systems more flexibility next fall dealing with a provision stuffed into last year’s budget directing schools to lower class sizes in the early grades.

The provision would lower the maximum number of children allowed in K-3 classes from 24 to between 19 and 21 depending on the grade and would lower the average class size overall.

Smaller classes are a good idea and they are especially important in the early grades—but there was a problem with the plan.

No extra funding was provided, forcing schools to consider cutting art, music, and physical education classes next year to come up with the money to pay for the smaller classes.

That prospect prompted protests from educators and parents across the state.

House Education Chair Rep. Craig Horn said the problem with the class size provision was a misunderstanding, that it was “not as fully thought through with regard to unintended consequences.”

A House committee approved the bill easing the requirement and allowing local schools to have larger classes next year. The bill passed unanimously and seems likely to win approval from the full House and Senate though the Senate refused to take up an identical bill in a special session in December.

Republicans called the legislation backing off on the lower class size mandate a bipartisan resolution to the problems that the original provision created.

That’s one way to look at it. Schools now don’t have to layoff art and music teachers and that’s good. The arts are important.

But smaller classes in the early grades are important too. Why should schools have to choose? They can have both if the General Assembly will simply provide the funding not just the mandate.

It’s not like they can’t find the money. Lawmakers have cut more than $1.4 billion in taxes in the last few years with most of it going to corporations and the wealthy.

It also seems disingenuous for Republicans to claim they were blind-sided by the problems the unfunded mandate would create for schools.

NC Policy Watch’s Billy Ball reports that former legislative fiscal analyst Kris Nordstrom, now with the N.C. Justice Center, told legislative leaders about the problems schools would have with the provision well before they stuck into last year’s budget.

The fix considered Tuesday might have gained bipartisan approval but it doesn’t solve the problems for schools and students who deserve both smaller classes and arts and P.E.

The idea of giving schools more funding instead of just more flexibility did come up during the House committee debate but the bill’s sponsor said the House Education Committee was not the proper venue for that discussion.

That’s an odd way to look at it. It is the House Education Committee after all. Members could have included in the legislation a call for more investments in education.

But legislative leaders are already taking about more tax cuts this year.

That would likely mean that schools will have to make tough choices again about what not to provide.

So don’t be misled—the legislation to ease the mandated class size reductions is not a victory for schools, it merely allows them to rearrange their inadequate resources.

And it’s a reminder, just a few weeks into the new legislative session, that public education is still not the priority of this General Assembly.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

June 18, 2018

The Washington Post

Like all drug scourges, the fentanyl epidemic that claims so many lives on a daily basis is a matter of supply and demand. The demand, alas, is made in America. The supply, by contrast, is overwhelmingly imported, with a key source being China, where a poorly regulated cottage…

June 18, 2018

On June 16, a new exhibit will open at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia, in a significant step toward telling the fuller truth of America's national story. Visitors will find the life of Sally Hemings — Jefferson's slave, his deceased wife's half sister and the mother of…

Melody Barnes

June 18, 2018

In the long-running dispute between State School Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, and the State Board of Education, which currently has a majority of Republican appointees, the North Carolina Supreme Court has sided 6-0 with Johnson (Chief Justice Mark Martin didn’t…

john hood

June 17, 2018

"Oh, good lord."

That was my reaction the day after the election of Donald Trump in November of 2016, when it dawned on me that I would be serving my year as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists during the same time as the guy who wanted to "open up" libel laws and weaken…


June 17, 2018

Well, that didn't take long. President Trump had barely departed Singapore when Democrats in Washington unleashed scathing attacks over his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

"What the United States has gained is vague and unverifiable at best. What North Korea has gained, however, is…


June 16, 2018

The Wall Street Journal

More than a few conservative intellectuals have warmed to Donald Trump’s trade protectionism because it supposedly helps blue-collar Americans. But what if his tariffs do the opposite?

Erica York at the Tax Foundation crunched some numbers recently showing that Mr.…

June 16, 2018

Scott Pruitt's wife Marlyn is proving all the feminist doubters wrong.

Ever since Lisa Belkin's seminal 2003 New York Times Magazine piece, "The Opt-Out Revolution," feminists have been wringing their hands fearing economic disaster for women who left the workforce to tend to their children. But…

Helaine Olen

June 16, 2018


Note to readers: With all the recent activity regarding immigration we decided to repeat the column we wrote following a visit to Ellis Island, New York in 2011. It is relevant today.

Standing in the Great Hall of the Admissions Building on Ellis Island you can almost hear the voices and…

Tom Campbell.jpg

June 15, 2018

No Republican in the United States will be surprised to learn that the American Civil Liberties Union is moving into the political campaign realm on behalf of liberal Democrats. In fact, it will come as a shock to most Republicans that the ACLU hasn't been doing so for decades. Yet in his piece…


June 15, 2018

Are you old enough to remember when the Republican Party had principles and a backbone? It seems so long ago.

If you do recall that bygone time, you might expect that said principles and backbone will assert themselves, sooner or later, against President Trump. Stop waiting, because it's not going…

Eugene Robinson
291 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 30
        Next Page»   Last Page»