The Deep South race to the bottom continues unabated. And for members of that august right-wing geographical club, the destination of absolute political zero is looming ever-closer. There are all manner of absolute zeros – physics, chemistry, PH, Fahrenheit, Celsius and other esoteric measurements. For our purposes political absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature at which there appears to be any warmth whatsoever in radical Republican brain cells.
The two most absolute of the zeros I’m writing about today are neighbors, North and South Carolina. Mostly I’ll cover the Tarheel (Tar Heel acceptable as well) state. What NC and SC most have in common are two putrid right-wing legislatures that turn out one repulsively radical bill (guns, voter ID, abortion) after another. They also have a mutual adoration society for destroying public schools.
The states feature Nikki Haley from South Carolina and North Carolina’s Pat McCrory, two ghastly far-right Republican governors bent on denying the vote to Democrats (and all others who are not political clones), eviscerating “Obamacare” marginalizing the gay population, repressing minorities and…well, you know the drill. As per the absurd Boa Constrictor North Carolina voter ID law, McCrory was quoted as saying, the new law moves North Carolina from the “fringe into the mainstream.” Of course the law does exactly the opposite. My colleague Adalia Woodbury dissects the Voter ID law in her excellent July 23rd PoliticusUSA piece.
I’m here to draw your attention to the latest North Carolina legislative and gubernatorial insult to intelligence and civility in a very revealing Associated Press story written by Michael Biesecker. The story is out of Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina and it chronicles the harm to public education resulting from the actions of the dominant aforementioned extremists.
Full disclosure: My wife is a Special Ed teacher in a southern middle school. I’ve written about her unrelenting dedication and workload before in this space. She works well over 8 hours a day (and often into the night) during the school year and slightly less during the summer “break” (highly resented by Republicans). And for what she does she receives an average paycheck. And she lives in a state where the General Assembly resents even that stipend and keeps firing her fellow teachers and cutting school funding; while some aging New York real estate mogul buys the votes of those legislators who would voucherize and privatize the states education system.
The AP story is a nice piece of objective journalism (a rarity these days) that refuses to give McCrory’s lies a pass. The reporter is Michael Biesecker and he reports that not only do North Carolina teachers have to ante up their own money for supplies that state funding shortages don’t cover in their school district, but that obligation has now been extended to the parents. Yes, mom and pop, in addition to shoring up public schools (and increasingly private ones) with their tax dollars are now being hit in the wallet again as they dig deep to pay for such mundane fare as notebooks, crayons and glue sticks and deeper for the more expensive stuff including copier paper and cleaning supplies.
A veteran female Elementary School teacher (only a quarter of her colleagues are male) is quoted as saying, “We don’t have the funds we need. It gets kind of frustrating when you hear about some of the things they’re spending money on down in Raleigh and we don’t have paper.” She has actually sent a list home with students identifying supplies needed in her classroom that aren’t covered by the state. If the parents come up short, the money comes out of her pocket. Most teachers, at least in red states, have already had to buy at least some materials for the new school year. My wife’s school has been out of copy paper for the last three days.
It’s gotten so bad that North Carolina’s new textbook budget that once stood in excess of $100 million in 2008 has dipped to $24 million this fiscal year. Money for classroom supplies has been cut nearly in half from $44 million to $24 million. Think about it. In an era when new technologies are exploding, North Carolina students already come up short by being taught from dated and often irrelevant textbooks starting in Elementary School.
All this while the clueless governor claims that the K-12 education budget for the upcoming school year is “the highest in state history.” Reporter Biesecker caught McCrory in a whopper after checking with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Appropriations in the 2008-09 school year were $283 million higher, not even adjusting for inflation. Here’s another cut that puts the whole educational crisis in perspective. A High School music teacher told AP that she was accustomed to getting around $3,000 each year for new sheet music for her classes and student concerts. This year she’ll make do with $200. Did I mention there are not enough music textbooks to go around? Everyone has to share. Current funding, even when increased, simply can’t keep up with rising enrollment numbers.
Don’t expect any semblance of reason from North Carolina any time soon. In the 50-member Senate the count favors the Republicans 33-17. On August 19th Jason Easley wrote of the resignation of veteran state senator Ellie Kinnaird, who left the senate after 17 years to devote her time to being an activist countering the ridiculous state voter ID law. In the House there are 77 Republicans and 43 Democrats out of the 120 member total. Things turned for the worse in 2011 when Republicans took over the General Assembly. Prior to 2011, the count was reversed for decades with mostly rural, liberal and low income voters held sway in both the House and Senate for every biennium from 1931 to 2011, but one, 1995. North Carolina was unique in that it didn’t bolt for the GOP after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The margins for the Democrats were generally huge; In 1975 the numbers were 49-1 and 111-9. Sadly, an opening appeared for redistricting and the results will continue to be devastating for the state.
Yes, the Republicans are in charge now. And it’s a turnaround rife with self-serving and extremists legislation as North Carolina is 1 of 15 states with both a trifecta plus, meaning the Supreme Court will reliably rule in the Republican’s favor every time and a supermajority. The latter renders a governors veto irrelevant since there are plenty of Republican votes to override it as well as plenty of votes to pass legislation that needs more than a majority count.
Teachers trend Democratic in their voting patterns. Add their extended families and pals, thoughtful whites and Democratic-loving minorities vs. rich and heartless white folks (natural-born Republicans) and if the Democrats show up, they win. Possibly even in highly manipulated districts.
You’ve seen the political plague that infects a once sensible and delightful state. We need to find a cure at the polls.