- A new poll from Carolina Forward shows that North Carolinians stand with teachers: a large, bipartisan majority opposes forcing teachers into immediate in-person instruction
- Even larger majorities of North Carolinians oppose the privatization of the public education system by charter schools
- COVID recovery, jobs and the economy rank highest on most people’s minds
Support for Teachers
Yet a new poll from Carolina Forward suggests that parents and teachers remain, as usual, on the same side when it comes to education. Despite right-wing attempts to use school reopening as a wedge issue, a large majority of North Carolinians believe that teachers should have the opportunity to receive COVID vaccines before returning to in-person instruction. Respondents rejected the idea of forcing teachers back into in-person instruction before vaccines were available by over 22 points, 56% to 34% (with only 10% unsure).
Even more remarkable, this majority support for teachers exists between both men and women (54% and 59% in favor, respectively) and across all age groups. There is also significant support across political party lines, with 81% of Democrats, 33% of Republicans and 53% of Independents in support.
Despite this popular opposition, the Republican majority in the state legislature recently voted out a bill (SB-37) that would have forced all school districts in the state to open up for in-person instruction again, regardless of local conditions with COVID. Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, pointing out that it does not adhere to state public health guidance and revokes local school district control, which could present a crisis in the case of a localized spike in COVID infections.
The Republican leadership has blamed the NCAE, a state professional association of educators, for its opposition to SB-37. Some of its members incorrectly accused the NCAE of being a “teachers union,” even though such a thing does not exist in North Carolina, where collective bargaining by public employees is not permitted by state law.
Standing Up for Public Education
Deep, broad and bipartisan popular support for public education in North Carolina shows up once again in respondents’ views on charter schools. By a walloping 39 points, 63% to 24%, North Carolinians said that they opposed diverting funds from public schools systems to charter schools.
Right-wing proponents of charter school schemes face an uphill battle in convincing North Carolinians to privatize public education. Republican leaders in the legislature have advanced multiple efforts to divest public funds from the public education system into the very privatization schemes this new poll shows North Carolinians strongly oppose. The misleadingly named “Opportunity Scholarships” voucher program, for example, is estimated to drain more than a quarter of a billion dollars from the state public education system over the next decade.
Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are a “Wild West” where parents face great uncertainty about their children’s education. Charter schools are allowed to, and often do, hire uncertified teachers, are allowed to openly discriminate in student admissions, and have no curriculum or quality requirements. Research out of Duke University in 2017 demonstrated that charter schools have a “large and negative fiscal impact” on the 6 North Carolina school districts they examined. Charter schools are also far more likely to be racially segregated than public ones.
Charter school schemes essentially recast education not as a collective social good, but as an individualistic race that pits families and communities against one another in competition for resources. In a state like North Carolina, where education funding is already extremely low for a state of its size, this creates a desperate situation. North Carolina spends only 2.7% of its state economy on education, compared to a national average of 3.4%, shortchanging the state’s children by some $4.3 billion.
2021 could be the year when the North Carolina General Assembly listens to the deep support for public education among the state’s residents. Unfortunately, the Republican legislature’s actions so far on SB-37 indicate that is unlikely. While politicians in the legislature play politics with education, North Carolina’s children face another school year in underfunded schools.