North Carolina is now officially in a “state of emergency.” After the announcement by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), citizens may be justifiably confused on whether they should move inland. The cause is not a developing storm over the Atlantic, but an approaching democratic vote in Raleigh. Legislators are preparing to override his veto to allow greater school choice under the state voucher system, so Cooper declared that override to be akin to a Cat 5 hurricane. Cooper wants citizens to move politically, not physically.
Seven in ten North Carolina voters favor greater school choice. Nationally, the figures are the same with 72% favoring greater choice with huge majorities among both Republicans and Democrats. So the emergency is the combination of the voters and democratic change.
Cooper declared “It’s time to declare a State of Emergency for public education in North Carolina. There’s no Executive Order like with a hurricane or the pandemic, but it’s no less important.”
I do not question the significance of this democratic vote, just the invocation of emergency power to stop it.
I recently wrote about how public schools and boards are making the case for school choice advocates with failing scores and rising controversies. Despite massive school budgets, public school systems continue to fail their students, including Baltimore where 23 schools in Baltimore City had zero students who tested proficient in math. Those schools include 10 high schools, eight elementary schools, three Middle/High schools and two Elementary/Middle schools. The state found that 2,000 students who took the state test could not do math at grade level.
We also discussed how a high school student almost graduated near the top half of his class after failing every class but three in four years. He had a 0.13 GPA. His mother objected and went public.
Faced with school boards and teacher unions resisting parental objections to school policies over curriculum and social issues, states are on the brink of a transformative change. For years, boards and teacher unions have treated parents as unwelcome interlopers in their children’s education.
That view was captured in the comment of Iowa school board member Rachel Wall, who said: “The purpose of a public ed is to not teach kids what the parents want. It is to teach them what society needs them to know. The client is not the parent, but the community.”
State Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Wis.) tweeted: “If parents want to ‘have a say’ in their child’s education, they should home school or pay for private school tuition out of their family budget.”
As public schools continue to produce abysmal scores, particularly for minority students, board and union officials have called for lowering or suspending proficiency standards or declared meritocracy to be a form of “white supremacy.” Gifted and talented programs are being eliminated in the name of “equity.”
Once parents have a choice, these teachers lose a virtual monopoly over many families, and these districts could lose billions in states like Florida and North Carolina.
Gov. Cooper is accurate that this is a whirlwind of change for schools, but it has been developing on their radar for decades. Rather than address the parental concerns, teachers and unions struck out at the parents, shifted focus to social agendas, and lowered standards.
To use Cooper’s analogy, they sat on the coast watching as this growing democratic system approached without taking any real measures to safeguard their schools by making meaningful changes.
Cooper declared that “the Republican legislature is aiming to choke the life out of public education. I’m declaring this state of emergency because you need to know what’s happening.” It was an ironic statement since these districts and teacher unions have been choking the life out of our public schools for decades while dismissing the concerns of parents.
North Carolina has been ranked 16th on school quality under one study and 29th in another depending on measuring testing scores as opposed to broader criteria. Florida is ranked number one overall, but just implemented greater school choice options.
As I have previously written, this trend has been particularly hard for many of us who are ardent supporters of public education. Growing up in Chicago during the massive flight of white families from the public school system, I remained in public schools for much of my early education. My parents organized a group to convince affluent families to remain in the system. They feared that, once such families left, the public schools would not only lose diversity but political clout and support. They also wanted their kids to benefit from such diversity. My wife and I also believe in that cause and we have kept our four kids in public schools through college. We believe public education plays a key role in our national identity and civics. It shapes our next generation of citizens. My children have benefitted greatly from public schools and the many caring and gifted teachers who have taught them through the years.
I have no doubt that Cooper’s alarm will be shared by many in the media who will send reporters to the eye of the democratic hurricane to be shown on live national television being buffeted by the high political winds and threatened by the voting surge.
However, Cooper’s invocation of emergency powers leaves voters with a chilling message: they are the threat. The developing storm is the hazard of democracy. Just as many Democrats now claim that free speech is harmful and needs to be curtailed, it appears that democracy itself is an emergency that requires immediate state action.
Cooper is detecting a sharp drop in political atmospheric pressures just before an election season. For a politician, that is nothing short of an emergency.