Local Legislators Dropping the Ball on Education

Six weeks ago, we met personally with each of State Senator John Alexander and Representative Joe John.  After many months of appealing for their assistance with NCVPS and DPI issues with no response, we scheduled meetings to more directly engage them in driving change at NCVPS that benefits the students in our state.   Both these politicians promised voters, when seeking election, that education was one of their top issues.  NC Senator John Alexander (R), Wake – District 15 ran for a second two-year term in 2016.  His campaign website highlighted three topics:  education, jobs & economic development and healthcare.  Specifically on education:

“Education will ALWAYS be our #1 job in our state. Our most precious asset is our people, and they can be best served with the highest level of education options available, whether K-12, community college or at our colleges and universities. Vocational education needs to be made stronger to place people in good paying jobs. From an economic point of view, we are wiser to spend more dollars on keeping our students in school and becoming the best that they can be, as opposed to seeing them leave the system early and take wrong paths. We need to recruit, reward, and retain the best teachers that we can. And, as much as possible, greater parental involvement in the schools is hugely beneficial. The parents CAN make it better if they get involved with the schools, whether with money or time.”

NC Representative Joe John (D) Wake-District 40 ran for a first term in 2016, very narrowly defeating Republican incumbent, Marilyn Avila.  John’s campaign website highlighted three topics:  courts, education and redistricting.  Specifically on education:

“A strong educational system, from the beginning years to the community college and university levels, is absolutely essential, not only to allowing our children to develop their natural abilities to the fullest, but to promoting and supporting a robust economic and business climate in North Carolina. Recent studies indicate that the emerging job market in our state will require post high school training and skills. As the proud father of three children educated in North Carolina schools and, more importantly for the years to come, the doting grandfather of a young girl at the very early stages of the education process, I believe in maintaining a high quality and connected educational environment so that all North Carolina’s children may be prepared for the jobs of the future.”

Neither of our elected representatives is on an education committee and neither has done anything on behalf of education as far as we can tell or that they claimed when we met. Why?  Do they think our public education system is running like a well oiled machine?  To the contrary, each of them called our public education system a “mess” suggesting that the issues with our school system led by the Department of Public Instruction and our State Board of Education are not worth the time sink to try to address.  Issues are too big.  Both commented how dysfunctional the system is with a Republican State Superintendent, Mark Johnson and a Republican led State Board of Education each suing one another for control of staffing and hiring decisions…not that it was ever better under Democrat June Atkinson.

We simplified life for them by asking them to focus on the easily solvable problems at NCVPS (a.k.a. low hanging fruit) where we as private citizens had done all the research and legwork rather than biting off the bigger mess that is our state education system.  First steps first, and once the NCVPS issues were addressed, we could partner to continue advocating for bigger educational changes.  We suggested two concrete ways they could have an immediate impact:  1) contact DPI and demand a copy of the supposed internal audit into the misconduct at NCVPS, and 2) contact State Auditor Beth Wood and demand a fair and impartial investigation into the misconduct at NCVPS.  We also queried them for input on how to navigate the lame party line that nobody in state government will talk to us since we filed a public records lawsuit although nobody would speak to us beforehand about the narrow public records topic much less the larger issues at NCVPS.  Furthermore, DPI and the SBE are each suing each other yet they talk plenty.

Senator Alexander’s office checked with DPI, learned that their audit would be completed by mid-October, and promised us a copy of their final audit report by then.  Previously, we had been told the audit would be completed by the end of the summer.  Of course the audit was not even started until more than a year after we reported the misconduct.  It is now mid-October, two years since our detailed written reports to NCVPS executives began and other NCVPS classes were already being plagiarized, three years since NCVPS personnel issued directives to plagiarize the APUSH course yet are still employed, and many years that NCVPS AP pass rates have significantly lagged state and national averages.  No report yet and no further word from Senator Alexander – no surprise.  After we had informed Senator Alexander in our meeting about online education options and needs in our state, of which he claimed little prior knowledge, he quickly took a posture that an online educational option must be important for students, so best not to shake up NCVPS too much.  Yes, Senator Alexander, online education is an ever growing need in our state, but if our government refuses to make the state-run system work, let’s save taxpayer dollars by shutting down NCVPS and letting the many private options already available (some already vetted and approved by our public school system) fill this growing need.

Representative John heard from Senator Alexander’s office that the audit would be completed in mid-October and shared that “news”….well after Senator Alexander had already done so.  A while later, Representative John emailed to say he had spoken to State Auditor Wood, who promised nothing more than that she would “consider the matter carefully” but we should “be patient”.  Representative John seemed satisfied with this inaction.

If our elected officials were true to their campaign platforms of rolling up their sleeves to improve education, we could have made meaningful progress together by now.