Across the country right now we’re seeing Republicans wage a culture war; their fixation on Critical Race Theory and books that highlight the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth has resulted in book bannings and watered down history being taught to our children. North Carolina alone has seen several attempts to ban books in schools, specifically ones that are about Black or LGBTQ+ youth.
Culture war aside, NC GOP members further stress the North Carolina education system by playing the longest game of hot potato with the landmark Leandro case. Despite the fact that the Leandro plan lays a framework for providing a sound, basic education in NC, our GOP representatives continue to block any attempts to fund the plan.
It’s hard to watch politicians degrade public education with constant debates over topics that, it turns out, most parents don’t even care about, but it is especially hard when our schools are falling apart in front of us and lacking desperately needed resources due to inadequate funding.
Susan Book, a Wake County parent of a child with Autism, has seen firsthand what a lack of funding has done to our schools. One of the biggest obstacles that Book has faced upon enrolling her child in school is the lack of instructional assistants. Book noted that while her school needed more instructional assistants, the ones they did have often left teaching to pursue better employment opportunities outside the education field.
Book has since advocated for better public school funding in order to provide her son and others like him with the resources they need, saying, “No parent should have to watch their child struggle in school, especially when the solution is within our grasp. By being an advocate, I’ve been able to secure a better situation for my own child within the district. I’ve learned to use that same voice to advocate to secure funding for the arts and PE in our schools, and to be a voice for all children to receive a sound, basic education.”
Brandon Lee, a teacher in Wake County, echoed Book’s frustration. Lee came to North Carolina after graduating from Michigan State University’s teacher preparation program and took a job in Wake County for the 2019-2020 school year – but after just one semester, Lee took on a leadership role when a veteran teacher left for the private sector.
Lee cited several vacancies as well as pandemic-related challenges that put immense pressure on teachers and staff, causing even more teachers to leave education.
“I am in education for the long haul,” Lee said, “but when teachers are devalued by low pay, excessive duties outside of the classroom, and partisan fear-mongering, then the schools suffer, student learning suffers.”
Despite trying to ride out the myriad challenges being faced by educators in NC right now, Lee could no longer afford to live in the Triangle due to rising housing costs and North Carolina’s insufficient pay for teachers, and returned to Michigan to continue his career.
And just like that, hot-topic distractions and severely inadequate funding have stolen yet another qualified, passionate educator from North Carolina students.
Frustrated parents and burnt-out teachers haven’t been enough to show the NC GOP that our schools need adequate funding; the only option North Carolinians are left with is to utilize their votes.
The Wake County Board of Education will have several candidates on the ballot this upcoming November; candidate filing is in July, and all nine seats will be open. Voting for candidates who are committed to advocating for the Leandro plan to be implemented, as well as committed to supporting all students, including LGBTQ+ and students of color, is the best chance at improving Wake County schools.
Under Leandro, Wake County students with disabilities or special needs like Susan Book’s child are practically guaranteed to receive the help they need, as the Leandro plan would increase the funding for children with disabilities from $85.8 million to $132.6 million; a 55% increase. Funding for providing instructional support personnel would more than double under Leandro; going from $60.3 million to a whopping $132.5 million, a 120% increase. Funding for at-risk students, textbooks and resources, and much more would also dramatically increase.
For election and voting information, visit the Wake County Board of Elections website.