Tim Moore makes his case - and falls flat on his face

Many politicians lie, but few have raised deception to an art form. Speaker Tim Moore is one who has. Today's Capitol Broadcasting Corporation editorial lays the rhetoric bare:

Speaker Moore's boasting about education doesn't add up

In House Speaker Tim Moore’s recent overly rosy assessment of North Carolina public education, we can’t help but ponder if some key words could have been dropped in the editing.

He starts: “The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are (missing words: not very) popular with parents and students because they (missing words: failed to) focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement.”

Of greater concern is the failure of Moore and his fellow leaders in the legislature to admit that in the last six years, North Carolina public education has in fact lost ground.

Moore’s rhetoric is aspirational. Facts are not.

Let’s start with four contentions in the second sentence of his column:

  • “Four consecutive teacher pay raises.” FACT: Teacher pay has increased for those with the least experience while it has stagnated or been cut for those with more experience. Additionally, pay cuts for longevity and advanced degrees coupled with increased costs of benefits drive out the best and most experienced in our classrooms. North Carolina average teacher pay remains $9,000 behind the national average.
  • “Improved approach to state education funding.” FACT: Education funding in North Carolina is in an unresolved crisis of the legislature’s making. An unfunded demand to cut class size continues to leave local school systems in budget-planning chaos that threatens art, music, language arts and physical-ed instruction in our schools.
  • “Successful ‘Read to Achieve’ literacy program.” FACT: Surveys of North Carolina teachers indicate barely a quarter say the program has had a positive impact and 40 percent say it’s been negative.
  • “Expanded school choice for low-income families.” FACT: The lack of demonstrable educational achievement, accountability and transparency in the “opportunity scholarship” private school voucher program is an irresistible invitation to fraud, waste, abuse and corruption. There are already signals of that a plenty. Look at what’s happening at the Fayetteville private school that is the single-greatest recipient of voucher funds. Its basketball coach pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of state tax withholding dollars.

Now, that’s just Speaker Moore’s second sentence.

Moore shouldn’t claim advances in education when, in too many cases, the reality is that it’s been two steps backward followed by a single step forward. That means we’re still behind.

That’s the case with the state’s very successful Teaching Fellows program. After abolishing the program on a partisan whim in 2011, the program’s received a half-hearted revival this year. Funding will allow for up to 160 fellows a year, compared to the 500 per year in the original program.

Budgets for classroom instructional supplies and textbooks are $100 million less today than in the 2008-09 school year of the Great Recession. These days, donation drives are required to provide teachers with school supplies. On top of that, the latest tax reform plans before Congress are looking to end the tax deductions teachers have been able to take for spending on classroom supplies out of their own pockets.

North Carolina schools today have more students than ever, but fewer assistant principals, nurses, social workers and guidance counselors. Money for teacher assistants has been sliced $62 million. There are 3,150 fewer teachers in our schools today than there would be if formulas in place during the 2011-12 school year were still followed.

North Carolina is on target this year to drop from 42nd – not much of a position to start with – to 43rd nationally in per-pupil spending. That’s more than $3,000 per student below the national average.

The reality is that Moore and his ideological soulmates in the General Assembly are more intent on cutting taxes for big corporations and the wealthy than providing the needed funding for properly paid teachers and quality public schools.

When it comes to doing more for education in North Carolina, Moore’s boasting is no more than school-yard trash talk. All platitudes, with little to back it up.