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Students and Teachers Fight Education Cuts in North Carolina

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DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: On Tuesday, May 3, thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the North Carolina state legislature in the capital of Raleigh to oppose budget cuts to public education. Proposed education cuts are expected to total up to $1 billion, targeting K through 12 schools, community colleges, and state universities. The "One Voice" rally was organized by the NCAE, or the North Carolina Association of Educators, which is the largest teachers union in the state. There are concerns that cutbacks could cost thousands of state employees like teachers, bus drivers, janitors, assistants, and many others their jobs. Textbooks, elective and arts programs, school bus services, and financial aid are just a few examples of the many areas to be targeted by the budget cuts. Students and teachers formed a strong presence in the mobilization, voicing their concerns over the potential social costs of budget cuts in education spending.

TERESA MCNAIR, READING TEACHER, CUMBERLAND COUNTY, NC: Well, frankly, what we’ll have are more children in one classroom, which will be difficult to manage, will be difficult to educate, because one teacher can’t be it all and see it all. So more children will fall through the cracks. And that’s going to be devastating for our society, because we’re going to have children who are going to become adults who will not want to continue school, because they have witnessed failure after failure after failure, because we just won’t have the resources to make sure they get a good education. That’s critical.

CAROL REINER, TEACHER, SOUTHERN HIGH SCHOOL, DURHAM, NC: We are going to be creating students that will not know how to read and write because we don’t have the resources. We are going to be graduating students without being prepared to succeed in society. We are going to be setting them up for failure. The elite, the dominant group, of course do not want minorities to get educated. And this goes also because of social economics in the country. That’s why. It is happening nationwide, but especially here in the South, because, as we know, education is an equalizer. If you don’t educate the people, the people [incompr.] ignorant, and the people will not vote, and the people will not stand for their rights.

ALEXANDER CHAFFEE, STUDENT, NC: Schools in our state need the money that pays for the programs that make our school districts and public universities some of the best in the country. Yet legislators have been slashing educational funding for years to trim the state budget. And all the while, the same people who support limiting the education budget refuse to adjust our state’s policy on collecting revenue taxes from major corporations that do business in our state. No politician who claims to have the best interests of our people should prioritize putting money in the pockets of millionaires over the education of our children. And education can’t be thrifty and cheap. Knowledge is incredibly valuable. In order to create well-rounded citizens, we have to give them a well-rounded education.

DOUGHERTY: Later that evening and the following day, House legislators voted to approve the Republican-drafted budget bill with a 72 to 47 vote that included five Democrats who joined Republicans in support of the cuts. Several students were removed from Tuesday’s hearing and detained by police after unfurling a banner on the legislative balcony and chanting during the assembly. The budget bill will now go to the state senate, which is expected to approve its own similar version, focusing on education cuts. The Republicans have a large enough majority in the General Assembly to avoid a veto by Democratic governor Bev Perdue. Also introduced in the House was a bill to reduce the corporate income tax rate from 6.9 to 4.9 percent, amid other provisions aimed at loosening restrictions on the private sector. High-income earners and businesses have been accused of interfering in the political process. Powerful businessman Art Pope and his family members donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigning in the 2010 elections, while groups he partially funded and supported gave millions more. Reverand Curtis Gatewood of the North Carolina NAACP spoke at the rally and shared what he views to be the public’s frustrations with a lack of participation and influence in the decision-making process.

REV. CURTIS GATEWOOD, COALITION COORDINATOR FOR NORTH CAROLINA NAACP: Well, the people are fed up. We have a misguided, misdirected pack of politicians, ultraconservative Tea Party types, who are basically misled by hype rather than the facts. They’re misled by a misguided political party rather than the facts. We are–they are here because they’re fed up with the cuts to the budget. They are cutting education while they’re building prisons. They’re cutting teachers. They’re cutting everything, almost. They’re trying to–look, it looks as if they’re trying to repeal all the things that happened over the last three centuries that brought us together as a nation, as a country, and now it looks as if they’re trying to repeal or take us back. They’re supposed to be lawmakers, but they’re acting like lawbreakers. They’re trying to break–they look as if they’re breaking laws to take us backwards. And the people have decided, whether they’re educators, whether they’re children, whether they are workers, whether they’re part of the NAACP, whether they are ministers, they are fed up and they’re saying enough is enough.

DOUGHERTY: North Carolina is not the only state to have introduced cuts and changes to the public education system. Dozens of other states have also targeted public education with severe budget cuts, as federal aid from the 2009 stimulus bill is set to expire later this year. Many states are also introducing legislation that will restructure the education system through charter school programs designed to replace public schools. Some people, like NCAE vice president Rodney Ellis, who helped organize Tuesday’s rally, are concerned that the charter school model could place too much of an emphasis on profit rather than education.

RODNEY ELLIS, STATE VICE PRESIDENT, NCAE: Well, I think it’s part of a larger agenda to actually change the face of education as we know it right now. I think that there is a massive effort to eliminate public education as a viable and successful option for our students to consider. I think that they want to impose or establish a charter school system that would actually replace public schools. And it’s–there’s a hidden agenda here to actually just destroy public education and make education something that certain individuals might be able to profit from, as opposed to making sure that it has the resources it needs to really, really provide our students with a quality education.

DOUGHERTY: As tensions rise once again over the future of public education in the United States, a multitude of people and organizations across the country are deploying a variety of tactics to resist legislation similar to the bills moving through the North Carolina General Assembly. The NCAE has planned a statewide boycott of Art Pope’s businesses, in opposition to his bankrolling of the right-wing agenda in North Carolina, where people are again asking who it is that should be forced to pay for the budget crisis in the United States. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

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