Calling a spade a spade

by | Aug 2, 2013 | Editor's Blog, Education, NC Politics, NCGOP | 21 comments

The most insidious lies that Republicans are telling right now are the ones about public education. It’s their Achilles Heel and they know it. In the 1990s and early ‘00s, Democrats pounded them for their opposition to higher teacher salaries, lower class size and early childhood education. People know that good schools lead to good jobs and strong economy. It’s been proven over and over in states across the nation.

So, the Republican minions, including Governor McCrory, are out gleefully spouting canned talking points. “Education spending is up 4.8% over last year.” “This year, public education makes up over 56% of total budget.”

In the real world, county school boards are looking at huge budget cuts that will adversely affect the quality of their schools. Teacher assistants are filing for unemployment benefits. And our best teachers are looking for jobs that pay a living wage or states that have more respect for teachers.

By every reasonable measure, education funding is down dramatically from pre-recession levels and the incidental increase this year over last is not enough to cover the increased enrollment or account for inflation. Regardless, we have NEVER paid enough for public education. By the Locke Foundation’s own numbers, North Carolina has been in the bottom 20% of school funding since at least 1996.

Republicans repeatedly say that we can’t fix our problems by throwing money at them. Well, the flip side of that is that you get what you pay for and we haven’t paid enough to get the quality of education our children deserve and our future demands.

It’s time to call a spade a spade. Republicans and the Locke Foundation are lying about public education. They’ve shown no respect for our teachers, our schools or our children. Ultimately, they want to dismantle our public education system by pushing the financial burden onto counties and cities or establish a publicly subsidized system of private and charter schools in which the children of privilege thrive and poor kids wither. It fits their whole free-market, social Darwinist theory that’s dragging our state toward Third World status.

So stop with the talking points. Tell the people what you really want to do. End this cynical ploy of cutting funding for schools and then criticizing them for not performing. Or prove me wrong and put your money where your mouth is.


  1. Tony P

    Thomas; no where did I call John a name. “Educated shill” is not name calling. All I did was point out, vigorously, how and why I disagreed with him.
    Personally, I find his writing cliched and an extension of Right Wing talking points. Rarely do I find it enlightening, nor do I learn anything new.
    If you’re unwilling to stand up to someone because you “want him to come back”, then you are losing your way. This battle will not be won on the field of “intellect”, but as John well knows, in the hearts and emotions, and in the minds and the ideas.
    So either stand forcefully with us to combat the dishonesty of men such as John Hood, or by all means, join the other side.

    • Tony P

      PS: I actually enjoy your articles, but cannot believe that on “Calling A Spade A Spade” that you admonish me for practically nothing. I simply did what your title implied. And please note, that I provided debatable points, not simply opinion when I posted.

  2. Randy

    My spouse is a second grade teacher, a master teacher of 25+ years with a masters degree. She taught for 8 years at a private school so her retirement is still far away at this point. A new pupil this year had a full time assistant last year, yes full time, this student needs one on one attention or the rest of the class is driven crazy and completely out of control. So now she has 2 part time assistants twice a week for 30-45 mins. The first grade teacher that had her last year a 10+ year teacher left the school, that is when the full time assistant came into play. So unless this pupil gets more help my spouse will be forced to quit, loose retirement. My spouse works 6-7 days a week, many times 60-70 hours making sure these kids get the attention they deserve.

    These politicians have no idea what goes on in the schools these days.

  3. James Protzman

    I guess this means we should call a spade a spade except when the spade gets indignant and says, “No wait! I’m a club!”

    Funny stuff.

    • Tony P

      Love your comment James Protzman. My point exactly.

  4. Tom Sullivan

    “The animus toward public education isn’t really about big government. It’s about corporate America’s insatiable appetite. Big government is just fine by them so long as public money is flowing their way. It’s the rest that is wasteful spending. What they want now is a piece of the action from remaining large blocks of public funds, like Social Security and … public education.

    “From this perspective, it’s bad enough that states are not providing education on at least a not-for-profit basis. But it’s far worse than that. They’re giving it away! That’s a mortal sin. A crime against capitalism. The worst kind of creeping socialism. Hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent every year in a nonprofit community effort to educate a nation’s children, and the moguls are not skimming off the top. The horror.”

    – See more at:

  5. John Hood

    Thomas, really. You are better than the familiar “the other side disagrees with me and so they must be lying” stuff. If you read the CJ column that lays out the education-funding issue in great detail and have serious critiques of my analysis, please offer them. But if you read the piece and have no critiques, you have no business accusing me of dishonesty. Ditto if you haven’t read it at all.

    Comparing authorized for the coming fiscal year to actual from the previous year, or to continuation from the previous year, runs into major problems when you are looking at particular categories such as public education. One of them, as I discuss in the piece, is that some money set aside for employee benefits and other school-related spending is not listed in the authorized budget for education at all. It is listed under “reserves.” Pension and health plan funding, for example. Pay raises if there are any. There are more.

    By the logic you are citing, if this year’s budget had set aside $400 million for teacher pay raises, it wouldn’t show up at all in the comparison (because it would be under reserves) and you’d still be arguing that education spending isn’t keeping up with continuation. Can’t you see that is a fundamental flaw? As I outlined, this has been a perennial problem. I remember people talking about it in the mid-1990s, and then again during the Easley years. But they never changed the official accounting to address it. So you have two options. First, you can compare authorized to authorized, recognizing that you are leaving some things out but at least you are doing so for both years in the comparison. Another option is to estimate what actual spending will be once reserves are allocated. We ran the numbers both ways (in the latter case using the average authorized-actual difference for the past five fiscal years) and came up with an increase well above the combination of projected inflation and enrollment. I even ran it separately from just the 2011-12 fiscal year, which could be the most comparable scenario to 2013-14, and it still came up higher than inflation/enrollment and even than continuation (which is more than just inflation/enrollment, by the way).

    Perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps we will get to the end of 2013-14 and inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending will turn out to be flat or a slight decline. More likely, it will be increase a bit, but I could be wrong. That doesn’t mean I am lying — and it cheapens the discourse to allege that.

    • Matt Phillippi

      Mark Twain said; “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned inflation d statistics.” Its just an elloquent way of saying that numbers can be used to say anything in the hands of an expert. Now I can’t speak for Thomas, but if what you say is true, and this year’s education budget is either larger or flat (adjusted for inflation) answer me three questions: 1. Why do we need to cut teacher assistant jobs? (Don’t tell me this isn’t happening, i know plenty of overworked teachers and out of work assistants I can have call you if you don’t believe me) 2. Why do we need to get rid of increased pay for teachers who have earned their Master’s degree? 3. If there is an overall increase why can’t we raise teacher pay to something close to the national average?

      Where exactly (if the education budget is larger, adjusted for inflation) is all of the money going?

      • John Hood

        Matt, there is no question that the legislature eliminated teacher-assistant positions in 2nd and 3rd grade, as well as salary bumps for future teachers acquiring masters degrees (current degree-holding teachers are unaffected). I believe these were wise decisions, supported by the preponderance of empirical evidence about how best to use education dollars. You will find many researchers and superintendents who aren’t at all politically conservative who think those dollars would be better spent elsewhere.

        One destination for GF education dollars that might not be immediately obvious is the state health plan. Another is the pension plan. These are precisely the kind of dollars that don’t show up in the authorized K-12 budget at the beginning of a year but get allocated to it later (and form the basis for the following year’s continuation budget).

        Keep in mind that there are other sources of dollars for school districts. Lottery revenues and fines, for example, which I believe are expected to rise slightly. On the other hand, some short-term federal dollars are disappearing in 2013, as was the case in 2011 and 2012. We’ll have to see how all this shakes out.

        The safest argument for Democrats and liberals to make is that, even if the GF authorized budget for K-12 goes up in 2013-14, education spending remains below the 2008 peak, after adjusting for inflation and enrollment. We all agree on that. I also think the legislature will approve pay raises for teachers (and other state employees) in 2014, and should. It would have happened this year, as McCrory originally proposed, except that Medicaid expenses ran way over budget.

    • Thomas Mills

      John, I apologize. I shouldn’t have used the term lie. I would have responded sooner but just got back from traveling. That said, this crowing about spending more on education rings very hollow. As Matt said, if there’s more money, where did it go and why are all of these local school systems saying they have less? At the end of the day, what will matter is the impact on public schools and, right now, it sure looks bad.

      • John Hood

        Understood. There is hyperbole on both sides of the question. Assuming the districts are getting accurate information from DPI, it could be that declining federal funds are playing a role. Another quirk in the continuation budget for K-12 this year is that in previous years there was a “nonrecurring” cut for supplies. Under the process we have, those cuts expire and create a new, higher baseline than what was actually spent last year. To show what I mean, the 2013-14 budget assumes a 1.5 percent inflation rate. K-12 enrollment has grown an average of .5 percent annually over the past five years. Double that just to be safe and you’ve got a combined 2.5 percent inflation/enrollment baseline. But the continuation budget assumes a larger increase than that to “maintain current services.” The process needs revision.

        Also, why is the assumption that “current services” require every existing program be maintained and expanded for caseload? That assumes no program ever outlives its usefulness, gets outdated, or gets supplanted by something more effective for the same students or clients. It assumes productivity gains in education are impossible.

        I’ll leave you with this one. Suppose K-12 enrollment was declining (it actually did slightly, statewide, a few years ago.) Suppose lawmakers cut education funding, too, but did so less than the percentage enrollment decline, and then insisted that they had actually increased education funding. Would you agree or disagree with their claim?

        • Tony P

          John, I’ll use the term I used above: you’re being disingenuous. The draining of 90 million dollars from public education to finance private education is a tragedy and a travesty.
          One, these “private schools” do not have to meet the same accountability standards as public schools.
          Two, it sets up a “self-fulfilling” prophecy in the Republican claim that private schools somehow do it better.
          Third, EVERY non-partisan report of the “private school” experiment across the U.S. reports that, at best, these private schools do no better than public schools; and in many instances do far worse.
          Fourth, it is quite obvious that much of this money will flow directly back to Art Pope. It is no coincidence that part of this fortune is made in private schooling.
          Honestly, I have yet to read one of your columns that does not contain either outright falsehoods, or at the very least “some stretching” of the truth.

          • Thomas Mills

            Tony, I appreciate your reading the blog and I even more appreciate your willing to participate. But don’t call John names. I want him to come back. And I want you to come back also. But let’s have some ground rules. You can call him disingenuous but don’t call him a “shill.” I don’t agree with John on much but he quite obviously believes what he’s saying. If I can turn this blog into a forum for debate and discussion, I’ll tone down my rhetoric also. Politics is a rough and tumble sport so I don’t mind heated exchanges, but they need to be based, at least somewhat, on fact and should stay away from personal attacks.

        • Von Marco

          BS….word soup with hypotheticals. The bottom line is this….NC ranks at the bottom nationwide in teacher pay and educational outcomes. Anyone that go to such links to conflate past realities to exhaustive hollow explanations of the issue….want to deceive rather except the factual reality!

          Rational thinking works like this. Obamacare is unpopular and rejected by republican controlled states…..why?…..republicans offer horror stories about it. When one considers the ACA and the benefits, the majority want and seek it. NC republicans have denied healthcare for millions in the state because of hatred, bigotry racism, faux budget impacts whatever……BS and short term irrational thinking. This is reality, people in NC will get sick, they will die, their children will suffer from lack of medical care that the ACA provides……rejecting the federal funds from the ACA will not stop this from happening. Long term, the state of NC will bear the cost of unhealthy people in the future. Who pays? I will tell you….those that have suffered by supporting insane and failed policies promoted by CONServatives!

    • Jimmy E. Gay

      Dear Mr. Hood, please correct me if I am wrong, but you support completely privatizing public education, removing government completely from the equation and leaving it in the hands of those who are not so much concerned about teaching students but instead about how much profit they can make, am I correct? No, I have not read your current piece, I am basing my comment on years of seeing your attacks in the Jacksonville Daily News editorial columns and your appearances on NC Spin, as well as examining your many various websites connected or sponsored by your John Locke Foundation. If my comment is correct, then please explain to me, in clear concise language, WHY you oppose the very concept of public education. I believe I know, but I would rather hear it from you.

      • John Hood

        I don’t oppose the very concept of public education, Jimmy, and have said so many times in columns, speeches, broadcasts, and at great length in books. I don’t favor complete privatization of public education or removing government completely from the equation. I favor continued government funding of education and continued existence of district-run public schools. I favor offering schools of choice alongside district-run schools, running the gamut from magnet schools to chartered public schools to private schools where some students receive public subsidy to private schools completely divorced from government funding. Judging from the operation of school choice in other countries, I have predicted that even if all this was the come to pass, most students would continue to enroll in district-run public schools — but they would be more cost-effective and successful.

        One might say I favor a K-12 system that looks like the preschool and higher-education systems. Radical, I know.

        • Thomas Mills

          John, thanks for coming by and engaging with this audience. I’m going to say mean things about you on a regular basis if it keeps you coming back.

      • John Hood

        Jimmy, I do not favor privatizing public education or removing government completely from the equation of equation. I do not oppose the very concept of public education. I have expressed my views on education for many years in columns, speeches, broadcast appearances, and books. I favor the continued existence of district-run public schools and government funding of education. I favor offering schools of choice along district-run schools that run the gamut from autonomous magnet schools to chartered public schools to private schools in which some students receive government funding to private schools that are completely divorced from government funding. Judging from the operation of school choice programs in other countries, I have predicted that under such conditions most students will still be enrolled in district-run public schools — but those schools would be more cost-effective and successful because of competition and better matching of student needs and school offerings.

        In short, I would like the K-12 system to look a lot more like our current preschool and higher-ed systems. Radical, I know.

        • John Hood

          Sorry, folks, I thought the system didn’t register the comment the first time.

    • Tony P

      John, I read all your pieces. Simply put, you’re an educated shill, who quite frankly would be an embarrassment to true conservatives such as William F. Buckley. You practice the very thing in your columns that you accuse Thomas Mills of doing.
      At best, you’re disingenuous. At your worse, you’re a liar.

    • Von Marco

      This is the NC republican play book simplified. They have already reduced the length of time one can collect unemployment benefits. Now they offer this ridiculous catch 22 option for teachers to take a raise at the expense of job security while cutting the funding for education. These cuts pay for the transfer of wealth to the wealthiest in the state commonly know as tax cuts for the “job creators” that don’t actually create jobs….demand does that!

      Today, folk outside of the school system may not realize, teachers and those in the school system have not been paid because of payroll problems, mistakes…whatever. Imagine being paid monthly and your pay check has not arrived on the date it should. NC republicans are ruining this state and when the sane in this state realize it, undoing the damage will take years and during that period, the republicans will blame those that replaced them for the problem. This mirrors the federal CONS, they create the problems and when voted out and in the minority, they blame those that replaced them for the problem. Combining the foregoing with the latter paragraphs, the CONS playbook is a fantasy and they will continue to accept failed policies that are antiquated, have never worked because they resist change, reality, truth and common sense. The GOP are controlled by ALEC, the elite and wealthiest among us and allow these folk to draft their legislation, their talking points etc. After decades of this dependence, it renders the CONS incapable of governing for the benefit of the people they are elected to serve. Those on the right, you can continue to buy into this BS but eventually when you and your family are adversely impacted…..that fantasy you embraced will become a nightmare. Those that have already experienced the CONS con will fair better because they already know the resulting impact of failed policies rehashed for decades with the same outcome……to their supporters, they will be devastated and have more difficulty adjusting to reality, facts, proven data and historical verification!!!

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