Last week, I wrote a blog post that basically said Democrats can’t rely on education as the single issue to lead their party out of the wilderness. This week, I’m thinking maybe I’m wrong.
Bills being introduced by Republican legislators, the headlines that accompany them and the misguided quotes by their sponsors are like gifts to their opposition. First, Governor McCrory’s budget cuts thousands of teacher assistants from classrooms, then Rep. Skip Stam introduced a bill to establish a school voucher program and today’s News & Observer headline reads, “Bill would eliminate class-size limits.” That’s enough change and uncertainty to scare the bejeezus out of families with children in public schools.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Democrats introduced a series of programs to improve public schools, in part, by placing greater emphasis on earlier grades by reducing class size and teacher-to-student ratios. The programs had widespread support. I imagine they still do.
I’m not a big fan of the hyperbolic “war on” memes that seem to permeate campaigns these days, but Republicans in the legislature are setting themselves up for a “War on Public Schools” that might strike a chord with public school families. Parents notice when classroom teachers struggle for resources like they are now. I know; I’m one of those parents.
Republicans are handing Democrats the wedge issues they need to return to power. They are crowding kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. They are reducing supervision in the classroom. They are paying for private schools at the expense of public ones.
With these issues, Democrats can make their case in a single sentence with a broad, simple theme: “We are here to protect public education.” In contrast, Republicans offer the perfect foil: “They are crowding classrooms, firing teacher assistants and subsidizing private schools.” Hence, “The War of Public Schools.” The contrast is clear and simple and tailor-made for a political campaign.
If there was a widespread outcry about the state of our public schools, Republicans would be on firmer ground. But there’s not. They are trying to create an issue where there is not one. Parents who spend too much time fund raising to offset budget cuts in classrooms aren’t going to be happy.