The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled three times that North Carolina’s children have the right to a sound, basic education in the Leandro case.
And yet North Carolina Republican legislative leaders were back before the supreme court recently to argue that they should be able to ignore a court order to fully fund our schools.
In the run up to this year’s elections, their public statements make this case part of their effort to maintain legislative control and win back a majority on the N.C. Supreme Court.
So instead of grappling with their constitutional responsibility, they have instead attacked the court itself with faux cries of partisanship.
When asked his take on this case, state senate GOP leader Phil Berger said, “I think that this is another chance for the Democrats on the state supreme court to show that they are not far leftist…Based on the decisions I have seen, I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope that you will see any level of sanity return.”
And GOP House Speaker Tim Moore after a recent supreme court decision didn’t go his way said, “It’s almost like they need to get rid of their black robes and put on blue robes.”
This reminds me of every time my kids whine, “That’s not fair!” Fair has nothing to do with it. What they really mean is, “I don’t like it, and I don’t want to be forced to do it.”
I can handle it when the whining comes from a 7-year old. But our 7-year olds deserve better from their elected officials. They deserve an education.
But while Republicans are playing politics with our courts, our schools have been crumbling during the 10 years that they have been in control. The numbers don’t lie:
- The latest test scores show nearly a third of all of our schools are failing.
- North Carolina’s 11,000 vacant teaching and staff position are crippling the incredible men and women left to do their best in difficult circumstances.
- We rank 45th in the nation in starting salaries for teachers, below other Southern states like Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia;
- And we rank near the bottom of all school systems in the United States, significantly lagging in every academic indicator experts say we must achieve to be a competitive state.
Behind all of these numbers are the children, of course. My entry into politics was prompted by seeing our legislature fail the kids that I used to support in our public schools. Today’s students need leaders who fulfill our commitment to their future. And unfortunately with a GOP-controlled legislature, that means looking for Republicans who will buck the party line and choose to put children first.
Perhaps that bold step will come from the supreme court itself. Before GOP supreme court justice Tamara Barringer got her current job, she spent much of her time in the state Senate focused on education. In fact, back in 2013 she said that supporting public education is why she ran for office. Unfortunately, despite Justice Barringer’s previous reputation as an independent thinker, since she put on her robes she seems to have fallen in lockstep with her Republican colleagues, Justices Berger and Newby. Can we hope this will be the first case where she stands up for what is right?
I don’t know what the supreme court will decide, and the legal issues before them aren’t easy ones. But one thing is certain: If Republican legislative leaders continue to resist the mandate of the supreme court and fully funding our school system, their failure will be borne by our children.
While people are already whispering about a potential “constitutional crisis”, let’s be clear that this is not the failure of our constitution. It’s a failure of will. It’s worth remembering that Republicans chose to put $6 billion of your tax dollars into a state savings account this year rather than put any portion of it to work for you or our state’s children.
The constitution is only as good as the people who interpret and follow it. Whether in the legislature or in court, fulfillment of our rights only happens when leaders choose to live up to their sworn commitments.
Rep. Graig Meyer is the Democratic nominee to represent the new state Senate District 23—which encompasses all of Orange, Person and Caswell counties.
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