Publisher's note: This post, by Ray Nothstine, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
Education is already a huge issue in North Carolina and Gov. Roy Cooper and Democrats are intent on making it even bigger. Cooper and his party are gambling that the state budget impasse will keep the issue squarely on the front page of North Carolina policy and politics.
Ultimately, this is good news for conservatives and advocates for school choice (much more on that below).
I've already written about Cooper's political strategy
on teacher pay and education. Essentially, there is a feeling that if they continually play up we want more for the teachers and education spending line while gambling that nothing now is better than something, it will pay political dividends. And it might in the short-term. Cooper tends to poll well on that issue and that's a big part of his 2020 election strategy.
However, there is a much longer game than partisan politics at work on education. More people are realizing that no matter how much money is thrown at the public education system the outcomes are essentially stagnant
. The more education spending is at the forefront of debate in the state, a glaring issue like that is highlighted.
Moreover, the school choice movement is largely grassroots oriented. Yes, there are think tanks and public policy organizations that advocate and support it, but the bulk of the support comes from parents and the citizenry. The popularity of school choice
towers over other so-called partisan issues in the state. As frustrations in public education grow, that movement will continue to expand. Neither bureaucracy, more partisan fights, or more spending are going to solve the flatlining of education outcomes. If a lack of spending remains the primary problem, outcomes would have improved long ago.
On top of that, the more education is in the news cycle the more people ask the essential question, "What is education?" I tried to answer that in my very first post at Civitas
. The truth, whether you want to believe it or not, is that we live in a very pluralistic society now. A lot of people are answering that question in a myriad of ways. Some might say that education is primarily about training for vocational preparation or passing along other employable skills. Somebody else might answer entirely another way. They might say education is primarily about moral formation. Something like classical education leans towards teaching people to think critically and write and speak well. When I managed interns who wanted to write in a previous position, overall, I was amazed at how much further along those that went to Catholic schools were at critical thinking and expressing themselves on the written page.
The point is one size does not fit all. Even a great public school might not be a great fit for every individual child.
If you disagree with them, many progressives or others on the Left like to throw around the line, "You're on the wrong side of history."
However, that line is a great fit for the expansion of school choice. Why? Because education and its meaning are not stagnant in the sense that one bureaucratic entity has the answer and is equipped to solve all the problems.
School choice makes sense because it empowers the individual over collectivization; people and families over bureaucracies. Ultimately, the more attention education receives it exposes the growing deficiencies in the status quo. Families are far less interested in budget gamesmanship and politicians posturing for more control and power. They remain interested in what is best for their child. Hopefully, more of the lawmakers and state leaders in North Carolina will catch up with the movement.