Republican legislative leaders and the propaganda outfits that support them are in overdrive trying to convince voters that the budget the GOP-led General Assembly passed last summer did not damage public schools. There’s the $500,000 television ad campaign from Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute that implies that the budget added teachers to classrooms. The groups are now on a tour promoting the commercial and reinforcing its claims.
There are the frequent columns by various outposts of the right-wing disinformation complex and the almost daily statements by legislative leaders and their communications staffs, all designed to make sure people don’t really find out what the Republican budget has done to public education.
The GOP spin doctors and big money moguls face two serious problems.
The facts are not on their side. Because of the budget passed last summer, there are 915 fewer teachers in classrooms this year than last, and 2,042 fewer teacher assistants.
That’s not speculation. It comes right from the fine print of the fact check portion of the website that promotes the television ad.
Last week 26 local superintendents, mostly from Republican counties, told the State Board of Education about the effects of the budget cuts in disturbing detail, from closed schools and fired teachers to overcrowded classes and out of date textbooks.
Making the right-wing propagandists’ job even more difficult is that voters already know what the budget really did and don’t approve of the cuts. And they aren’t inclined to believe Republican legislators who try to downplay them.
The latest Carolina Issues Poll from N.C. Policy Watch, conducted by Public Policy Polling, makes that abundantly clear.
Two-thirds of voters believe public schools need more funding and a similar number think that having fewer teachers and teacher assistants in classroom is a bad idea.
Fifty percent of voters hold the General Assembly responsible for the cuts while only 21 percent believe they are the fault of Governor Bev Perdue.
And last week’s testimony of superintendents was important. The poll shows that 63 percent of voters trust local superintendents to tell them about the effects of the budget cuts on their schools, while just 16 percent trust legislators to tell them.
The poll’s first question finds that people have an overall favorable impression of their local public schools. That’s a direct contradiction of claims made by a recent Civitas survey that purported to show that people do not have faith in public education.
All those numbers add up to an unmistakable conclusion. Voters in North Carolina strongly support public schools, believe they are underfunded, and blame the Republican-led General Assembly for damaging them.
No wonder Republican leaders are in such a panic and the wealthy special interests on the Right are reaching so far into their deep pockets to pay for slickly produced television commercials and statewide tours.
People in North Carolina know what’s happening to the schools in their communities and they know whose fault it is.
Chris Fitzsimon is founder and executive director of NC Policy Watch, where an earlier version of this story appeared.