Like many bad laws, this one was born out of good intentions.
In the early days of North Carolina’s history, local schools primarily funded themselves. But when the Great Depression hit, local schools began to run out of money. The state government therefore passed the School Machinery Act. This gave the state the responsibility to pay for the day-to-day running of schools – teachers’ salaries and the like – and let counties pay for school buildings and other facilities.
Things have gotten more complicated since the 1930s, but the model is pretty much the same. The crucial difference between North Carolina and most other places is that the school boards here cannot levy their own taxes. It’s up to the county commissioners to get the money to the schools. And not surprisingly, some counties act like parents. They don’t want to hand over the money without a lecture.
This happened last week in Johnston County, near Raleigh. County commissioners there withheld $ 7.9 million in school money until the the school board accepted teach some way to race in America.
The changes to the school board’s ethics policy seem pretty good at first – there’s a lot of talk about social responsibility, empathy and kindness. But when you get into the details … well, there’s a line in there that says, “The founding documents of the United States must not be undermined.” And a little later: “All those who have contributed to American society will be recognized and presented as reformists, innovators and heroes of our culture. “
I don’t know how you interpret this, but it seems to me that the teachers in Johnston County could teach the glory of the Constitution, but not that she originally considered a enslaved person to be three-fifths of a human being. . Or that they could say that Thomas Jefferson is one of the most important figures in our history, but couldn’t say that he also fathered children with Sally Hemings, a woman he enslaved.
In other words, in Johnston County, they seem to have forced the school board to become whitewashed.
It can also happen from other angles. Here in Mecklenburg County, trustees temporarily withheld $ 56 million in funds because they wanted the school board to detail plans to improve outcomes for black and Hispanic students. After mediation, the county turned over the money, then part, and the school board agreed to provide more information.
In either case, county commissioners are a hindrance in a system that should be much more streamlined. School boards should be able to levy their own taxes and increase or decrease according to their decisions. But now, whenever the county and the schools bicker, they can only blame each other. As a voter, it is more difficult to decide who is responsible.
Changing state laws that have been in effect for almost 100 years will not be easy. But letting school boards manage school affairs is actually a conservative approach – it reduces one level of government and adds a level of responsibility.
And maybe along the way, the teachers would be able to teach our real story instead of the sanitized version.
Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column airs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. He represents his opinion, not the opinion of the WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at [email protected]