VIA HAND DELIVERY
Hon. Philip Berger, President Pro Tempore, N.C. Senate
Hon. Thom Tillis, Speaker, N.C. House
Dear Mr. Tillis and Mr. Berger:
North Carolina has always been proud of its commitment to public schools. In most southern states, business and political leaders took a short-range view, investing nickels into their segregated white schools, and pennies into the second class schools they reluctantly set up for children of color. North Carolina, to its credit, took a longer view. We invested heavily in public universities for white students through the 1950’s and created many fine white public school systems in the first half of the 20th century. In 1954 the NAACP successfully convinced nine Supreme Court justices that barring Black students from White public schools and universities was wrong and unconstitutional. After some false starts in the 1960’s and l970’s, a new Black-White fusion political alliance began to tackle the problem of creating new educational institutions, based on the principles of high-quality, diverse, public schools.
This new alliance was based on a growing realization that our fundamental spiritual values, as well as proven best practices for educational and economic growth, were both based on helping all our children to be all they could be. Several generations of North Carolinians have learned that all children are God’s children. At our mothers’ knee, we learned to sing, "Red, Brown, Yellow, Black and White; All are precious in His sight." This generous vision that is rooted in all great faiths has helped define North Carolina, and is at the core of its historical commitment to public schools.
It is within this moral/political/historical context that we examine Rep. Paul Stam’s anti-public schools plan. It was drafted by a national ultra-right outfit that e-mails its backward-ideas to ultra-right politicians on demand. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) scheme has been sold to eight other state legislatures. A recent New York Times front page story said this reverse Robin Hood plan is "twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children." It diverts taxes paid by hard-working citizens-Black, Brown and White–for public schools into a pipeline for wealthy corporations and private schools.
Mr. Stam wants to slip this anti-public schools law through the General Assembly with no committee review and no real public discussion. He knows even a cursory examination of it would reveal the plan violates both the generous faith tradition of our state and our corresponding commitment to invest in all God’s children.
The Stam Plan is an assault on public education. It’s a scheme to steal money from poor working families, whose main hope is for their kids to get a ticket up from the education provided by good public schools. The Stam Plan would divert our taxes into the wallets of rich corporate backers, who are setting up private schools as fast as they can, unaccountable to elected school boards.
Last year, during a closed session with other right-wing extremists, Mr. Stam gave his comrades instructions on how to confuse North Carolinians. It was reported he directed them to use euphemisms to describe the Stam Plan. "Don’t say ‘voucher.’ Say ‘tax credit,’" he said. Using tips learned by national ultra-conservative propaganda tanks in other states, Mr. Stam told his friends that if he heard them using the word "voucher," he would wash their mouths out with soap. Voters don’t like the word ‘vouchers,’ he said. "Vouchers’ don’t poll very well."
Voters are lulled to sleep by terms likes ‘tax credit.’ By the time they wake up to the fact that ‘school vouchers’ and ‘school tax credits’ are the same thing, the ultra-right will be well on its way to its final goal–a private school system. It has been reported that Speaker Tillis has said Mr. Stam’s secret goal is privatizing public schools.
If you care about North Carolina’s children, the right thing to do is restore last summer’s midnight budget cuts. The right thing to do is to re-hire the thousands of teachers and teachers assistants who were terminated last year. The midnight budget cuts not only made our pre-Kindergarten programs even more unconstitutional, they dumped North Carolina below Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina in per pupil spending.
The Stam Plan will cause North Carolina to lose much-needed revenue from wealthy corporations. They can divert the tax money they owe to the state to private nonprofits to finance private schools. A large campaign contributor in Mr. Stam’s Wake County, Bob Luddy, operates a chain of private schools. Instead of restoring our hard-pressed public schools, the Stam Plan would have all of us paying welfare for his rich patrons, giving tax breaks for rich corporations, and destroying the one place our children have a chance to reach for their dreams: our public schools.
People have the right to send their children to private schools or religious schools if they choose to do so. But taxpayers have no obligation to pay for the private or religious schools. Taxpayers have no responsibility to pay for children to be inculcated as Methodists, Muslims, or Catholics. These are private matters of conscience and faith. Taxpayers also have no responsibility to pay for segregation by class or gender or race. Not only is segregation immoral and unconstitutional, it also flies in the face of all scholarly research about school systems that work. Re-segregated schools are a disaster all over the country.
The $4000 that the Stam Plan diverts to private school administrators will quickly decline in value. It’s a cynical trick for low-income families; trying to get poor families to buy into a pipe dream that private school is better than free high-quality public schools. As parents demand high-quality education, the tuition and costs will rise even higher, eating up the $4,000 stipend Stam is dangling as bait now. In the meantime, by siphoning out of the public schools $4,000 for each pupil who leaves public schools, it will impose a staggering cost. Middle and upper class families will be siphoned out of our schools, creating high-poverty, racially-isolated schools. Every educational researcher who speaks truth believes such schools are harder on teachers and they drive out the more involved-families whose presence brings influence and resources.
In summary, the Stam Plan damages our schools and our state. A thorough public debate and discussion about the snares and pitfalls in the plan we welcome. To pass it without proper public and committee review is wrong. Our state’s reputation has been built on its commitment to good public schools and the economic progress they bring.
In the Spirit of Truth and Justice,
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President,
North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP
Dr. Timothy Tyson, Chair
NC NAACP Education Committee
Professor, Duke Divinity School
Atty. Irv Joyner, Chair
NC NAACP Legal Redress Committee
Atty. Al McSurely, Chair
NC NAACP Communications Committee
All Elected Officials in the People’s House;
NC NAACP Local Branches and State Executive Committee;