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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Maybe the public's money should go to people who support public schools

Two recent stories involving North Carolina schools illustrate the challenges facing the state’s public school system. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, makes the connections.

These two stories about our public schools bubbled to the surface over the past few days. Technically they’re not related. But they share a vibe, both comic and tragic, that says a lot about how little we care about some of our children.

The first story involves the strange case of the elusive school. WFAE’s Ann Doss Helms spent months trying to track down a private school called Teaching Achieving Students Academy. The state has paid the school almost $483,000 in public voucher money over the past 10 years. Problem is, Ann couldn’t find the school — or any of its students. 

She went to several different addresses where the school claimed to be located, but the school was never there. Then the school listed a new address in Harrisburg. Ann went there and finally found a small group of students with the school’s headmistress, who goes by either Fanisha Cowan or Fanisha Locke. Ms. Cowan, or Locke, quickly escorted Ann out. 

Now, I have no idea what has been happening over these past eight or nine months while the school has moved around like the queen in three-card monte. The state says the school is now in compliance, and until somebody says differently, let’s assume it’s legit. I’ll just say that a system where schools can appear and disappear at will, while raking in state money, could also attract those with less legitimate goals. 

This brings me to the Republican primary for state superintendent of education. In an upset, the incumbent, Catherine Truitt, lost to a newcomer named Michele Morrow. Morrow has never held political office. She touts her 16 years of homeschooling experience. And she has called our public schools “socialism centers” and “indoctrination centers.” 

I guess she and I sort of differ on this, because I happen to believe that our public education system, as flawed as it is, is one of the two or three greatest American achievements. I understand the complicated reasons why parents put their kids into private or voucher schools, but I also believe those kids are cheated out of an essential skill in our society — the ability to learn from, and get along with, someone who’s different from you. The more that kids are shielded from that, the harder it is for our country to hang together. 

I’m not sure any of that matters to Michele Morrow. But here’s one thing that I suspect does matter: The state superintendent’s job pays $146,000 a year. There is a long tradition in this country of politicians who advocate for smaller government except when it comes to their payday. 

To draw that salary, Morrow will have to win in November against Democrat Mo Green, the former deputy superintendent for the Charlotte schools. 

But she’s got a real chance, here in this state that seems determined to give public money to people who don’t seem to care much about public schools.


Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.