High Point University students get real-life civics lesson

Buckley Report

HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — The very first amendment to the US Constitution lays it out in plain English: “The right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Students at High Point University take that seriously.

Instead of sitting in front of a video game or spending time on TikTok, twenty students from HPU went to Raleigh to advocate for issues that mean something to them.

“They had to research their issue, research the members of the state legislature, put together meetings (with members of the North Carolina legislature) and then the final project was to come here and advocate on behalf of that issue,” said Professor Brandon Lenoir, who is leading the project.

The students had a variety of topics they advocated for: allowing more flexibility in how individual school districts spend their money, expanded use of medical marijuana, higher pay for K-12 teachers and revising the grants aimed at getting the motion picture industry to build more infrastructure, with the idea being that if they invest in studios, etc., they’ll continually come here to shoot.

On the first issue, the one about allowing more flexibility in spending education dollars, it seems to come from an unintended consequence. Years ago, the state decided to put money the legislature provided in silos, so money spent on teacher salaries couldn’t be moved to something else like athletics or to replace a broken air-conditioning unit.

That system of rigid budgeting appears to have grown out of school districts complaining that they didn’t get enough money for this or that, and the legislature saying, “It’s in the overall provision.” So to end that argument, the state decided to put a label on everything.

High Point student Nate Burgess thinks that’s not giving the school districts enough credit.

“It doesn’t give these school districts the freedom to essentially spend the money how they wish or how they see…fit. And we figure the best people that are going to do that job are the people that are actually spending the money not the state. So we want to give back local control to them,” Burgess said. “A one-size-fits-all method simply isn’t working right now.”

The first legislator they met with agreed.

“I have long thought…it’s not how much money you put into it. It’s ‘where’s the money going?’ How can you effectively spend that money to get the right result?” said State Representative Jon Hardister. “It’s difficult because there are competing ideas and a system that has been in place for quite some time. The trouble is we put a lot of money…into public education. We have increased the funding for public education. But when you don’t have local control, it can create issues because not every district is the same, not every charter school is the same.”

For Professor Lenoir, this is about developing lifelong, active citizens. He says a lot of younger people simply aren’t engaged in civic action. He believes this program changes that.

“A lot of it is just the unknown,” Lenoir said. “A lot of students, especially young people, don’t understand the political process. And by getting involved and going through the steps of putting together a lobbying campaign, it demystifies the process.”

See the students in action in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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