Convention dispatches: Former teacher says education is key to U.S. prosperity

CHARLOTTE – Former teacher April Morton sees education as the solution to most of America’s economic, social and political problems.

Former teacher April Morton talked politics and spending over coffee in the University City neighborhood of Charlotte this week. (Photo by Dave Gustafson | Patchwork Nation)

Former teacher April Morton talked politics and spending over coffee in Charlotte’s University City neighborhood this week. (Photo by Dave Gustafson | Patchwork Nation)

Morton, 35, who taught middle school social studies for five years, says a better-educated nation would have a solid foundation to create more good jobs and develop stronger diplomatic ties.

“If we have better relationships with foreign counties, we’ll use less military and save a lot of money,” Morton, who lives in Charlotte, said this week.

Morton is a Public Insight Network source who played Budget Hero – PIN’s online game that allows citizens to take a stab at controlling the U.S. budget – and she shared her take on government spending over coffee in Charlotte’s University City neighborhood, while the Democratic National Convention was going on just across town.

She grew up in Norwood, N.C., a rural town an hour east of here that has seen its textile and furniture industries vanish. Her family and hometown are very Republican, but she says the breadth of ideas she was exposed to while she was away at college made her a Democrat.

“All of us who left, for the most part, chose a more liberal stance,” she says of her peers back home. “The ones who are still at home, it’s still the same.”

Morton says she and her dad – a staunch Republican and a veteran – regularly get into political debates. She tries to convince him that health care reform would be good for him since they’re frustrated with his access to care at the local VA hospital.

She said family and friends include her on mass emails about politics. She says she feels compelled to research their claims and rebut them with links to Snopes.com and fact-checking sites.

“I feel like I’m the vanguard – the bearer of the torch,” she says.

This election year, she’s backing President Obama, but said she struggled with her decision in 2008 because John McCain had a long history of compromise, while Obama’s record wasn’t as extensive.

After her years of teaching, Morton went back to college to get another bachelor’s degree. She is now a community relations coordinator at Compass Group, a food service and hospitality company that has its North American headquarters here.

She says she’s been fortunate to always have work, and to have survived the housing bubble without much trouble. Nine years ago when she and her husband bought their home in eastern Charlotte, a builder tried to convince them to buy something larger.

“They tried to push us into a bigger home in the same community, but we went with another builder,” she says.

The math just didn’t add up, and she wasn’t comfortable embarking on a bigger mortgage. It paid off. She says she and her husband owe $5,000 more on their home than the latest county assessment.

About half of the people in their neighborhood, Morton says, have had some problems with their mortgages. Some have walked away; others have opted for short sales.

Morton says she and her husband have enjoyed seeing the mortgage deduction on their taxes, but she’d be willing to pay a little more in taxes if wealthier people do so, as well.

“I think it should be proportionately fair,” she said. Her results in the Budget Hero game reflect that sentiment. She chose the option to reform and simplify the tax code while she played.

How would you control the federal government’s spending? You can play Budget Hero here.