We Value Public Education, and We Hope You Do, Too.

Public Ed rally - Raleigh May 2014

Public Ed rally – Raleigh May 2014

When the NC Senate released their budget two weeks ago, it included the promised raises for North Carolina public school teachers, but at a cost: while promising to give teachers their first (one-time?) pay raise in almost seven years, the teachers are compelled to give up a vital job protection (a right to a hearing if the teacher is demoted or dismissed, which isn’t quite like the university “tenure” detractors want us to think it is) if they accept the raise. While this is an individual teacher’s choice whether or not to accept this raise on these conditions, the message from the NCGA clearly implied that if they chose “tenure”, they might not see a raise anytime soon. Some choice.

And lest we think this proposed raise is some sort of show of NCGA benevolence aimed at lifting up NC public schools, it also comes at the expense of needed Teaching Assistants and continued under-funding of teacher resources such as textbooks. While getting more money because you are doing more work (as those teachers without teaching assistants will now be doing) is technically a raise, most people wouldn’t consider it a reward for a job well done or a reflection of their employer’s appreciation of their performance, experience and skills; after all, it’s only fair to get more money if you are suddenly expected to do more work, and depending on how much more work it is, some might not consider the trade-off worth it. With the flood of stories about teachers leaving the profession and/or North Carolina for greener pastures, there appear to be plenty of NC teachers who don’t feel they can keep doing more with less, all the while having to listen to a disrespectful General Assembly dismiss their hard work and their concerns.

Nancy Shoemaker (AAUW-NC and past NCWU board member) suggested in her LTE on the issue that the NCGA is not listening to its citizens:

“A family budget sets its priorities. How much savings? How much entertainment? How much charity? How many hours worked? Are there creative ways to raise income? The budget ends up reflecting the family values — what is important to them.

The legislature’s budget challenges are more difficult (partly because of last year’s tax cuts) and more complicated, but what they seem to be forgetting is that the budget is a statement of the values of the people of North Carolina. Does the Senate leadership really believe that the people want them to offer harsh bargains to the teachers entrusted with the education of our children? Do they think the people agree that an average 11% raise would compensate for harming classrooms and making a teacher’s job much harder (by defunding teaching assistants)? Haven’t they listened to people who say that they are willing to pay more in taxes to adequately fund education — and that last year’s shell game tax “cut” does not reflect the values of North Carolina?”
It didn’t have to be this way. The tax plan passed by the NCGA last year is creating a self-imposed squeeze on revenues, a deficit now being used to justify these Faustian bargains NC teachers – and citizens – are being asked to make. With the continued mantra to not raise taxes, this promised pay raise is also not completely accounted for. Beyond cutting the public school workforce and under-funding resources, where else will the money come from? Cuts to school administration expenses, like school bus drivers? More cuts to safety net programs that so many students and their families – and even teachers – rely on? How much will we be expected to rob from Peter to pay Paul when all is said and done?
The promise of a sound public education for all – as stated in our state constitution – has continually been undermined, certainly since this latest NCGA session started in January 2013, but also for the past few years (state funding for public schools has been cut by more than $1.3 billion since 2008). This promise and shared value – that quality public education is a cornerstone of our democracy and a great equalizer – is being traded for a gain that will ultimately be not even be much of a gain when considering the other public spending cuts that will affect so many NC citizens, including teachers.
In addition to wanting the best education for their children, women’s economic security is also adversely affected by these cuts.  There is still a long waiting list for pre-K slots, meaning many mothers have less choices for quality pre-K education for their kids while also limited flexibility to find needed employment outside the home.

Women also make up the lion’s share of teachers and teaching assistants, and proposed budget cuts could create further unemployment for women and eventually fewer resources for those still with jobs. Refusing to fully fund public education has far reaching consequences beyond the classroom.

 

As for the transfer of public dollars to private schools – it’s been done before in NC, with something called the Pearsall Plan, an attempt to skirt federal requirements for school integration which included offering “grants” for private school tuition to families that did not want their children attending integrated schools. Despite a history of and current strong citizen support for public education in North Carolina, we continue to see attempts to dismantle the system from some in the state.
These recent NCGA decisions on NC’s school system  again demonstrate a continued disrespect for those engaged in public education.  We hope you will join us today, 5pm at Halifax Mall in Raleigh, to rally and stand up for our teachers, our students and our children. We will see you there!
Tara Romano, President, NCWU