Stuart Egan, a teacher of English at West Forsyth High School in North Carolina, here reviews the Republicans’ desperate attempt to portray themselves as friends of public education after four years of attacking teachers and public schools. The Republican legislature has enacted charters and vouchers and done whatever they could think up to demoralize teachers and privatize public dollars. The crucial race in the state is between U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and State Rep. Thom Tillis, one of the architects of the new budget that strangles public education. Will teachers, parents, and friends of public education remember in November?
“The current General Assembly is very scared of public school teachers and their supporters. And they should be: What had originally looked like an election year centering on economic growth has morphed into a debate about how our state government should better serve citizens. This GOP-controlled General Assembly has unintentionally but successfully turned the focus of November’s elections to the vitality of communities and the right to a quality public education (explicitly defined by Section 15, Article 1 of the N.C. constitution).
“North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a public school system, in addition to several city systems. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of the counties — and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system. And they are strong in numbers.
“Those running for the General Assembly in November knew that two years ago; they just didn’t seem to care. They knew it when they attempted to buy teachers’ rights to due process for $500 million after their attempt to eliminate it was declared unconstitutional. They knew it when they froze pay scales more than six years ago. They knew it when they abolished the Teaching Fellows Program. They knew it when they allowed unregulated charter schools to take money earmarked for public schools — which, by the way, also was declared unconstitutional.
“That is why the GOP powers passed a secretly crafted budget that included a “7 percent average raise for teachers.” But this budget is a pure political farce. It was really just a reallocation of money and a calculated way to give the public the illusion that the General Assembly is a champion for public education.”
‘N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said, “Now by providing the largest teacher pay raise in state history, we’ll be able to recruit and retain the best educators to prepare our children for the future.” He’s wrong. N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis is airing a campaign ad about his leadership in strengthening public education. He’s misleading you. That historic raise is funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.
‘Also, the bulk of the pay raise comes in the lower rungs of the pay scale. The more experience a teacher has, the less of a raise he or she sees, down to less than one percent for many teachers with more than 30 years’ experience and advanced certification. And new teachers who start graduate work will never be rewarded for becoming better at what they do. In fact, this current budget ensures that no teacher who begins a career in North Carolina will actually finish that career here. No matter the qualifications or experience a teacher possesses, he or she will never receive a competitive salary like other states offer.
If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight. Do some homework and see which candidates for school board supported vouchers or which state legislatures voted to eliminate teacher assistants in public schools.
“Under this legislature, teachers and public education in North Carolina have been under siege.
“If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight. Do some homework and see which candidates for school board supported vouchers or which state legislatures voted to eliminate teacher assistants in public schools.
“If our communities are to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop. Educate yourself, then please vote.”