I am no different. What I believe in is public education. I believe in giving all students an opportunity to have a free and adequate education. I believe that all students,
no matter their race, economic status, education background, or life experiences, should have access to a quality education. I guess you could say I believe in the words of our state constitution, “The state is required to provide students with the opportunities to obtain a sound basic education.”
Tonight, stories of North Carolina’s newest budget are on every local news channel and on the front page of many NC newspapers. Our governor is expected to approve the budget later this week. According to Raleigh’s News and Observer, if Governor McCrory approves the budget, “Teacher pay will remain near the bottom of national rankings. More than 3,850 teacher assistant positions will be gone. The extra pay for teachers who earn master’s degrees will be phased out…The budget also phases out tenure so that teachers who don’t already have it won’t be able to earn it, and it will be gone for all teachers in 2018.”
Now, all this is upsetting. It’s insulting. It’s baffling. It’s the feeling you get when someone who has never done your job is controlling your profession in all the wrong ways. It’s outright ridiculous that our leaders refuse to invest in our schools, our teachers, and our students by taking money away from our public schools. Teachers are furious, parents are worried, and I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t a person out there who supports public education who thinks this budget is a good idea.
But here’s where we have the problem in North Carolina. Republicans have the significant majority in the House and the Senate, and Republicans do not traditionally support public education. They prefer the privatization of education to the public offering of education. So, it is safe to say that the majority of our leaders do not support public education, and their actions are communicating this as loudly and clearly as ever.
As if everything the News and Observer mentioned earlier wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse. Because of (what I believe is) our General Assembly’s desire to privatize education, they have agreed that part of the budget will set aside $20 million over the next two years for "opportunity scholarships,” which will allow qualifying students in public schools to move to private schools. That’s right. With this budget, NC taxpayers will be paying for some students to attend private schools. Despite all the other parts of the budget that are just down-right terrible for public education, this one takes the cake. It is without a doubt the most upsetting part of this budget to me, and it should be upsetting to every other taxpayer in NC as well.
Now, at the risk of sounding insensitive, let me be clear. I am not against private schools. I’m sure most private schools provide a wonderful education and have many benefits. I know many people who have attended private school; I do not oppose them. What I oppose is taking away resources from public schools and using that money to support private schools. (After all, they are called “public” and “private” for a reason.) If our General Assembly is so worried about “low income” students attending “low performing schools,” why won’t they put money into those schools? I understand that our states’ leaders who have proposed and voted on this budget think they are meeting the constitutional requirement (mentioned above) by introducing this idea of “opportunity scholarships.” But if you really look closely at the stipulations and the guidelines of these scholarships, you might see why the North Carolina Association of Educators has plans to try to block key provisions in the spending plan. Check it out. They may very well have a case.
The bottom line, and the purpose of this blog, is this: Like many other teachers and citizens in North Carolina, I feel more and more disgusted every time I read an article or commentary about the decisions our General Assembly is making in regards to our schools. Tonight I feel defeated. I feel discouraged. It feels hard to want to stay in this profession. How can these people who do not have the slightest clue what it means to work in public school make these awful, horrific choices? I know I may differ
politically than most of the General Assembly, and I know that I am biased and
emotional because this is my job. But this is my job, and this is my life, and I just can’t understand it.
There is a sad state of affairs in North Carolina, and the only thing we can do is to stay passionate about our platform. We need to keep reading, keep talking, keep writing letters, keep protesting if that’s what it takes. We have got to keep standing up for ourselves, and we absolutely cannot stop demanding what is the best for the children we teach.