It’s no secret in Raleigh that Republican leaders are worried about the political fallout from the cuts to education they made in the budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat McCrory this summer.
And they should be.
School systems across the state have lost teaching positions, fired teacher assistants and been forced to increase class sizes. Funding for supplies and textbooks and classroom support has been cut. The budget to replace school buses was reduced too, meaning older buses are still on the road taking kids to schools.
Then there is teacher pay. North Carolina now ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in teacher compensation.
Teachers not only were denied a raise this year, teachers who complete a master’s degree will no longer receive a salary supplement. The award-winning N.C. Teaching Fellows program that provides college scholarships for future teachers was abolished and funding for teacher professional development programs was sharply reduced.
Career status for teachers was demolished and replaced with a system of contracts that turns teachers into temporary employees with few due process rights.
A teacher in North Carolina must work 15 years to earn $40,000. That’s prompting some promising young teachers to leave the profession. Others are simply leaving North Carolina for neighboring states where they can make as much as $10,000 more a year.
If all that wasn’t enough, lawmakers also created a voucher scheme that will divert funding from public schools to almost completely unaccountable private and religious academies next fall.
It’s no coincidence that approval ratings for McCrory and the General Assembly have plummeted and while there are likely a number of reasons for it, the budget cuts for education and attacks on teachers have no doubt played a major role in their increasing unpopularity.
The tea party Republican base and the right-wing think tanks may not support public schools, but the vast majority of voters in North Carolina do and they are upset when they read about the cuts to education and appalled when they see the effect of the cuts for themselves when they take their children to school.
Republicans are scrambling behind the scenes to come up with a way to address their political problem without fundamentally changing their hostility to traditional public schools or rethinking their push to dismantle them with their voucher schemes and less oversight and regulation of the exploding number of charters.
The plan at this point seems to be to give teachers a small raise next year in the summer legislative session which will be held just a few months before the 2014 election.
There’s no discussion of reversing most of the cuts made this year or stepping back from the privatization push, just giving teachers a small raise and hope people think that means that Republicans support education–well part of it anyway.
Reportedly, the McCrory Administration in considering asking lawmakers to give teachers a two percent salary hike and pay for it by reducing funding to the university system that has already been devastated by Republican budget cuts in the last few years.
It’s not clear yet what Republican legislative leaders think of the idea, but they are clearly on board with a teacher raise of some kind. Newsletters from rank and file Republican lawmakers are already touting a likely raise next year and the head of Raleigh’s leading right-wing think tank who is very close to the McCrory Administration recently confirmed on a television talk show that a raise was in the works.
That doesn’t mean the Republican leadership has changed their mind about teachers or public education. Not at all.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger made that clear this week with his bitter statement blasting teachers for the planned “walk-in” Monday that is designed to prompt community discussions of public schools and impact of the recent budget cuts and low pay for teachers.
Members of the PTA will cover classes for an hour at least one school to allow teachers to meet with parents and community leaders. Berger said that would jeopardize student safety since the PTA members hadn’t undergone background checks.
But as Lindsay Wagner with NC Policy Watch pointed out in a recent story, Senate leaders initially balked earlier this year at requiring background checks of teachers at charter schools and they are currently not required of teachers at private academies that will soon be receiving taxpayer money from the voucher scheme passed by the General Assembly.
Berger apparently does not want teachers spending an hour talking to parents.
But it’s too late. Parents and teachers already know the current leadership in Raleigh does not fundamentally support public education or the teachers who dedicate their lives to helping children learn.
That’s clear in their rhetoric about schools being broken and their budget that falls woefully short of providing the funding that schools need.
Parents and voters get it — and a cynical two percent raise in an election year won’t change their minds.
Fitzsimon is the executive director of NC Policy Watch. For more information, visit www.ncpolicywatch.com