Leaders reap what they sow with teachers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 13, 2018

The office of N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore sent out a press release last week touting “ Five Consecutive Pay Raises Lead Teacher Appreciation Agenda.” Judging by the growing number of teachers planning to march on Raleigh this week, it’s not the number of raises that counts with the state’s educators.

The “teacher appreciation” label isn’t get much traction, either.

The antipathy toward traditional public education that the Republican majority has exhibited ever since it took control of the legislature in 2011 has planted unhappy seeds. Over the years, public schools endured teacher and teacher assistant layoffs, the insultingly biased A-F grading system, the expansion of charters and the institution of school vouchers, among other things. The majority never backed off the squeeze on public schools or the assault on the teaching profession, even with the pay raises cited by Moore. This year the majority could well reap what its agenda has sown.

It’s one thing to make cuts during a recession of historical proportions and quite another to continue whittling away at the public education — literally and figuratively —during periods of recovery and growth. The legislature’s singled-minded focus on corporate tax cuts has blinded it to the growing poverty of today’s students and mounting demands on teachers.

Child poverty has increased 25 percent in North Carolina since 2008. Instead of helping traditional public schools address these mushrooming needs, lawmakers adopted measures that drove students toward charter and private schools. The legislature boosted segregation and strained already limited resources.

The most important of those resources are the teachers, the men and women charged with the daily care and education of North Carolina’s children. Thousands are marching on Raleigh Wednesday, to seek not just better pay for themselves, but also more state funding per student and more school nurses, counselors, social workers and other support personnel.

The impact of the legislature’s scarcity mentality has been clear to see. Just recently, Rowan-Salisbury Schools adopted an “optimization plan” to eliminate support positions at some schools in order to direct more resources — though still not enough — to schools dealing with the greatest poverty.

Rowan-Salisbury has just 12 nurses to care for more than 19,000 students in 30-plus schools. And so on.

School board members who voted to let Rowan-Salisbury teachers take an optional teacher work day Wednesday and to call off classes did what was best for students and teacher alike.

Some people question the motives of this movement. But when prolonged policymaking undermines the very foundation of our state — our public education system — the only way to respond is with voices and votes. If that’s politics, so be it.