The General Assembly had the opportunity to change how they grade public schools on an A-F scale that typically reflects the level of poverty at the school, rather than their performance. However, the General Assembly did not change this system to reflect the actual level of the educators at the school. In 2014, the General Assembly took away the possibility of a pay raise for those who receive Masters in Education. Not only that, but our current General Assembly passed a bill that increases voucher programs in North Carolina and will allow the slow defunding of public schools. It’s clear our legislators don’t prioritize education over tax breaks for the top 0.1%.
In addition to these teachers being negatively labeled, the North Carolina General Assembly made the decision in 2014 to no longer provide a raise for teachers who earn a master’s degree. In the Teacher Education program at UNCG, there were 808 graduate students working on their master’s degree in fall 2014 and only 119 in fall 2016. That is frightening data that signals danger for the quality of future teachers in the classroom.
I assume the intention was to balance the budget, but the ramifications are numerous, and a lack of investment in our teachers is a lack of investment in our economy. One of the first considerations before a family moves to a new area is the quality of the school system. In addition, the leadership in North Carolina communicates to teachers that they do not respect them, do not care about their professional growth or leadership potential and are not concerned with how this might impact future students. When teachers feel unsupported, it is difficult to recruit and retain them. Without a strong pool of teachers, some “learn on the job” with such programs as Teach for America and other lateral-entry routes to certification. This has a direct impact on our children. We know the single most important factor on a child’s learning is the teacher in the classroom.
Another piece of legislation passed by our current General Assembly is increasing the voucher system. Make no mistake, vouchers are not about school choice but about privatizing education and defunding the public schools. Students who accept a voucher to attend a private school take public school funds with them. This reduces the programs offered in the school as well as the number of teachers. In addition, according to Harvard Graduate School, taxpayers do not see the results of their funding because private schools and for-profit schools are not held to the same level of accountability or transparency. In fact, 50 percent of their faculty can teach without a license. Despite the intention to offer choice, this legislation is actually limiting choices for parents by eliminating their neighborhood schools, magnet schools and public school programs.
As stated by former Gov. Jim Hunt, “Teachers have the most important job. They are building our nation.” When we vote for our North Carolina legislators, we are voting to either support our public education system or not. We are choosing to build a nation or to turn our backs. I know firsthand that we should be investing resources and proposing legislation that supports students, families, teachers and our communities. So, to my colleagues and teachers around the state of North Carolina, it’s time to advocate for ourselves and our students.