NC lawmakers, their eyes on election year image, pass gimmick budget, shortchange students

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by Félix Pérez

Despite what North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislators would have state residents believe, the budget passed by the legislature July 1 does not erase the damage inflicted on students, educators and public schools during the past three years, say educators.

Legislators and McCrory, who is locked in a close re-election fight and is expected to sign the budget into law in the coming days, are crowing about the spending blueprint’s increase in educator salaries. But educators are offering a blistering appraisal.

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“This budget is nothing more than an election year ploy that doesn’t erase the dismantling of public education since the governor took office in 2013,” said Greensboro elementary school teacher Mark Jewell.

The “budget shortchanges our students, and educators see right through it,” said Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “Our students don’t have textbooks to take home, class sizes have grown exponentially, and we’re constantly losing teachers to bordering states. And parents are asked once again to pay for copy paper, or in some cases, toilet paper because their child’s school has run out.”

North Carolina spends about $9,289 per student, which ranks No. 43 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. When adjusted for inflation, the figure is less than the state spent per student in 2007-08, when there were fewer students and fewer schools. Under McCrory, North Carolina has 35,000 more students with about 4,900 fewer teachers. McCrory has cut 3,000 teaching assistant positions in elementary schools.

View the NCAE ad that describes how Gov. McCrory has moved North Carolina backward.

While lawmakers are quick to point out that the average teacher salary increases 4.7 percent under the new budget, “most teachers don’t get anything, and the most experienced educators are receiving some of the lowest raises,” said Jewell. The budget, Jewell said, does not “provide students the tools and resources to prepare them for college and career readiness. We’re losing a generation of kids under the McCrory administration, and that’s heartbreaking.”

The budget also adopts skyrocketing increases for private school vouchers, setting aside $34.8 million to pay for students to attend private or religious schools and raising the amount annually by $10 million through 2028.

Educators have been battling corrosive changes to public education imposed by McCrory and the far-right super-majority in the legislature for years. Most recently, the North Carolina Association of Educators staged a multi-city “Teacher Truth Tour” that culminated in the state capital. Said Jewell:

They [the legislature] have increased education funding, but what they are not telling you is that we have 17,000 extra students since last year, while they are sitting on millions of dollars in surplus that need to be going into our schools.

Some educators are taking to the streets to express their frustration with state elected officials’ funding priorities and their disregard for children’s education and health. Fourteen educators were arrested outside McCrory’s office June 15 after engaging in civil disobedience by locking arms and sitting down in an intersection. The educators had participated with more than 100 other educators, parents and students on a two-day, 23-mile march to meet with McCrory. The governor refused to meet, citing a previous commitment.

Anca Stefa
Teacher Anca Stefan being arrested at governor’s office

“I’ve been teaching in North Carolina’s public schools for eight years, and I’ve seen the conditions my students learn in — or are expected to learn in — deteriorate,” said Durham teacher Anca Stefan, who was among the educators arrested. “It’s really difficult when people entrust me with their kids’ well-being, that I can see the abuse and neglect by the state, and that I don’t do anything about it.”

Bryan Proffitt, a Durham high school social studies teacher, was also arrested. “The governor wants to make the conversation about teacher raises to hide that they’re making the teaching  profession unsustainable. He knows that if the argument is not about teachers’ pay but about our students’ lives, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

Stefan and Proffitt have no regrets about their civil disobedience.

“I feel compelled to act, to take a stand for our students, our families, our communities,” said Proffitt.  If we don’t win this, we will not have public schools.”

Proffitt said additional actions are being planned, including voter registration, education and mobilization.

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