The May 15 editorial “Protest politics a poor strategy for school fixes” concludes by noting that if the teacher rally in Raleigh harmed chances for legislative action on teacher salaries and working conditions, their PR win would be a Pyrrhic victory, hollow and essentially meaningless.
Although the editorial agreed that teachers need a salary increase and schools need more funding for supplies, textbooks, teacher assistants and overdue building maintenance, the thrust of the opinion was that the burden of obtaining these items falls on the teachers themselves, not on the N.C. General Assembly members who control educational funding. It went on to say that “turning Advocacy Day into a protest may drive a wedge between teachers and legislators.” What?
It is the GOP-led General Assembly that has driven this wedge. Differences of opinion have always existed between teachers and legislators even when Democrats were in power, but for the past eight years, the GOP majority has relentlessly used its power to weaken, undermine, and destroy public education in every way possible. Teachers know this better than anyone and live with the effects of this legislation every day in their classrooms. Teachers know that, contrary to the advice of The Wilson Times, a productive discussion about these issues is becoming more difficult especially in light of Sen. Phil Berger’s comments as recently as today that “teachers are spreading misinformation.”
Senator Berger’s party is the one spreading misinformation or failing to include complete information. Unfortunately, the Times also failed to give the whole story. Yes, teachers have received raises since 2015, but which teachers? Beginning teachers and teachers who have taught a few years received a raise, while experienced teachers received a much smaller amount. In addition, teachers lost their longevity pay, which was a significant hardship. New hires will not be paid for advanced study or a master’s degree.
The Times’s suggestion that somehow the lottery can be used to fund capital outlay expenses for school repair, thereby eliminating the need for school construction bonds, ignores that fact that North Carolina has millions of dollars in a “rainy day” fund which the legislature refuses to allocate to public schools.
All this — and teachers are supposed to “sit down, shake hands, and plead their case with the people who represent them”? What about the duty of our legislators to seek out and listen to the concerns of those on the front lines in our state’s public schools? In nearby Greenville, The Daily Reflector’s guest editorial stressed this very point: that when the teachers speak, the legislature should listen.
Two op-eds in The Wilson Times also supported North Carolina’s teachers. Both Tom Campbell, host of “N.C. Spin,” and Allison Mahaley, chair of the N.C. Council of Churches’ Public Education Committee, eloquently explained the changes that teachers are working for and the challenges they face in the current environment.
Teachers have been ignored, discounted, and denied a place in the room when decisions were made that affect their personal and professional lives. Their voices have not been heard. But the presence in Raleigh of 20,000 teachers is an indication that a new day has come. It’s their time now, and they have much to say.
Ann Y. Barnes