A week ago, the North state Senate passed a $21.2 billion budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget won approval largely along party lines shortly after midnight on May 31st. As the budget is now being considered in the House, many North Carolinians have expressed concern over severe budget cuts to some of the state’s most vital institutions. One of the many problems with the bill is its failure to invest in the future of the state through public education.
In a state where convincing teachers to stay and teach is becoming nearly impossible, Pat McCrory’s recent promise to give teachers a pay raise seemed like nothing but good news. Currently, the starting wage for a teacher in North Carolina is just $30,800 a year, $10,000 less than the national average. Ranking just 46th in the nation for teaching salaries, North Carolina is quickly losing its willing educators. Ads from school districts in Texas have even begun targeting North Carolina teachers, offering them $16,000 more a year than what they can make here. It’s not hard to see why Republican lawmakers are finally ready to make a change. The proposed budget offers an 11 percent average pay raise for teachers.
Unfortunately, if passed, these pay raises will come with several heavy prices. Firstly, Senate GOP leaders are demanding that teachers give up tenure in exchange for any chance they have at a living wage. This measure is a slap in the face for anyone who believed lawmakers were about to make teaching in North Carolina more appealing. In the job market, job security can be just as important as what you’re getting paid. Getting rid of tenure would encourage schools to fire teachers who have been working long enough to earn a pay raise and replace them with younger and cheaper labor. A word of advice to state lawmakers, if you’re attempting to treat teachers more fairly, don’t simultaneously strip them of their employment protections.
As far as funding for pay raises goes, Republicans have crafted a rather poor solution for that as well. The budget proposal promises to fire more than 7,000 teaching assistants across the state. Funding will only remain for TAs teaching students in kindergarten and first grade. Who are TAs and what exactly do they do? If you’re like me, you may have a rather foggy memory of what happened in elementary school. However, looking way back, I can’t imagine what my classes would have looked like without these men and women. In a classroom full of children, there are an unlimited amount of needs to be met. For about six hours a day, teachers are responsible, not only for teaching their lessons, but for making sure their students eat, play, go to the bathroom, and remain healthy. TAs make it much easier for teachers to address the needs of every child. As class sizes are constantly expanding, teachers need more assistance than ever. The decision to cut TAs will may have a vastly negative effect on the quality of grade school education.
Concerns about the bill’s proposal for education spending go on and on (a more comprehensive list of concerns can be found here on NC Policy Watch.) Making North Carolina a more competitive employer is a logical investment for the future of our state. Teachers need to be paid more so that they can effectively educate students. However, this budget proposal destroys more than it accomplishes. Teachers and students both deserve fair education funding.
Blog written by Jennifer Waldkirch