After a grueling debate season full of rallies, marches and public actions, it seems as though public education in North Carolina finally had a little win. Teacher Assistants are written into the state budget. We avoided cutting over 5,000 jobs and, in fact, increased the funding for education a bit.
Call me a cynic, but when I read that my immediate thought was “Okay, that’s great- but what’s the catch here?” So I investigated.
Initially, the Senate wanted to cut Teacher Assistants and increase the number of teachers, thereby reducing class sizes. This was shouted down by educators and advocates, as teachers and students rely on assistants to manage classrooms and allow for much-needed individualized education.
As one of the lowest ranking states in the nation for teacher pay and educational outcomes, North Carolina is providing little incentive for educators to come here. In fact, teacher flight is one of the biggest challenges facing our state right now. If we can’t even keep our existing educators here, how can we possibly expect to draw in more?
Though smaller class sizes have been linked to stronger student outcomes, this simply does not exist as an option for many North Carolina schools. The good intentions of the General Assembly did not make accommodations for how small, underfunded schools would make small class sizes a reality.
We therefore do indeed need Teaching Assistants. The question becomes how to keep TA’s in classrooms while simultaneously maintaining our Lead Teachers.
The budget change that may make the biggest difference is the new restriction on how the money allotted for TA’s can be spent. Many schools dip into this fund to pay new teacher hires and supplement experienced educator’s income. This is important for schools already struggling to maintain staff and faculty.
Lawmakers allowed schools to keep the money for TA’s, but disallowed individual schools the power to decide how best to spend it. Further, the budget provides only a 2% raise for new teachers (those with less than 5 years of experience), but no raises for more seasoned educators. Insult adds to injury in the form of a paltry one-time $750 bonus for teachers. It’s a cute gesture, but not enough to pay a month’s rent in most cities.
The NC General Assembly “threw us a bone,” so to speak — but there is no meat on it.
These Teachers (with a capital T) and Teacher’s Assistants are the women and men we entrust with our most precious possessions – our children, our very future. We want teachers to give their best, and they should be honored by getting fairly compensated for it.