The Gutting of Public Education

>>teachersEarlier this week, teachers from around North Carolina came to Raleigh for the final Moral Monday protest at the state legislature. They came from Asheville , >>Charlotte , >>Greenville , >>High Point , >>Rutherfordton , >>Winston-Salem , >>Greensboro , >>Boone , and many other communities throughout the state.

They have good reason to protest. As >>a recent editorial in the Wilmington Star-News put it:

The $20.6 billion budget cuts spending on education and does so in a particularly mean-spirited way. It takes money away from public schools in favor of sending tax dollars to private schools that have no accountability to the taxpayers and charter schools that don’t have to follow the same rules as the public schools. It cuts the pay boost for teachers who pursue a master’s degree, cuts teacher assistants and increases class sizes.

Here are just a few of the changes made to the public education system under the new two-year state budget (compiled from >>this list on NC Policy Watch’s blog ).

Funding for teachers – The budget increases the student-to-teacher ratios that determine funding for teachers that districts get from the state. That means schools will have to put more students in each classroom. The Department of Public Instruction estimates this change will result in 5,200 fewer teachers.

Funding for teacher assistants – The two-year budget cuts funding for TAs by 21 percent in the first year and by 19 percent in the second year.

No salary boost for advanced degrees – Right now, teachers get paid more if they have master’s degrees. That goes away in 2015.

No pay increase – Again. That’s five years now. So teachers who started their careers five years ago making $31,000 are still making $31,000. >>North Carolina ranks 48th in the nation in teacher pay . In inflation-adjusted dollars, >>the average salary for North Carolina teachers dropped by 15.7% from 2001-03 to 2011-12.

These policy changes appear to be direct attacks on teachers and teacher assistants – >>the vast majority of whom are women . Lindsay Kosmala Furst, a teacher in Buncombe County, >>wrote a letter to the General Assembly explaining what its policies on teacher pay have meant to her and her family:

When I moved here and began teaching in 2007, $30,000 was a major drop from the $40,000 starting salaries being offered by districts all around me in metro Detroit, but it was fine for a young single woman sharing a house with roommates and paying off student loans. However, over six years later, $31,000 is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance

[A]s I see no end in sight to the assault on teacher pay, I will do what I have to do to support my family financially. We never wanted or expected to live in luxury. We did, however, hope to be able to take our little girls out for an ice cream or not wonder where we will find the gas money to visit their grandparents. And so, even though I am a great teacher from a family of educators and public servants and never imagined myself doing anything else, I am desperately seeking a way out of the classroom, and nothing about education in North Carolina breaks my heart more.

Furst now tells others who are considering becoming teachers, >>“Don’t do it. You don’t want this.”

These decisions by the legislative leadership have also brought condemnation from high-profile North Carolinians, such as Ann Goodnight, wife of SAS founder Jim Goodnight, a registered Republican, and a member of the UNC Board of Governors. Here’s an excerpt from >>her recent letter to the Raleigh News & Observer :

We are knowingly under-investing in our pre-K-12, community college and university students; in our teachers; and in innovative new approaches to learning. This budget is an embarrassment in its lack of investment in the skills and competitiveness of its people. This is a grievous mistake.

“Embarrassment” and “grievous mistake.” Yup, that about sums it up.

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