By: Kristina Drye
I have watched the downward spiral of the state of North Carolina for the past months. At first, disbelief. Then anger. I think now I’m at the point where the amount the legislature has done is admirable. In quantity, of course. I have no words for the repulsive nature of its quality.
I will preface this by saying that I voted for Pat McCrory. He led Charlotte well, or it appeared that he had. He made campaign promises that he has since broken. And I’m beginning to chalk up his running Charlotte well not to his own policies, but rather to Charlotte’s inevitable upward trajectory as a growing urban area experiencing foreign investments.
It’s so bad, in fact, that Buzzfeed penned an article about the worst 11 Things the NC Legislature Gave Us This Session. Let’s just appreciate the fact that Buzzfeed had enough bad legislation to choose from to make a ranked list. Not just one. Not just two. Not even a top-ten. ELEVEN.
Among these are abortion restrictions; voting restrictions; welfare restrictions; the expansion of gun rights, including allowing firearms in bars and parks, on college campuses, and allowing the use of a silencer; the repeal of the Racial Justice Act; the rendering of citizens ineligible for federal unemployment benefits; and lest we forget, a marked increase in Pat McCrory’s cabinet salaries, in order to allow them “to make it at least where they can afford to live while running multibillion-dollar departments.”
The worst piece of legislation, though, is the budget that makes significant changes to the state of education in North Carolina. Both of my parents are educators in North Carolina, and I have had what one might call a 20-year vocational training in education. Education is often cited as “the profession by which all other professions are made possible.”
Some statistics for you:
- As of fall 2011, North Carolina was 10th in the nation in terms of public school enrollment; the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system is 17th largest in the nation and a winner of the national Race to the Top funding.
- In between the school years 2001-2002 and 2011-2012, NC saw a 43.9 percent increase in percent of graduation.
- NC ranked 23rd in the nation for student-teacher ratio in 2010, tying with SC and GA for 15.2 : 1.
- In 2012, NC ranked 48th with an average teacher salary of $45,947. In 2011, they had an average teacher salary of $46,605. For comparison, in 2007-2008, NC ranked 25th.
A breakdown of what the new budget means for educators:
- It eliminates 9,306.5 education positions: 5,184.5 teachers, 3,850 teacher assistants, and 272 support personnel.
- No salary increases, meaning that teachers will have to go yet another year without an increase in salary that mirrors the increasing cost-of-living.
- It removes the teacher tenure program. Instead, teachers will experience the 5-year phased implementation of a program that is, essentially, pay-and-hire by performance. Teachers will sign contracts (one year, two year, or four year), and the top 25 percent will be identified, again based on performance. No guidelines for this performance scale are given.
- In the past, educators that achieve Masters degrees or National Board Certifications have received compensation and incentives through a pay increase. This incentive is being eliminated. Those that do have degrees and are already receiving increases will be grandfathered in, but once the National Board certifications expire, the renewed certification will no longer qualify for the incentive.
- Schools will only be evaluated and “graded” based on an 80:20 formula: 80 percent standardized testing performance, and 20 percent growth.
- NC has now eliminated the Teaching Fellows Program. Teaching Fellows was a scholarship that catered to promising potential teachers; once the scholarship was received, students were contractually required to teach in the NC public school system for four years.
- Funding for supplies and resources was markedly cut, including: textbook funding by $77.4 million dollars; classroom supply funding by $45.7 million dollars; and Limited English Proficiency funding by $6 million dollars.
- The implementation of a substantial voucher program, which grants $6000 scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools. The total allowance is $50,000,000.
- All in all, nearly half a billion dollars will be cut.
Let’s begin with a practical analysis of these policies.
- It is difficult, especially in urban schools, to handle a class without a teacher assistant- especially in younger grades. Students enter the classroom unable to function in a classroom setting. Eliminating teacher assistants will force teachers to spend more time enforcing the classroom environment rather than cultivating those within it. Meanwhile, cutting teacher positions forces an increase in class sizes, again making it more difficult for a teacher to do what they’re supposed to do – teach.
- This one is simple. Cost of living increases, while pay remains stationary – or worse, declines. You hear people talk about socioeconomic stratification? Here’s a prime example.
- Tenure, as a public school teacher, does not mean that a teacher can never be fired, as it implies with university professors. Instead, it means that a teacher can appeal their termination with due process to verify its fairness. While I understand the idea of defining a teacher’s ability by their classroom performance, I disagree with the practical application. Teachers in schools with a low socioeconomic status have a different set of students with a different set of needs than teachers that teach in schools with a higher socioeconomic status. Teachers that teach AP classes and upper-level classes teach a different set of students than teachers that teach lower-level classes and credit recovery classes. Teachers cannot be responsible for 100 percent of their student’s performance. Legislators must remember that students enter school after five years of only their home environment; students spend 30 hours a week at school, under the teacher’s influence, but they spend 138 hours a week in an outside, uncontrolled environment. Teachers cannot be held wholly accountable for combating or eliminating this influence.
- By eliminating incentives for good teachers to become better and stay in teaching when they could go elsewhere, you’re eliminating your best resources.
- You can only test a child so much. Teachers are forced by this testing requirement not to teach material and foster thinking skills, but to teach tests and foster the art of bubbling.
- Teaching Fellows was considered revolutionary upon its inception, and now NC’s way of recruiting, rewarding, and cultivating new and promising teachers has been eliminated. NC has eliminated any chance it has of recruiting and/or retaining talent.
- Teachers already provide many of their materials. Cutting out funding for these materials puts a fiscal strain on already financially wrought employees.
- Most private schools cost more than this; it is the state’s answer to, “what are you doing to change the system if you’re eliminating its resources?” It is a meager answer and one that is half-hearted.
By attempting to remedy the fiscal problems of our state, our legislature is forgetting about its most important resource, its intellectual capital. They forget that their people are a resource, that the cultivation of thought is more important than the cultivation of money. They forget that the cultivation of thought IS the cultivation of money. It is a return on an investment they have chosen to decline.
They forget that children walk for hours to get to school in other countries. That children like Malala Yousafzai are shot, point blank, because they are not afforded the opportunity to education. Yet, when a state CAN afford that education, they choose not to. The culture and perception of education in America needs to change, and the government of North Carolina is doing its very best to dismantle progress in that direction.
They forget that they were elected to represent their constituents, not to renege on their promises. They seem blind to the nation’s judgement. They continue to implement draconian policies. Though they passed a law protecting the state from Sharia law, every piece of legislation that is passed seems to mirror it.
I would teach, if I could be sure of financial stability. I cannot, and as such, North Carolina has lost a potential educator.
I am certain that I am not the only one.