It has become painfully obvious over recent months that Republicans in the General Assembly know little about public education and care less. For all the breathless talk about a proposed salary increase for teachers in the state Senate budget, there continue to be disturbing signs of real ignorance among lawmakers when it comes to what public schools need to work.
And, by the way, what children need.
Senators now propose to cut even more positions for teacher assistants, the vital helpers who make it possible for teachers to bear down on the mission of teaching and to give needed time to students who need it. Assistants are under-named, if anything, because they take on many teacher tasks. Anyone who has spent time in an elementary classroom has seen just how much they do, from helping to maintain discipline to helping students with special needs, to providing precious time so teachers can focus on lesson plans.
The assistants also help teachers enliven classrooms with imaginative work on projects or decorations or field trips. And they can help make up for the problems that come with larger numbers of students in classrooms.
It’s simply hard these days to imagine those classrooms without them, but thanks to Republicans in the General Assembly, parents are going to find out what it’s like if a state Senate budget goes through. The GOP-run Senate wants to cut assistants and use them only in kindergarten and first grade rather than through third grade.
It is a maddening idea, bad for kids and bad for public education. It’s also going to prove politically nutty. Republican leaders speak of public schools as if they were an antiquated way to educate young people, preferring to emphasize charter schools (funded by the public, by the way) and flirting with vouchers to provide some parents with money to send their kids to private schools.
But public schools have served North Carolina well, offering a foundation for many children to broaden their horizons, to go to college, to build bright futures. Along the way, many were inspired by a single teacher or, yes, a teacher assistant.
The attacks on teachers that have come from some Republicans who now want teachers to believe they are their champions speak to a broader skepticism in the GOP about public schools, period. But the vast majority of families in this state, including some with conservative Republicans in them, send their kids to public schools and believe in them.
And all those families are going to feel the effects of fewer teacher assistants. They won’t like it.
How many governors in the last century in North Carolina have used public education as a cornerstone of their entire terms in office? Virtually all of them have, which has been good for them politically and good for North Carolina. But these governors highlighted public education because they knew it was important for the state’s future.
Gov. Pat McCrory could stand up here, on this one issue, and he would feel support from the people who elected him. He could demonstrate that he understands what is important to average citizens and does not just follow the narrow political agenda of legislators. Fighting for teacher assistants is a good place to start.