As Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis were wrapping up a press conference at the executive mansion on a new education spending bill, the North Carolina Association of Educators was gearing up for a rally just a few blocks away. Nearly 500 teachers and education leaders from across North Carolina were at the legislature to make their concerns with the state’s proposed education budgets known.
NCAE speakers and public school advocates are upset over plans in the Senate budget to cut teaching assistants and the teaching fellows program. They also spoke out about tenure, overcrowded classrooms and their pay.
Jessica Benton, a special education teacher at Millbrook Elementary School in Raleigh, said her biggest concern with the Senate budget is that it increases teacher pay by cutting other areas of education funding.
“You can’t say you’re going to increase teacher pay and then increase class size, cut teaching assistants, school nurses and bus drivers,” Benton said. “If you cut these things, students will suffer.”
Other teachers were concerned about how the Senate’s plan to cut Medicaid would affect their students. Kristin Beller, a fourth grade teacher at Millbrook Elementary, said a significant portion of her students live in poverty or don’t have the resources at home to function in the classroom.
But the new House proposal, which was passed by the Appropriations Committee as the rally took place, has NCAE Vice President Mark Jewell feeling “cautiously optimistic.” Jewell says the provision to increase teacher pay by 5 percent without cutting assistants is a step in the right direction.
“We are in crisis here in North Carolina. We have teachers leaving for better pay and better rights,” Jewell said. “The outcry from public education leaders has resonated, but they’ve given us reason to be skeptical.”