The letters have begun to come to newspapers, and posts have been put on Facebook, to celebrate and mourn the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, one of the great blessings to public education.
The 30-year-old program offered college scholarships to bright students in exchange for their commitment to teach for four years. It worked in a spectacular fashion.
There have been over 8,500 Teaching Fellows graduates. And most weren’t in it to get a cut-rate education and then bail out of teaching. Nearly 80 percent still were in teaching a year after their obligation was up. And two-thirds were still teaching six years later.
This program proved a great arrangement for the state and for students. And that’s both the students who graduated and the students who were taught by those graduates.
And, were this program a permanent part of the state budget, it would as well be a tremendous resources for good, new teachers at a time when the state is going to need them more than ever. School enrollment is going up. Enrollment in colleges’ teacher education programs is going down.
A teacher shortage looms, with older teachers in stagnant pay scales opting out of the profession and younger teachers wondering why they should have to struggle when there are options available outside of teaching and opportunites to teach in other states that will pay them considerably more than they could ever make in North Carolina.
But this spring marks the end of theTeaching Fellows program, the last class of new teachers to be graduated.
Why, against practical need and common sense and concern for public education, would state lawmakers and the governor allow the program to end?
Well, Republicans apparently thought the program was a brainchild of liberals, so they just decided to kill it off out of spite. It also fits with a broader theory that they are in the process of dismantling the current public education system – and the need for traditional public schols teachers – in favor of one that will be a combination of charter schools , regular public schools and private schools supplemented with vouchers for some parents who pull theirchildren out of mainstream public schools.
And Republicans have long had it in for the North Carolina Association of Educators, which they wrongly call a teachers’ union, because some of its leaders and members have been critical of their cuts to public education.
The problem with governing out of spite is that there are going to be serious consequences. Conventional public schools, for more than 100 years now, have been the choice for the overwhelming number of North Carolina families. Without a public education system established when it was, and the idea wasn’t unanimously popular, this state would be far different than it is today.
And as noted in a recent article on these pages by Chris Fitzsimon, the head of N.C. Policy Watch, North Carolina’s Teaching Fellows has been used as a model by other states.
Testimonials from the fellows themselves abound. Here is what one beneficiary of the program wrote on Facebook as the program’s end neared:
“I was a Teaching Fellow. This program allowed me to find a way to pay for college when I otherwise couldn't. I entered UNC knowing I would have to teach in North Carolina at least four years after I graduated. It’s 11 years later, and I’m still teaching. North Carolina, we need it back.”
She has it right. Lawmakers should bring it back.