One exasperating aspect of assessing what the General Assembly has wrought in school funding is that some of the Republican authors have a strange way of looking at their handiwork. The most notable example is their insistence that they increased school funding when – after allowing for inflation and population growth – per-pupil funding has decreased.
Last week in this space we attempted to make that point. We also noted that the GOP refrain about raising average teacher pay to $50,000 includes money contributed through local supplements, money that, at least in Wake County, required an increase in property taxes. But in the Alice-in-Wonderland version of how the GOP supports education, a point rarely stays in place.
Consider the letter to the editor submitted by state Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Rucho had read a News & Observer story about a veteran teacher who complained that the elimination of the state sales-tax holiday was costing her an extra $27 when she bought supplies for her classroom. The Finance Committee chairman wrote to remind her how well she has prospered under Republican rule.
He wrote, in part: “Leaving aside that state education funding has increased every year under Republican leadership, the story failed to mention that since the last sales-tax holiday, teachers with 17 years’ experience have seen an increase in base salary of $6,600 – or 17 percent – thanks to teacher pay raises passed by the General Assembly. ... Even after subtracting the $27 the teacher would have saved with a sales-tax holiday, she still winds up thousands of dollars better off than she would have been four years ago.”
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‘I’ll never get a raise again’
The teacher is Jasmine Lauer, who teaches English at Sanderson High School in Raleigh. She was not comforted by Rucho’s account of her new-found wealth. She offered context. She did get a good raise last year, but that was because she moved from years 15 to 16 on the state’s base pay scale. In the previous five years, she got one raise of 2 percent. She won’t get another until she reaches 20 years. And at 25 years, she’ll hit the top of the base pay scale at $51,000. (Lauer will actually top out at $57,120 because she is a nationally board certified teacher, a bonus initiated by Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt.)
“After 25 years, I’ll never get a raise again,” Lauer said. “I’m stuck and that doesn’t seem appalling to them in any way.”
But Lauer’s main objection to Rucho’s letter wasn’t with her pay. It’s with the assumption that it’s OK that she should give some of it back to buy school supplies.
“That’s backward thinking,” she said. “I shouldn’t be spending my money so the state can provide a free public school education.”
Lauer estimates she has spent $400 this month on supplies. Some purchases are not essential, such as classroom decorations, but most goes for paper, pens, binders and other basic supplies. She said the school supply budget was cut during the recession and has not been restored. Money for textbooks is also scarce. In Lauer’s department, two classes can’t read the same novel. There aren’t enough copies. Students no longer take books home. Some students can afford to buy the books for themselves. Others can’t.
Lauer says the lack of books and learning materials is “further dividing the haves and the have-nots. It’s the opposite of what public education should be doing. It should erase the divide.”
It would be better if the governor and lawmakers would stop lecturing teachers about how good they have it and start listening and learning from them.
“When push comes to shove, we go into our classrooms and do what we can for kids. We fill in the gaps,” she says. “It would just be nice if the General Assembly would follow suit.”