About two dozen teacher assistants rallied at the legislative building on Thursday morning to criticize lawmakers for failing to agree on a budget, as the opening of school nears and their jobs are threatened.
Melinda Zarate of Lexington, communications director of the N.C. Association of Teacher Assistants, and several other speakers questioned the Republican General Assembly’s commitment to education in light of the missed deadline. On Wednesday, the legislature extended budget negotiations for a second time, setting the new deadline for the end of this month.
"Are politicians lying awake at night like the teacher assistants are wondering about their jobs?" Zarate said.
The Senate’s proposed budget would eliminate thousands of teacher assistants and put the money into hiring more teachers and reducing class size. The House budget retains them.
"Whether our legislators believe it or not, teacher assistants are important," said William Johnston, a TA in the Bladen County schools. "We deserve a General Assembly that works for the people. We deserve a budget."
Sen. Valerie Foushee, a Democrat from Orange County, said Senate Democrats have been shut out of the budget process, although they have tried to protect education funding.
The rally was organized by the association and members of a group calling itself Aim Higher Now, which promotes education funding. The liberal group Progress N.C. Action helped organize.
UPDATE: Over the lunch hour, a series of tweets that could be taken as a response to the rally were posted on House Speaker Tim Moore’s Twitter account:
“I am very encouraged by recent discussions w/ Senate leaders & confident that we will reach a final budget agreement very soon.”
“Throughout budget negotiations, we remain committed to providing our schools and teachers with certainty.”
“Also committed to ensuring that we give this process time & attention that it truly needs to yield a successful end product.”
And in the it-isn’t-as-easy-as-it-looks department, Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Hendersonville, tweeted this this afternoon:
“Irritating to read about @ncata comments on the budget. We'd have a budget if the House conceded on teaching assistants funding. Want that?”
Moore closed out Thursday’s floor session by announcing that he anticipates fast movement on the budget next week.