Opinion

This week, let's listen to teachers' stories

Kristi Kallio of Mooresville, N.C., a high school media coordinator, gathers with more than 100 educators and support staff from across North Carolina for a rally at NCAE headquarters in downtown Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The educators then marched to the Capitol along Fayetteville Street calling for funding for teacher pay on the opening day of the short session of the legislature.
Kristi Kallio of Mooresville, N.C., a high school media coordinator, gathers with more than 100 educators and support staff from across North Carolina for a rally at NCAE headquarters in downtown Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The educators then marched to the Capitol along Fayetteville Street calling for funding for teacher pay on the opening day of the short session of the legislature. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Teachers all across the country – first in West Virginia, then Kentucky and Arizona – have been lifting their voices and taking to the streets for better pay and more support for public schools.

When North Carolina lawmakers gavel into session on Wednesday, thousands of teachers will be here too. One thing they will be fighting for is better pay. While recent pay increases are welcomed, North Carolina still pays its teachers less than 36 other states.

But what you will hear most from teachers is that they’re fighting for their students, because they’ve got a front row seat to the impact of underfunding our public schools.

And they’ve had enough.

The state has been in court for decades fighting about whether or not it is fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide every child the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

The truth is, it hasn’t. When looking at national rankings and reports developed by well-respected organizations devoted to school funding analyses, North Carolina fairs poorly:

North Carolina ranks 39th in the nation in per pupil expenditures according to the most recent NEA Rankings & Estimates report and ninth out of 12 states in the Southeast.

North Carolina received a D for its school funding efforts in Education Week’s Quality Counts.

North Carolina received an F for its school fiscal efforts in Rutgers University’s School Funding Fairness report.

What does this look like to our teachers who educate our children?

Adjusted for inflation, funding for basic school supplies and materials is down 55 percent since 2009-2010. Textbook funding is down 45 percent. School technology funding down 59 percent. We have an estimated $8 billion in school construction and repair needs, yet we haven’t had a statewide bond referendum to build more schools since 1996.

With funding levels for textbooks and classroom supplies dropping precipitously over the past decade, students are left with an embarrassing array of tattered texts and outdated equipment in often overcrowded classrooms and mobile units. Teachers spend on average about $500 of their own money each year on supplies for their classrooms.

The job of being a teacher is also getting harder. Nearly half of North Carolina’s children live in poverty and come to school hungry and lacking adequate health care. Teachers report an increased prevalence of students coming to school having encountered significant trauma at home or in their communities. These challenges all come at a time when teachers have fewer state-funded intervention programs and school nurses, counselors and psychologists for their students.

The disinvestment is also evident when it comes to supporting teachers. State funding for professional development has been completely wiped out. There are about 8,000 fewer teacher assistants compared to 10 years ago, leaving many of our elementary teachers without the necessary classroom support to ensure that children can read proficiently by the third grade.

North Carolina has made progress in the area of teacher pay, moving up to an estimated 37th nationally in 2018 from an abysmal 46th place in 2012. But it’s important to note that when adjusted for inflation, North Carolina’s teachers are being paid about 9 percent less than what they were nearly a decade ago.

Lastly, the promise of state-paid health insurance once you retire from teaching? That will soon be a thing of the past, too, when new teachers show up for work in 2021—they won’t be eligible for those benefits. Add that to the list of takeaways from educators like supplemental pay for achieving an advanced degree and longevity pay for veteran teachers.

On Wednesday our children’s teachers will come to Raleigh. Let’s listen to their stories about how they must do so much more for our children with so much less in the way of resources or support. Let’s hear their stories about how they take second jobs to make ends meet. Let’s listen to what their real needs are to provide all of our children the education they deserve.

As parents, we instruct our children to listen to their teachers. Isn’t it time we do?

Keith Poston is president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on public education in North Carolina.

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