Opinion

N&O forum will explore how to support public school teachers

Teachers rally outside the Capitol, Friday, April 27, 2018, in Phoenix, on their second day of walkouts. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It's the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay.  Similar teacher demonstrations are expected in Raleigh on May 16.
Teachers rally outside the Capitol, Friday, April 27, 2018, in Phoenix, on their second day of walkouts. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It's the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. Similar teacher demonstrations are expected in Raleigh on May 16. AP Photo

The state’s teachers will come to Raleigh by the thousands Wednesday to demonstrate for better pay and work conditions. On Thursday evening The News & Observer’s next Community Voices forum will consider those demands and how North Carolina can meet them.

Improving the lives of teachers isn’t simply a matter of better pay. It’s also about providing sufficient classroom supplies, up-to-date textbooks and more school support personnel, such as teacher assistants, nurses and counselors, and protection from arbitrary firing.

Ultimately, it's about giving teachers something that doesn’t cost anything — respect. That’s hard to come by in North Carolina and other red states where teachers are treated like expenses rather than assets.

Teachers in Republican-led states, many of them Republicans themselves, are rebelling against what amounts to legislative assaults on public schools. Teacher walkouts and demonstrations in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona have attracted national attention and exacted concessions from legislators and governors.

Now this movement has come alive in North Carolina. This isn’t a political fight, or it shouldn’t be. Democrats and Republicans have benefited from public schools and want them to excel. This is about building the strength of the North Carolina economy and enabling the state’s children to achieve their full potential.

Those reasons make it urgent that teachers’ needs be met, not because they want more, but because it’s crucial that they have enough. One teacher can transform a life. Thousands of them can transform a state.

At 7 p.m. Thursday at the North Carolina Museum of History, the N&O’s Community Voices forum will explore how best to support our public school teachers. The panelists will be:

State Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union County) is chairman of the House Education Committee. He has misgivings about the May 16 demonstration since it will force the closure of many schools, but he supports raising teacher pay.

Kris Nordstrom is an education finance and policy consultant the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, having joined in April 2016. He spent nine years with the North Carolina General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division, where he provided budget analysis on public education issues.

Michelle Burton of Durham is a public school library media specialist who has spent 23 years working in North Carolina — in Alamance, Wake and Durham counties.

Lauren Genesky, an English teacher at Wake County’s Millbrook High School and a 2016 finalist for Wake County Teacher of the Year.

Many teachers will gather in Raleigh this week to make their case. All who care about the future of our schools should give them a hearing. It’s time to get educated about how to help educators.

Thursday's forum is free and open to the public, but please register in advance at eventbrite.com.

Barnett: 919-829-4512, @BarnettNed



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