Pass a state budget that serves NC schools

NC teachers and supporters fill Fayetteville Street in Raleigh

N.C. teachers and supporters fill Raleigh's Fayetteville Street as they march to the Legislature Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
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N.C. teachers and supporters fill Raleigh's Fayetteville Street as they march to the Legislature Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

When tens of thousands of educators, parents, and supporters flooded Raleigh on May 1, we wanted to have our say at the start of the budget process. We made our issues known, gave specific policy goals, and took lawmakers at their word that they would make the necessary investments in public education that our schools, students, and communities deserve. We knew we wouldn’t get everything we asked for, but we definitely didn’t expect to get nothing.

But nothing was exactly what the final conference budget passed by the General Assembly gave us. Of the five legislative priorities we put forth on May 1, not a single one was adequately addressed in the final budget. Not school safety priorities, not teacher retention initiatives, and not basic issues of salary parity were addressed. And it is for those reasons that we stand with Governor Cooper in his decision to veto that budget. The governor’s budget showed that real, sustained investment in public education can be done in a financially responsible way, and we know that reality is still possible.

Public education has always been a cornerstone of making the American dream possible, because cultivating the mind and fostering creativity, ingenuity, and a thirst for knowledge is fundamental to leveling the playing field for all of our children. American ingenuity isn’t possible without a strong school system. So, why does the General Assembly refuse to invest in our public schools?

Our state lags far behind the national standards for having adequate ratios of school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals. With the looming threat of school shootings and a lack of gun safety in our country, our schools need to be equipped with having enough health professionals to provide a level of care that previous generations have never had to grapple with.

Not only do we need to make sure NC schools meet national standards on having enough health professionals and librarians, but the General Assembly also needs to reinstate advanced degree pay for teachers. We must invest in recruiting qualified teachers who are experts in their fields, and then hold on to them. Teachers are leaving every day for better paying jobs all over the country, and those are loses we cannot afford.

But our schools don’t operate with the help of teachers alone. Thousands of hardworking and dedicated school employees make student lunches, clean the hallways, and drive buses for pennies. Ensuring that all school staff earn at least a $15 minimum wage is quite simply the decent thing to do.

Educators all over North Carolina are going back to their classrooms and work locations to begin a new school year. They were expecting to have a new state budget in place that would increase investments in student achievements and success. From the basics of education, such as textbooks, curriculum materials, and basic classroom supplies, to more school psychologists, counselors and school nurses, all of these needs continue to go unmet, and all because Republican lawmakers refuse to negotiate with the governor.

Educators, by our very nature, are patient people. But there is only so much patience we can have with the General Assembly when it comes to the well-being of our students. Lawmakers have wasted most of the summer dithering over trivial matters and trying to score political points, rather than doing the work they were sent there to do. Just as we remind the student who has procrastinated in doing their book report, North Carolina lawmakers need to be reminded of a fundamental schoolhouse rule: credit will not be given for late work.

Mark Jewell is the President of the North Carolina Association of Educators.