North Carolina Teachers Say Conditions in Schools Are 'Unacceptable'
North Carolina teachers are starting the 2018-19 school year with a message to legislators: "Reverse the harmful course" the state is taking on education.
On Friday, dozens of North Carolina teachers who are members of the group Red4EdNC held press conferences at seven locations across the state. They criticized large class sizes across the state, dilapidated classrooms and school buildings, and low teacher salaries. (N.C. teachers earn an average of $49,970, according to 2016-17 salary data from the National Education Association. The national average teacher salary that year was $59,660.)
At the press conference, educators called out issues plaguing the state's schools, including some class sizes of almost 40 students, out-of-date textbooks, and teachers leaving the profession or the state for higher salaries elsewhere.
"We are here today to bear witness to some hard truths," Angie Scioli, a social studies teacher and the founder of Red4EdNC, said at a press conference in Raleigh, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. "Learning conditions today for students and working conditions for educators are unacceptable in our public schools, including charters."
Several state legislators had agreed to attend the town halls, but the News & Observer reported that many had to cancel because of a last-minute special legislative session. In a statement, a spokesman for the state Senate Republicans called Red4EdNC a "politically motivated organization," and said that it wasn't surprising that the group wasn't sharing "all the facts" months before Election Day.
"Before Republicans took control [of the state legislature], the state's education budget was in freefall—teacher pay was slashed more than any state in the entire country in 2010," he said, according to the News & Observer. "Since then, we've upped education spending every single year. ... And we did it while cutting taxes, balancing the budget, and securing the rainy day fund."
The state legislature has indeed increased teacher pay—the most recent budget, drafted by Republicans, includes a 6.5 percent average pay raise for teachers and prioritizes performance-based bonuses. However, according to the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, average teacher pay in North Carolina has fallen 5 percent since 2010, after adjusting for inflation. And state funding for schools is down 7.9 percent per student since before the recession, after adjusting for inflation, the think tank found.
Many of Red4EdNC's leaders are members of the state teachers' union, the North Carolina Association of Educators. However, leaders say it's a grassroots organization that's not a "front" for any other group, the News & Observer reported. The group's name stems from a national rallying cry for educators—the phrase Red for Ed caught fire during this spring's wave of teacher activism across several states.
Red4EdNC is hoping to capitalize on the energy generated by a daylong protest held by teachers in North Carolina this May. Schools across the state closed, as thousands of red-clad educators marched around the state legislative building in Raleigh. North Carolina was the sixth state to have a widescale walkout this spring—there were also strikes and protests in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
A strike is not the goal of the Red4EdNC movement, according to the group's website. Instead, teachers want to shape the state's education policy agenda. "By uniting and organizing the various teacher leaders and organizations across N.C., we can exert more effective pressure on decisionmakers to adopt policy reforms that will benefit students in N.C.," the group says on its website.
However, the group didn't rule out future activism, indicating on the site that "public acts will not be needed unless the legislature fails to act on our legislative agenda, and then those [actions] will escalate gradually."
So far, teachers on the Red4EdNC advisory board and board of directors drafted a "declaration in defense of North Carolina's public schoolchildren" that has been signed by teachers in over 100 school districts. Released on the Fourth of July, the declaration slams the state legislature for cutting education funding, allowing teacher salaries to stagnate, and promoting charter schools.
Instead, the group asks for per-pupil funding and teacher salaries to be brought back up to pre-recession levels, adjusted for inflation. The group also calls for more supports in schools for students and "developmentally appropriate" assessments that inform future instruction, rather than determine bonus pay for educators. Also, the declaration says that "major education policies should be crafted and debated openly," and policymakers should seek input from educators.
Ever since the protests this spring, many teachers around the country have felt empowered to have a larger voice in state policymaking. For some, that includes running for their state legislature—over 150 teachers are running for state office this fall.
Image: Thousands of teachers rallied at the state capital in Raleigh last May, seeking a political showdown over wages and funding for public school classrooms. —Gerry Broome/AP-File