NC Educators Deserve Respect, and Funding
On May 1, several of North Carolina’s most populous school districts will be closed as many teachers and school employees have requested the day off to protest in Raleigh. This protest, nearly a year after the highly publicized 2018 protest, has caught the public’s eye yet again.
Observers may associate this strike with educators wanting a pay raise, but North Carolina educators are seeking much more than that. The list of five demands on the “Red4EdNC” website includes increasing the number of librarians and health related professionals to meet national standards, reinstating the state retiree health benefits program, and even expanding Medicaid.
While Red4EdNC does have public support and helped to break the supermajority in the General Assembly, it has lacked the power necessary to make an effective change outside the scope of pay raises. While North Carolina went from 47th in the nation for teacher pay in 2014 to 29th in 2017, this is only a portion of what needs to be done to fix the education system in the Tar Heel State. Outside of teacher pay, NC’s education system is facing an enormous lack of funding as the number of students continues to increase.
One of the most blatant examples of the lack of funding within the education system lay in 2010, when the state’s textbook funding per student was less than two dollars. Two dollars can’t even buy a school lunch, much less textbooks for the classes a student is enrolled in for an entire academic year.
In addition to the lack of textbooks, some NC educators are lacking other basic supplies needed to run a classroom. Amber Swanger, an art teacher at West Carteret High School in Carteret County, previously taught at a North Carolina Title I school, or a school in which at least 75 percent of the student population has been designated as economically disadvantaged. Due to her experience, Swanger deeply understands the struggles teachers and school employees face when it comes to funding and resources. Swanger said: “It felt like we were always being pushed back or met with walls we couldn't get over. Funds were small or non-existent, I purchased many art supplies out of my own pocket for the three years I was there.” In addition to purchasing supplies for her art class, Swanger even purchased groceries for some of her students to take home and kept breakfast foods and snacks in her classroom for students who needed it.
Swanger is a clear example of a teacher who goes above and beyond what is expected, and this good will that many teachers possess is exactly how the NC General Assembly exploits the education system. If schools do not have enough funding or resources, then thousands of teachers like Amber Swanger will buy the things their classroom needs with their own money. Educators possess the kindness and generosity to look out for the students, unlike the General Assembly.
The example of education bears the truth: our capitalist state government is exploiting the good will of teachers simply because they can. Educators in North Carolina, and the country, lack classroom funding, have class sizes that are too large, have more students living in poverty than ever before, and do not have access to the national standard of health care professionals in schools for their students. Moreover, teachers simply do not have the respect of the members of the NC General Assembly, a group that is supposed to govern for the people but is clearly out of touch with some of the most important members of our society: teachers.
What would it take to help make the NC education system better? Simply put, it would take a budget increase and a General Assembly that wants to support the public education system. The first of the two would require a budget cut from another program, which is doubtful given North Carolina’s history with the education budget. The latter of the two is something that everyone can hope for and something that NC educators desperately need to happen: to have a General Assembly that understands the daily struggles faced by schools that lack funding and resources. Increasing resources and funding for education in North Carolina is a necessity. Likewise, it is a necessity to have a General Assembly that respects educators and is no longer out of touch with the hardships that they face every single day.