Here’s why the May 1 teacher walkout is so critical

The politicians in Raleigh have done almost nothing to reverse the long-term cuts to our public schools that are making it harder and harder to give our students the quality education they deserve. Instead of reinvesting in public education, lawmakers would rather give huge tax breaks to millionaires and big corporations. Educators have had enough.

Last year’s march for public schools showed politicians that educators are serious about improving public school funding — but that was just the beginning. Lawmakers are working on this year’s budget, but they still aren’t listening to educators. It’s time for us to return to Raleigh.

On May 1, all employees of North Carolina public schools are encouraged to take a personal day and converge on the General Assembly to give the following five demands to state lawmakers:

Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards

  • North Carolina public schools have only one psychologist for every 2,100 students. The national standard is one psychologist for every 700 students.

  • An estimated 20% of students have mental health or substance abuse issues, and most never get treated. Increasing the number of health professionals in our schools will make it easier to help students get the treatment they need.

  • When it comes to school safety, many politicians say we don’t have a gun problem, we have a mental health problem. But those same politicians voted to fund only a third of the health professionals that are needed in our public schools. If politicians are serious about addressing mental health in schools as an answer to school safety, they must radically improve funding for mental health services.

Provide a $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all support staff, teachers, admins, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees

  • In 2018, lawmakers increased the minimum base wage of all state employees to $15 per hour — except for public school employees. School support staff such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and teacher assistants were left out.

  • Approximately 45,000 public school employees in North Carolina are paid as little as $12/hour to do essential tasks like transporting our children to school, ensuring a safe and sanitary learning environment, and providing one-on-one educational support. This is unacceptable.

  • When politicians don’t provide  employees a living wage and decent benefits, they create unnecessary havoc in the school environments our children depend on. To give students a high-quality education, we also need to provide the basics — and that means treating classified school workers with the value they deserve.

Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families

  • A quarter of North Carolina public school students live in poverty. If students are unable to get the care they need to stay healthy at home, how can they be expected to achieve their full potential in school?

  • Accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid — with no increase in state taxes — would help students from low-income families access quality health care.

  • Health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket for educators, forcing many to take second and third jobs to make ends meet. Expanding Medicaid would help keep health care costs down for all North Carolinians, benefiting people who already have health insurance as well as those who can’t afford it.

Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017

  • Even as the politicians continue to cut taxes for millionaires and big corporations, they also eliminated retirement health benefits for any new educators hired after 2020. Lawmakers clearly have the wrong priorities when it comes to investing in our state’s future.

  • For many educators, the promise of retirement benefits is one of the few reasons to put up with the low pay that comes with being a teacher. Lagging pay, lagging classroom resources, and now no retirement benefits makes it even harder to recruit and retain the best educators for our children.

  • Over the past few years, North Carolina politicians have made a number of cuts which make it clear they do not value veteran educators. They want to keep salaries low by incentivizing young teachers to leave the state or leave the profession after a few years. This is an incredibly backwards way of thinking.

  • The experience and wisdom that comes with decades in the classroom helps veteran educators act as mentors to their younger colleagues, helping new educators achieve their full potential and build the learning environment our students deserve. The politicians need to start respecting veteran teachers again.

Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013

  • Years ago, many educators chose to work in North Carolina because of the pay increase that comes with advanced degrees such as a master’s degree. Unfortunately, in 2013 the politicians in Raleigh went back on that promise and eliminated advanced degree compensation.

  • Improving public education in our state means attracting the best educators we can, and giving young people a reason to want to become teachers in the first place. Unfortunately, more and more experienced educators are leaving our state or leaving the profession altogether. Meanwhile, enrollment at North Carolina colleges of education continues to drop.

  • Our state is routinely ranked one of the worst states in the country to be a teacher, partly because of the General Assembly’s broken promise on advanced degree compensation. Politicians need to stop treating educators like glorified babysitters, and show educators that their experience and knowledge is valued.

A high-quality public education system requires more than just teacher pay. North Carolina’s public schools need a top-to-bottom reinvestment that the politicians have willfully refused to consider for nearly a decade. It’s time to let them know we’re serious.