Thousands Of Teachers Marched In Raleigh, But Legislative Victories Are Few
Nearly two months ago, thousands of North Carolina educators marched in the streets of Raleigh. Their list of demands was long, and the event itself generated a lot of publicity. But, ultimately, what did they get out of it?
On May 16 (the first day of this year’s legislative session), roughly 19,000 teachers from around the state gathered at the capital. The march was organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators. Their platform included raising per-pupil spending and average teacher pay, among more than a dozen other demands.
While few of the demands were met with legislative action, NCAE leaders say the large turnout indicates a broad level of support for the issues they raised. They hope that enthusiasm will translate into greater voter registration numbers, and a surge of what they’re deeming “pro-education” voters come November.
In his News and Observer article, Thousands of NC teachers marched in Raleigh in May. Did they accomplish anything? K-12 education reporter T. Keung Hui says gains for teachers were a mixed bag at best.
On the differing education philosophies of the NCAE and General Assembly Republicans:
Groups such as the NCAE [are] not in favor of how the legislature has increased funding for alternatives to traditional public schools such as lifting the cap on charter schools, providing voucher money and other program grants for families to attend private schools. They also want education funding and teacher pay to be at much higher levels than what's currently provided by the state. They essentially want the amount to be what it was pre-recession, after you adjust for inflation. And you've got the Republican-led legislature, which has increased funding and has increased teacher pay. The theory there is that the amount is higher than it was in raw dollar amounts since before the recession. But if you factor in inflation, groups like NCAE now argue they're actually getting less than they were form the state than they were in the past decade.
Also, Republicans have argued that they want to provide families with more education choices for their children, and leaving it up to families to decide if that means in a traditional public school or charter school or if they attend a private school. The General Assembly Republicans seem to believe that while many families will continue to send their kids to traditional public schools, more should be done to provide options so that families who want to have a different outlet can do so, while groups such as NCAE argue that because their traditional schools are the home for the majority of the students in the state, that the state shouldn't be doing as much to support other programs which in their view are resulting in funding not being provided to traditional public schools as much as should be provided. It’s a fundamental difference of opinion in terms of what role should the crucial public schools play and should they be the only and by far the dominant system supported by the state, or should the state be more supportive of alternatives such as charter schools and homes schools and private schools.
On which of the teacher demands were met and which were not:
You know there were increases in teacher pay. There were increases in overall K-12 funding. And the state did provide about $10 million for mental health workers in schools. But a lot of broader things that the group wants such as the school bond—even higher levels of increases—they didn't get that. In terms of teacher pay, this year the state provided pay raises to an average of six and a half percent. A lot more of the raises were more geared toward teachers who would be mid-career teachers with 10 to 15 years of experience. There were significantly smaller raises provided for teachers with over 25 years of experience, which was one of the sources of complaints from NCAE. In the last few years, while the legislature has given pay raises, a lot more of it has been targeted toward beginning teachers and teachers who are less experienced while those on the upper end haven't been getting as much of a pay bump.
*On ending the policy of tying teacher and principal pay to students’ test performance:
The legislative leadership, and in particular Senator Berger has been a very strong supporter of using performance pay. He’s equated the historic model of paying teachers primarily basing their success on as you would someone working on an assembly line. That teacher should be rewarded for how their students perform as opposed to just the fact that they've accrued x number of years of experience. And on the other hand, the teachers argue that using performance pay is an unfair way to evaluate teachers since one of the goals of teaching is for having built collaboration time for teachers to work together. Having a model where teachers are almost in a sense competing against each other in order to get additional pay defeats that purpose and essentially isolates teachers. And also teachers argue that if you're working at a school in a more challenging school environment where you may have a larger number of lower income students or those with some learning issues, that it's unfair to them and may reward teachers and principals who work at schools where they have a higher socioeconomic group with kids who may be able to achieve better results and get better scores, and as a consequence get better bonuses than somebody who’s maybe working at a high poverty school.
*NCAE’s platform called for ending pay for performance based on test scores for teachers and principals. In the new state budget, legislators instead expanded funding for performance pay for teachers by $22 million.
Editor's Note: This transcript was lightly edited to enhance clarity.