I was truly overwhelmed and excited about the turnout of interested citizens at the Rockingham County Moral Monday held on September 16 on the lawn at Rockingham Community College! This event hosted a wide range of excellent speakers describing the negative actions of current legislation across many important issues including devalued education, reduced taxes on the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, denied health care access, deregulated environmental controls, Latino issues, and restricted voter access (much more than asking for government issued ID’s). An educated public will make better decisions in future elections and I encourage everyone to listen, read, and learn about the consequences of recent legislative actions.
I am particularly concerned about the future of education in North Carolina in the wake of very sweeping and significant legislation, much lead by our own senator pro tem and representatives. After my 38 year career in public education, it is sad to see the move of public education towards a second class fallback system for our children. With the new laws on the books, we will see the loss of good teachers, reduced early education opportunities for disadvantaged students, larger class sizes, fewer classroom resources, and funds transferred from public schools to private and more Charter Schools. For many years we have operated under a federal law named “No Child Left Behind.” I submit that North Carolina legislative actions will result in many NC students being left behind.
Public education has been greatly injured this session. Although Governor McCrory and majority leaders claim to have increased the current education budget, North Carolina has actually reduced funding by 8.6 percent since 2008 when measured by per pupil spending. Class size limits are raised and guidance, social worker, and psychological supports for the students are reduced. Early childhood slots are lost resulting in more high needs students entering kindergarten. The amount of textbook funding per student was reduced by 78% and dollars for instructional supplies were cut by more by more than half. There were 5,200 teacher and up to 4,580 teaching assistant positions cut this year. With no pay increase for school staff our state now ranks below 46th in the nation for teacher pay. The nationally recognized Teaching Fellows Program will be phased out. Starting in 2014-15 teachers who earn advanced degrees will no longer receive a higher pay level for their increased education; many teachers who are paying out of pocket to improve their teaching skills will never see compensation for that effort in North Carolina. Teacher tenure was eliminated and replaced by a system that rewards only the top 25% of teachers in a given year with a small pay boost (awarded by their supervisors based on performance and scores); many good teachers, especially those working with our most difficult students who are challenged to make large gains in test scores, may never see pay increases throughout their careers under this system. Teaching should be a cooperative venture whereby new teachers are mentored by more successful peers and all teachers counsel and coach each other. This merit system pits teacher against teacher; one teacher’s success means another teacher does not get a pay raise or bonus.
Public education is further degraded by setting aside $10 million from the public school budget to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools and by raising the cap on Charter Schools (allowing, for example, the new Providence Charter High School in Rockingham County, applied for by Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger). The result of these new non-traditional public school opportunities will encourage parents with sufficient resources whose children do not have expensive special needs to move their children from a situation with diminishing talent and resources.
I have recently seen the flight of some very talented teachers to Virginia and to private schools that provide higher pay, smaller class sizes, and highly motivated students. I fear for our future where the best teachers and most talented and privileged students disappear from public schools.
North Carolina has found a way to bypass Brown vs. Board of Education, the decision that ensured equal educational access to all children!
Ann R. Brady, Ph.D.
Former Director of Exceptional Programs for Rockingham County Schools
Rockingham County Moral Monday Committee Member