Saturday, April 16, 2016

North Carolina’s Race to the Bottom

Greetings from Raleigh, North Carolina where I am attending the 3rd annual Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference. North Carolina has been in the news a lot lately because of the Republican governor and Republican dominated legislature has decided to strike a blow for ignorance and pass a law blocking anti-discrimination laws protecting gay and transgender people. This act has brought nearly universal scorn down on North Carolina. Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert, Cirque de Soleil cancelled performances, PayPal and other companies are “reconsidering “expansion in the state.

This reaction is great of course and I applaud all of those who are using their considerable powers to protest this risible legislation. I only wish that all these folks would gather up the same righteous indignation for what this same state administration has done to destroy the public schools of North Carolina. The NPE is meeting in Raleigh because we seek to fly into the eye of the storm. And the storm clouds have been gathering over North Carolina’s schools for years. 

In the not so very distant past, North Carolina was the model for effective public education in the South. Only a few years ago North Carolina teacher salaries ranked 27th in the nation – in 2015 they ranked 47th. A teacher with 30 years of experience in North Carolina can make 50,000 dollars a year. That’s right, after 30 three years – talk about a career path! The state has also struck down any salary bump for completing a Master’s degree, so if you choose to make a career of teaching in North Carolina, you pretty much resign yourself to penury and a part time job at the 7 Eleven.

But of course, even if you do decide you can live on little money because you love the job and love the kids, there is no guarantee, even if you do the job really well that you won’t be fired because you got too expensive or because the school board president’s sister’s brother-in-law needs a job. That’s right, tenure is also under attack in North Carolina. The legislature has tried to strike down tenure several times, but the courts have blocked them, at least partially. In the latest ruling, the court said the legislature can’t take away tenure from those who already have it, but those who don’t and those who may wish to enter the profession will be denied this job protection.

And while North Carolina apparently can’t find the money to pay its teachers a living wage, they have found lots of cash for “Opportunity Scholarships”, money for parents to use to send their children to private schools. The money for these vouchers comes out of money that could be spent on improving public schools, of course, but North Carolina leaders seem hell bent on destroying a once very viable public school system.

The governor and the legislature of North Carolina have made it clear to teachers: we don't want you here. Some North Carolina educators have already taken the hint and are searching for jobs elesewhere. Many more will likely follow them. In fact, The Charlotte Observer reports that schools in Texas are actively recruiting North Carolina teachers and are offering them hefty salary increases.

So we gather in Raleigh, North Carolina this weekend to make sure these destroyers know that we will not be silent in the face of this unconscionable destruction.