Teachers’ rally will voice concerns that our state should heed

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Don’t let the partisan political fog machines cloud things like April’s pollen.

North Carolina’s public school teachers aren’t coming to Raleigh for a holiday. They are not “far-left” crazies. They don’t care who properly funds our public school system just so someone does. They are coming because the current legislative majority enacted a series of devastating cuts to our public schools in 2011 and 2013. Our education system has yet to recover.

Educators want the legislature to follow the North Carolina Constitution’s mandate to provide a “sound basic education” along with the funding to meet court rulings so every student has “equal opportunities” no matter where they live. North Carolina courts continue to say the General Assembly has failed to live up to its constitutional duty. Teachers are coming to Raleigh to get the General Assembly to do its job.

A decade ago, state funding for textbooks was $111.2 million (adjusted for inflation, that would be $131.7 million today). Funding today is $73.7 million. While the Great Recession obviously forced some curtailment, the economy has recovered well past using that excuse now.

What is “far-left” (the label used by the legislature’s leadership to describe the teachers’ concerns) about providing enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and other health professionals to meet national professional-to-student standards and to follow the state Constitution?

In 2004, the legislature committed to a student-to-school-nurse ratio of 1:750. Today barely a third of local school districts meet that ratio. In Wake County, there are 2,072 students for every school nurse. Some school districts have nurses serving six schools at a time. Fewer than 27 percent of the state’s middle and high schools have a full-time school nurse.

Expanding Medicaid is a public school issue, not just a public health issue. Ninety percent of the cost will be paid by the federal government with the rest from fees hospitals would assess. It will give more than a half-million North Carolinians who now lack it access to quality health care. For too many students and school staff families, the lack of access to adequate health care makes it even more challenging to learn or do a job. Legislators were not elected to withhold an essential federal benefit from the state’s residents.

These teachers are coming to Raleigh because they want an increase in pay — to at least $15 an hour — for the non-teaching or administrative school staff. Non-certified public school workers were left out of the $15-per-hour minimum that other state workers received last year. It is time to get them caught up.

While the cost of living has increased about 2 percent each year in the last decade, retired public school workers haven’t had an adjustment in years. Teacher and administrator pay continues to stagnate relative to inflation. It is not outrageous to seek a 5 percent pay increase for every position at each experience level. There’s plenty of money and no need to increase taxes — just stop tax cuts that corporations don’t need so we can pay for the real obligations the state needs to meet.

Restore retirement health benefits to all teachers. Abolishing retirement health benefits for educators hired after 2020 is just one more reason for teachers to decide on careers somewhere else. We shouldn’t give good teachers a reason not to work in North Carolina.

This legislature has a record of setting a very low bar for its stewardship of our state. Too often these legislators settle — mediocre is just fine for them. While legislators may have little ambition or vision, our teachers ARE about helping prepare students for a fulfilling future.

Instead of name-calling and a cold shoulder, the legislature should offer words of welcome to the teachers. Lawmakers should sit down with the educators to start addressing the problems legislators have caused. The teachers’ concerns are very reasonable.