Frankie Santoro and his friend, Sara Thompson, are both public school teachers in Forsyth County.
“Without a doubt, we are both thinking of leaving the state. And we believe there will be a mass exodus of teachers from North Carolina,” said Santoro.
That forecast was easily the most popular sentiment I heard as I walked the crowds last night at the 13th Moral Monday, where an estimated 10,000 people converged on Raleigh to raise their voices in protest against the cuts lawmakers have made against public education.
No raises for abysmally paid teachers, the loss of tenure, a dearth of instructional supplies, and the introduction of school vouchers, along with many other cuts all have educators feeling that their profession is under attack.
The loss of supplemental pay for obtaining a master’s degree was another flashpoint for many.
One teacher in Wake County, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation, is in the middle of a master’s degree program.
“I just emailed my advisor to see if I could speed up graduation. It’s very disappointing. My master’s degree program has given me so much insight into teaching, but now it doesn’t matter anymore. It means nothing more than a bachelor’s degree at this point, “she said.
Nicholas Nostro is an elementary school teacher at Pitts School Road Elementary in Cabarrus County. He held up a sign that said over the past 14 years, he has spent more than $18,000 of his own money for his students.
When asked what he would say to Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the budget into law last week, Nostro said, “A simple ‘why?’ As a fellow Republican, I don’t understand why public education has to be a business. Students should be seen as the investment, and they will create businesses later on.”
A middle school teacher from Chapel Hill, who also did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, said she planned to leave the state.
“This continued lack of raises for teachers for the past six, now seven years, means that I basically have to leave the state. I can’t afford to teach here,” she said.
Where will you go, I asked.
“I will probably go to an education-friendly state up north.”
Later I met Carly Deal, who is currently an NC Teaching Fellow at UNC Wilmington. Deal said she is in the last cohort, unless something changes. The 2013-15 budget calls for defunding the NC Teaching Fellows program and moving that money into a line item intended for Teach for America.
“I’m so proud to be a part of this program, and I am really sad that other college students won’t be able to take advantage of it,” Deal said.
I asked Deal what she would say to Gov. McCrory or her local lawmakers about the education cuts in the budget.
“Think about the teachers that taught you and helped shape you into who you are. Would they be proud of what you are doing today?”
As I walked away from the legislative building with the marchers, photographing more signs with phrases like “In the Race to the Bottom, There Are No Winners” and “Who will invest in NC if NC does not invest in its future,” I turned away to go home and came upon one man on a corner, quietly standing and waiting for the street light to turn green.
His sign said “I’ll Remember in November.”