About a dozen teacher assistants from all over North Carolina came to the General Assembly Wednesday to tell lawmakers they’re not happy with the prospect of losing a significant chunk of their workforce thanks to a Senate budget proposal that eliminates more than 8,500 TAs from elementary school classrooms.
“It’s about the children and the future of North Carolina,” said teacher assistant Teresa Sawyer from Currituck County. “If you lose extra people in the classroom, what’s going to happen to these children?”
Senate lawmakers unveiled a budget this week that would rid North Carolina’s early grade classrooms of more than half of their state-funded teacher assistants.
TAs have been a target for state budget cuts for years—since 2008, the state has lost more than 7,000 of these instructional aides who also frequently double as bus drivers and first responders to medical emergencies.
Instead of providing enough funds to keep TAs in classrooms, Senate budget writers have proposed putting some funds instead toward hiring more teachers to reduce K-3 class sizes.
“It’s a good concept, because there is some research out there that says lower class sizes work better,” said North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants’ incoming president, William Johnston, “but [with the Senate budget proposal] you’ll get 2,000 more teacher positions and eliminate more than 8,000 TAs…you’re losing 6,000 sets of eyes to make sure that students get to where they need to be.”
“The safety of the children is being compromised,” added Johnston. “How are you going to cover lunch duty? How are kids going to get their medications?”
Others expressed concern over where the additional classes would be housed.
“Are they gonna give us money to create new construction?” wondered teacher assistant Lacy Autry. “In Robeson County, every one of our schools has three, four outside classrooms already. Where are you going to find room? We’ve taken janitorial supply closets to make classrooms. We just don’t have the room to reduce the sizes.”
Teacher assistants at the General Assembly on Wednesday also explained that a lot more is expected of them now than ever before, thanks to increased testing requirements and cuts to school nurses—and without their service, students will suffer.
“So if you don’t have that extra help in the classroom while teachers are pulling students out to work on testing requirements, children will just be doing a lot more busy work,” said TA Andrea Cranfill from Davie County.
And in Bladen County, the entire district has just four nurses to share among 13 schools.
“I’m the first responder in my school,” said Johnston. “We have a nurse maybe one day a week. So what happens the other four days a week if I’m not there?”
Many TAs administer medications, serve on crisis response teams and even administer catheters and feeding tubes, according to those who came down to the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Senator Andrew Brock, a member of the Senate budget committee, seemed sympathetic to the TAs’ concerns.
“I’ve got some issues with that,” Sen. Brock said in response to the prospect of the state losing TAs.
The teacher assistants also visited the offices of Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) and Senate budget writer Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville).
The Senate plans to pass a final budget this week, then set to work on a final compromise with the House this summer.
Watch TAs explain to Sen. Harry Brown’s staff the importance of keeping them in the classroom.