Sen. Phil Berger goes on the attack in advance of May 1 teacher rally

Sen. Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham) continued his attack against the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) last week in an opinion piece accusing the organization of ignoring educational gains made under Republican rule.

Sen. Phil Berger

The president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate made his comments in an opinion piece published by WRAL.com.

Berger never mentioned the NCAE, but it’s clear he’s calling out the state’s largest education advocacy organization.

“The special interest education lobby will say just about anything to convince you that Republicans hate education and Democrats love it,” Berger wrote. “They do this because their primary motive is to elect Democrats, and to do that they need to mislead you into believing that Republican education policies have harmed our state.”

Berger’s remarks are similar to criticism he hurled at the NCAE earlier this month, and it comes days before thousands of teachers takeover downtown Raleigh to march for five demands presented to lawmakers.

Here is the list of five NCAE demands:

  • Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national professional-to-student standards;
  • Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5 percent raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, administrators, and a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees;
  • Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families;
  • Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017;
  • Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013.

In the weeks and days leading up to Wednesday’s protest march by the NCAE, the divide between the NCAE and the state’s Republican-led General Assembly has widened.

It was on full display Friday, when the state House rolled out a provision to make it tougher for teachers to take a personal day.

Under the proposed changes, a request for personal leave could not be approved on any regular school day “unless the availability of a substitute for that teacher is confirmed that day.”

NCAE President Mark Jewell responded: “We are deeply concerned about the attempt to prevent local boards of education from altering their schedules to accommodate local needs. The intent is clearly to prevent educators from coming to Raleigh to make our voice heard, as we will be doing on May 1.”

More than 30 school districts have decided to close Wednesday because they do not have enough substitutes to cover teacher absences that day. Jewell believes more teachers and supporters than the nearly 20,000 who showed up last year to demand better teacher pay and more public school funding.

Berger and other Republican leaders have been critical of teachers holding their protest and rally on a school day.

Under Republican leadership, Berger contends teachers have had the third-highest teacher pay increases in the nation, including a 9.9 percent increase over the past two years.

“By contrast, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s 2019-21 spending plan proposes increasing teacher pay by 9.1 percent over the next two years,” Berger said. “But oddly enough, the education lobby still organized mass rallies to protest Republicans while praising Democrats.”

Berger also noted that the 2018-19 school budget is the highest in state history and that graduation rates have improved overall and for African Americans under Republican rule.

“These numbers are objective,” Berger said. “Facts don’t lie. The special interest education lobby wants you to buy into a reality that doesn’t exist; don’t be fooled.”

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