Education

The Top Ten reasons PARENTS should support the May 1st march in Raleigh

Jen Bourne addresses a group of parents and public school advocates.

We know teachers plan to turn out in full force next Wednesday for the second annual march on the NC General Assembly, but today Jen Bourne, a parent and educator in Mecklenburg County, makes the case for why all parents should support the May 1st demonstration.

Here’s Bourne’s Top 10 list:

1. We need to know that when our children go to school, there are qualified staff to care for them on the not-so-good days. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “More than two thirds of [American] children reported at least 1 traumatic event by age 16.” We definitely need to meet or exceed national recommendations for “psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals” requested by our educators.

2. Most employers do not provide paid time off to care for sick children. As long as that is the case, we have to have a nurse in every school.

3. If you have ever tried to survive on $15/hour or less, with young children and all the bills, you know darn well that it is next to impossible; especially in a city that drives everywhere and in a home where that is the only income. If you have never been in that situation, you will just have to take our word for it.

4. In order to learn, humans require focus and interest. A child who is anxious about the impact of medical bills on their housing situation should not be expected to focus or care about the commutative property.

5. A child that is sick or hurting, but has no access to medical care should not be expected to focus or care about her EOG scores.

6. A child who has one or more caregivers with untreated mental illness should not be expected to focus or care or know how to respond appropriately in moments of extreme social or emotional stress at school.

7. Teachers are not greedy. If they were, they would have asked for the 9% recommended pay increase proposed by Governor Cooper. Instead, they created a win-win scenario for all state employees who do the most important work in North Carolina: public school employees.

8. If we really want to be the best state for teaching and learning by 2030, we need to attract smart, ambitious, passionate educators, and we want them to build a beautiful life here. The best candidates will never agree to move from a state with a strong union, to a non-union state that lacks compensation for advanced degrees and retiree health benefits.

9. The budget is OUR money. If we want to invest more in our children, then our legislative initiatives should reflect that desire. This means expansion of funding for public schools and less for private interest. We have already tried diverting public money to privatizing enterprises such as charter schools and voucher programs. Let’s try raising the bar to the pre-recession level, adjusted for inflation, and see what happens.

10. This is only the beginning of the work ahead of us in North Carolina. We have our beloved mountains, we have beautiful Piedmont springtimes, we have our majestic coastline. We have a booming economy. We still do not have PreK for all children. We still do not have enough to send all of the 4th graders in our state to visit Raleigh. We still have empty playgrounds during the school day. We still have schools that are racially segregated.

If the parents show up, it will send a strong message of support. It will demonstrate gratitude for all of our past, present, and future teachers. It will change the lives of all children for the better, and it will mean that we have the collective power to determine as a people, what it looks like to truly love and to believe in our public schools. This is only the beginning.

Jen Bourne has three daughters and works hard to advocate not only for them, but for all children. Her family believes that children deserve the best kind of education: one that honors their whole personhood and one that attends to their academic, social, emotional, and physical needs. 

Education

Educators not fazed by state superintendent’s remarks about the May 1 protest march

Educators held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the May 1 protest march.

A Wake County educator said Wednesday that teachers aren’t disappointed State Superintendent Mark Johnson isn’t supporting next week’s protest march.

Johnson, a Republican who didn’t participate in the teacher’s march last year, has asked the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) to choose a day when students aren’t in school to stage this year’s march.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Kristin Beller, president of the Wake County Association of Educators, said Johnson has fallen short of expectations since his election to the post in 2016.

“I would not call it disappointment because there has never been a moment where he has demonstrated support for public schools in the way that we expect,” Beller said.

Beller made her comments Wednesday during a press conference to discuss the May 1 protest march and the five demands teachers have presented state lawmakers.

She added: “We [educators] have high expectations for the leader of our public school system in North Carolina. His [Johnson’s] behavior has not demonstrated that he is able to meet those high expectations of advocating, passing policy or supporting educators in the way that our students and educators deserve.”

Beller also noted that Johnson spoke at a “School Choice Rally” on a school day in January 2018.

She wondered why Johnson didn’t ask the N.C. Association of Public Charter Schools (NCAPCS) to hold its rally on a non-school day.

“There’s a question in the air with educators, how the state superintendent [Johnson] was able to attend a school choice rally that happened on a school day, and then call this [May 1] rally an inappropriate gesture … because it’s on a school day.”

A spokesman for Johnson said in an email response that no students missed school due to the school choice rally but offered no further explanation.

Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of NCAPCS, said student who attended the school choice rally were invited to perform “just like an invitation to perform/participate in any event, such as a parade, special concert, etc.”

In asking teachers to pick another day to protest, Johnson reasoned that students have already missed too much school this year due to Hurricane Florence and other weather-related issues.

This year, the NCAE has locked in on these five demands:

  • Additional funding to adequately staff schools with psychologists, social worker, nurses and librarians.
  • Restoration of extra pay for advanced degrees.
  • Increasing the minimum wage for all school personnel to $15 an hour and a 5 percent cost of living raise for school employees and retirees.
  • Expansion of Medicaid to improve the health of students and their families.
  • Restoration of retiree health benefits for teachers hired after 2021.

Beller said the dozens of education bills in the House and Senate this session indicate that last year’s rally made a positive impact.

“All of our issues have bills that have been filed in the House and Senate with the exception of reinstating retiree health benefits, that’s just a bill in the House,” Beller said.

Kristy Moore, vice president of the NCAE, said long-term state budget cuts make it more difficult for teachers to do their jobs.

“Instead of investing in public education, lawmakers would rather give huge cut tax breaks to millionaires and large corporations,” Moore said.

Education

Inspired by North Carolina teachers, South Carolina educators are taking their demands to the streets

Teachers in South Carolina are taking May 1 off to march to the state capitol to demand better pay, smaller classroom sizes and better working conditions.

The protest in Columbia, South Carolina will occur on the same day thousands of North Carolina teachers take to the streets of downtown Raleigh to make similar demands for increased public school funding and the restoration of certain teacher benefits.

“We were inspired very much by what we saw happening in our sister state of North Carolina, what we saw happening in West Virginia,” said Robin Bowman, a special education teacher in Florence, South Carolina who represents the Pee Dee area for protest organizer, SC for Ed. “We were inspired and wanted the same change for our state.”

The SC for Ed movement was founded less than a year ago, and organizers looked to North Carolina educators for advice and guidance.

But while North Carolina teachers announced plans for a march and rally a couple months ago, it wasn’t until this past weekend that SC for Red asked teachers to take the day off.

Bowman, a founding member of SC for Ed, said the call to protest came after months of lobbying lawmakers, followed by disappointed and despair as the state’s budget wrangling comes to a close.

“We waited until the very last budget debate, literally sitting in front of computers, and were stunned to see amendments that we begged for on  class size be tabled,” Bowman said. “We were stunned because our legislators appeared to be so sympathetic to our cause.”

Robin Bowman

She said SC for Ed is grateful that lawmakers have agreed to a 4 percent pay raise and an increase in starting teacher pay to $35,000 a year.

But she noted the most recent version of the state budget strips $18 per student from the state’s per pupil spending allotment.

“We gave the General Assembly every chance that we could give them to do the honorable thing, to do the things they said they were going to do,” Bowman said. “We thought we had be given a seat at the table.”

South Carolina hasn’t enforced its size limits on most public school classrooms since 2010 due to funding issues caused by the Great Recession.

Bowman said educators thought once the economy improved, restrictions on the number of students allowed in classrooms would be enforced again.

“The proviso on class size was put into play when the recession hit,” Bowman said. “Now that we’re post-recession we thought we would see full funding come back and appropriate class size return.”

Here is part of a statement teachers posted on their SC for Ed Facebook page that sums up their frustration:

“For over a decade educators in this state have been continuously pushed aside and neglected as we give our best to the students we love so dearly including: the clothes off our backs, the money in our wallets, the love in our hearts, and the tears in our eyes.”

Because the protest in South Carolina was announced over the weekend, it’s difficult to gauge how many teachers will show up for the event. According to published reports, about 400 teachers had signed up as of late Monday.

Compare that to North Carolina where more than 20 school districts have decided to close May 1 because thousands of teachers have requested a personal day to attend the march and rally.

Last year, more than 19,000 educators and supporters filled the streets of downtown Raleigh to demand better pay and increased funding for public schools but organizers expect many more on May 1.

North Carolina teachers’ demands include:

  • Additional funding to adequately staff schools with psychologists, social worker, nurses and librarians.
  • Restoration of extra pay for advanced degrees.
  • Increasing the minimum wage for all school personnel to $15 an hour and a 5 percent cost of living raise for school employees and retirees.
  • Expansion of Medicaid to improve the health of students and their families.
  • Restoration of retiree health benefits for teachers hired after 2021.
Education

Senate committee gave nods to K-12 bills, including Read to Achieve reboot

The Senate wrapped up last week by sending several key K-12 education bills to the rules committee, including one aimed at retooling the state’s controversial early childhood literacy initiative, Read to Achieve.

After spending more than $150 million on Read to Achieve since 2012, Senate leaders have  acknowledged the program hasn’t lived up to expectation.

Read to Achieve was supposed to ensure all North Carolina students are reading on grade level by end of third grade, but that hasn’t happened.

Sen. Phil Berger, a Rockingham Republican, introduced Senate Bill 438, or the “Excellent Public Schools Act” last month, billing it as a new initiative to improve Read to Achieve.

Berger appeared before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday to ask colleagues to support the bill.

“Read to Achieve is working in some places and needs improvement and adjustments in others,” Berger said. “This bill is an effort at those adjustments.”

A statewide report on Read to Achieve program found more than 43 percent of third-graders tested during the 2017-18 school year did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

There were bright spots like Mooresville City Schools and Watauga County Schools where the pass-rate was roughly 72 percent. But in places like Edgecombe County Public School and Thomasville City Schools, the percentage of third graders not reading at-grade level exceeded 63 percent.

“We might as well acknowledge there are some disappointments as far what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes,” Berger said. The key things is that we recognize that and are trying to work to make those corrections.”

Superintendent Mark Johnson also appeared before the committee to ask committee members to support for the bill.

SB 438 would focus on improving classroom instruction, reading camps, educator training and data collection. And the state’s higher education community would be asked to help streamline literacy instruction in both K-3 classrooms and in teacher preparation programs.

More specifically, the four-pronged strategy would involve:

  • Developing individual reading plans for K-3 students not reading at grade level.
  • The development of a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative that parents could use to access online resources to help children improve reading.
  • The creation of a task force to improve literacy instruction.
  • The development of summer reading camp standards.
  • Berger doesn’t anticipate the reboot will cost additional money.

The Senate Education Committee also gave a nod to:

Senate Bill 399, which would allow retired teachers to return to work in “high-needs” schools without financial penalty.

If approved, retired teachers could be reemployed to teach at a high-need schools such as a Title I school or one that has received a school performance grade of “D” or “F.”

It would also apply to educators hired to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses.

Reemployed teachers would be paid on the first step of the teacher salary scheduled. If they teach STEM and special education courses, both of which are hard to fill, they would be paid on the sixth step of the salary schedule.

That means teachers could earn $35,000 to $40,000 a year and continue to collect their state pensions.

And changes made to the bill last week would allow teachers to also receive a local salary supplement. A supplement is money school district’s pay teachers on top of their state salaries.

Senate Bill 621 , which would eliminate the use of the NC Final Exam as part of the statewide testing program beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Test reduction has been a major topic of discussion this legislative session. The House has already approved a bill that would eliminate end-of-grade exams in grades 3-8 and replace them with NC Check-Ins. The bill would also eliminate end-of- course exams for high school students and ACT WorkKeys tests.

Education

Nine days and counting down! Educators get ready for major march on the General Assembly

If you missed it over the weekend, be sure to listen to our extended interview with N.C. Association of Educators President Mark Jewell as we discusses the May 1st teachers rally planned for Raleigh.

More than twenty school districts including some of the state’s largest – Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg – will be closed that day because of the number of teachers who plan on attending this day of action.

Teachers say this year #ItsPersonal.

So, what are they demanding? Click below and listen to our full interview with Jewell and Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield: