Rep. Richardson

On May 16, I was privileged to witness our teachers who rarely organize or complain — some 25,000-plus — come to our General Assembly to voice their concerns over what they perceive is the legislature’s lack of commitment to public education.

Their visit left me with a plethora of thought and emotion. These wonderful teachers truly care for our children. Yet some are reluctantly leaving the profession. Others are going to other states to work. The teachers who are staying are frustrated and are very, very tired. The vast majority of them work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. They feel unappreciated and perplexed.

Despite their obvious concerns and presence, teachers were not dignified by some. There were those of the Republican super majority who chose not to meet with teachers and instead kept their legislative doors closed, hiding behind posters claiming they had raised teacher salaries over the past three sessions. This was upsetting to teachers who simply wished to voice their concerns and ask questions of their elected officials.

Their questions: “Why will they not speak with us?” and “Who came up with that $50,000 average salary figure — I am not making that?” (The average pay for Cumberland County teachers is $41,000, nearly $10,000 less than the claimed state average). As I met with teachers who were literally lined up from the mall to the legislative building, I stopped and made inquiry with groups of teachers from various counties. I asked each group how many of them worked more than one full-time job to make ends meet. More than half acknowledge that they worked multiple jobs such as working in factories, clerking at convenience stores and delivering pizza. One teacher spoke of how humiliating it was to deliver pizza to his current students.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 16 percent of teachers nationwide have a second job. Currently 53 percent of North Carolina teachers have a second job. This same percentage placed us as third in the nation in 2011, and there has been no improvement since that time. Once again we are first in matters we should be last in, and last in matters we should be first in….

For 12 years we have allowed our educational system to spiral downward. So those who know, those who are in the trenches, and those who are the professionals felt compelled to assemble and do what heroes must do. They organized, marched and insisted on being heard — they raised their voices in respectful but strong unison. They are saying to us just as loud and bravely as they can, “Enough.” The time is now to pursue excellence.

After highlighting legislation that would address some of the state’s education needs (House Bill 888), Richardson concludes this way:

The critics will say, “Throwing money at a problem will not fix it,” or “We don’t need to be the best, maybe just be top of our region.” To those I say, why don’t we lift up excellence as a goal? Being mediocre is all but un-American; being less than mediocre is unconscionable. The price for our state to be in the top five of the nation is $100 a year for each citizen presently living in the state. An alternative way of financing this plan is to return our taxes to the 2015 levels. If we are reluctant to put this program in place statewide, then shame on us. We have tried everything else — charters, vouchers, special school districts, etc. What we have not tried is being the best. I am certainly open to trying this global approach in six to eight different school systems throughout the state to see if it works — but try we must. Imagine our state with the best schools in the nation!

The next war on democracy will be waged on the battlefield of the mind. We are blessed to have so many members of our armed services here in North Carolina. Can you image sending those brave men and women to battle mediocrely trained and equipped? Would we dare scrimp on their resources? Like our military, our children’s education must equip them for battle of who controls knowledge and with it immense power.