State Senate Leader Phil Berger has taken aim at educators for taking May 1 off to demand increased funding for public schools.
In a letter posted on his Facebook page this week, Berger called the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) “far-left teacher strike organizers” whose mission is to elect more Democrats.
“This strike is not about education,” Berger wrote. “It is a strike organized by partisan activists with the express intent of eliminating Republicans from the North Carolina General Assembly, and it is at the expense of children who should be in the classroom learning.”
Mark Jewell, president of the NCAE, fired back in a terse statement, reminding Berger of his role in crafting legislation in 2013 that “dismantled decades of progress in public education.”
GOP-backed legislation harmful to public schools is the catalyst for last year’s teacher march and the one planned for May 1, Jewell said.
“It was the 2013 budget that slashed student funding by giving corporate and millionaire tax breaks, leaving $3 billion dollars on the table every year that should be going to our schools,” Jewell wrote. “It was the 2013 budget that eliminated 5,000 teaching positions, 3,000 assists, and 300 school support specialists.”
He also noted that under Berger’s leadership, the N.C. Teaching Fellows program was eliminated, textbook funding cut by $77 million, classroom supply funding sliced by $45 million and extra pay for master’s and advanced degrees stripped away while millions were diverted to private schools through the state voucher programs.
“The policies enacted by the 2013 General Assembly have been devastating to public school children, particularly our most vulnerable students,” Jewell said. “We make no apologies for advocating for our students, schools, and communities. The policies of 2013 have taken their toll.”
Berger sees the impact of his leadership on North Carolina’s public schools differently.
He shared a list of K-12 accomplishments under Republican rule that included, providing teachers with the third-highest pay raise in the country over the last five years, increasing education spending every year for the last eight years and increasing the state’s graduation rate by 8.4 percentage points since 2011.
State Superintendent Mark Johnson has also been critical of the march. He asked teachers to consider a day in June when school is not in session.
Last year, more than 19,000 teachers and supporters turned out for a march and rally for better teacher pay an increased K-12 funding.
Jewell expects more teachers and supporters will show up next month to rally around these five items:
- 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.