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:

Education

Poll shows most North Carolina voters support May 1 teacher march and rally

By Greg Childress

More than 19,000 teachers and supporters took over downtown Raleigh on May 16 to demand better pay for teachers and more funding for public schools.

North Carolina’s Republican leadership appears to be swimming upstream, and largely alone, in opposition to the May 1 teacher march and rally.

A new poll by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling shows that more than 70 percent of the state’s voters – including more than half of Republicans — support teachers taking the day off to share concerns with lawmakers.

“When it comes to support for our legislative agenda, the public is with us,” said N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) President Mark Jewell. “Wide margins of Republicans and Democrats support our call for increased funding for public education, and we intend to deliver that message to our representatives on May 1.”

Click here to see the entire survey.

Republican leaders have been openly critical of the march.

Sen. Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham), the Senate president pro tempore, has called the May 1 march a partisan ploy by the NCAE to help elect Democrats.

“This strike is not about education,” Berger wrote on his Facebook page last week. “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.”

State Superintendent Mark Johnson has also been critical. He asked teachers to consider a day in June when school is not in session.

Forty-four percent of voters polled said they are Democrats while 35 percent said they are Republicans. Another 21 percent identified as other. The poll was conducted April 10-12.

Eighty-five percent of voters who identified themselves as Democrats strongly support or somewhat support the May 1 march in Raleigh. And 55 percent of those who said they are Republicans strongly support or somewhat support the march.

Meanwhile, 71 percent of voters who identified as other strongly support or somewhat support the teacher’s march.

 

When voters were asked if they approve or disapprove of the job the Republican-led General Assembly is doing when it comes to education, only 33 percent of voters approved. Forty-nine percent disapproved and 18 percent were not sure.

Gov. Roy Cooper fared better when asked about his job performance around education. Fifty-one percent of voters said they approve of the job Cooper is doing compared to 35 percent who did not. Fourteen percent were not sure.

The poll’s other findings include:

  • Sixty-nine percent (including 62 percent of Republicans) believe North Carolina teacher salaries are too low.
  • Seventy-seven percent (including 65 percent of Republicans) support providing enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards.
  • Seventy-one percent (including 56 percent of Republicans) support raising the minimum wage for school support employees like bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teacher assistants.
  • Sixty-three percent (including 45 percent of Republicans) support raising state income taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent in order to increase public education funding.

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.
Education

House has approved bill that would require North Carolina students to study the Holocaust

Students and chaperones from Durham’s Jordan High School took a tour of the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in O?wi?cim, Poland during a Travel Club trip last April.

The House has given a final nod to House Bill 437, which would require middle school-and high school-students to learn about the Holocaust and other genocides.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Under HB 437, the State Board of Education would partner with the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching to integrate the study of the Holocaust and other genocides into English, social studies and other courses.

The three bodies would also develop a curriculum for a Holocaust Studies elective for middle schools and high schools.

HB 437 would be known as the “Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act.”

Abramson was a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who, according to her obituary, “charged teachers and students across North Carolina not to hate” during school visits across the state.

She died in 2011 at the age of 85.

Students and chaperones from Durham’s Jordan High School view a map during a a tour of the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in O?wi?cim, Poland during a Travel Club trip last spring.

Leaders of the state’s Jewish community have lobbied for the bill. They explained to House members earlier this month why it’s important to remember the Holocaust.

The [Holocaust] survivors are leaving us,” said Richard Schwartz, vice chairman of the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust. “Along with their departures, we need to make sure that we live up the mantra ‘Never, again.’ “

Schwartz added: “This bill would help us do that in North Carolina by requiring the teaching of not only the Holocaust but other genocides and make sure our students are not repeating the most horrible times of our history. We’re doomed to repeat history if we don’t teach it.”