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Teachers say NC lawmakers are forsaking education

Lindsay Kosmala Furst loves teaching, but leaving the profession may be a matter of survival for her family.

A North Carolina teacher since 2007, Furst’s income is so low that her two young daughters, ages 1 and 3, qualify for Medicaid.

The Buncombe County high school English teacher sent legislators a letter Monday about her job and her family after learning that the state budget has no raises for teachers.

“We never wanted to live in luxury,” she wrote. “We did, however, hope to be able to take our little girls out for an ice cream or not wonder where we will find the gas money to visit their grandparents.”

Teachers on Monday said cuts in the state budget released Sunday amount to the legislators forsaking public education. Teacher pay will remain near the bottom of national rankings. More than 3,850 teacher assistant positions will be gone. The extra pay for teachers who earn master’s degrees will be phased out, though teachers who already make the extra money will be able to keep it.

The budget also phases out tenure so that teachers who don’t already have it won’t be able to earn it, and it will be gone for all teachers in 2018.

The state does more than pay for schools, of course. In the $20.6 billion budget, Republican legislators fund their priorities. There’s $25 million to upgrade the state Highway Patrol communications system and $2.5 million to hire state troopers. Prisoner Legal Services is getting about one-third of its budget cut. The budget gives nearly $1 million to maternity homes, and changes the state’s economic development structure.

The State Bureau of Investigation is staying in the Department of Justice and under Attorney General Roy Cooper, with the budget rejecting a Senate proposal to move it. The state crime lab, though, will no longer be part of the SBI. More than a half dozen prisons and juvenile detention centers will close.

The legislature plans budget votes Tuesday and Wednesday. The budget a compromise worked out by leaders of both chambers and the governor’s office then goes to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.

The state spends more than half its money on K-12 public schools, state universities and community colleges, and much of the budget debate is expected to center on funding education.

The N.C. Association of Educators is threatening to sue over the tenure provisions. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said for the first time in her 30-year career, she fears for the future of public education.

“I am truly worried about the ongoing starvation of our public schools,” she said. “I see other states making a commitment to public education. In our state I see in this budget we’re cutting teachers, we’re cutting teacher assistants, we’re cutting instructional support.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, said legislators support public education and respect teachers. Raises weren’t possible, Berger said, because the legislature had to commit an additional $1.5 billion over two years to pay for Medicaid.

The budget includes $10.2 million to begin giving raises based on teacher effectiveness next year.

The tenure system needed to change, he said, because he’s heard of too many instances where ineffective teachers remained in classrooms. All teachers will eventually be employed under one- to four-year contracts.

“It is our belief that we need to move to a situation where we provide the best teachers the security of multi-year contracts” and provide principals the means to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms, he said.

Tenure is one of the education provisions in the budget the N.C. Association of Educators has threatened to challenge in court. The legislature is taking away “employment rights already granted to veteran, proven educators,” NCAE President Rodney Ellis wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Berger said the legislature is on firm legal footing. “We have attorneys telling us it is appropriate,” he said of the tenure phase-out.

Teachers object to the term “tenure,” since they can be fired for a long list of reasons. They say the system just protects experienced teachers from being fired arbitrarily.

Dov Rosenberg, a teacher at Rogers-Herr Middle School in Durham, said he isn’t concerned about losing his job but worries for the teaching profession and the future of public education in the state.

“It feels like a slap in the face when they talk about how they want to attract high quality teachers, and this budget seems to do nothing but discourage people from entering the teaching profession,” he said. “It is genuinely scary. I get the feeling that our legislators have a vendetta against teachers.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821
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