Thousands of educators march in Raleigh and demand respect
When GOP lawmakers got wind that North Carolina educators intended to take personal days to march for stronger public schools again this May, the reaction by some was scornful. Senator Ralph Hise referred to the planned one day rally as a “strike” and said the action was misguided because “Republican leadership has been great for teachers and students.” The comments were reminiscent of Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s words the day before last May’s Rally for Respect, when he railed against “politically motivated rhetoric and misinformation,” proclaiming “the numbers speak for themselves.”
The numbers certainly do speak for themselves.
The best way to determine progress on educator compensation is to look at how it stacks up against what other industries requiring a college degree are paying. This “wage competitiveness” is measured each year by the Economic Policy Institute, and the most recent rankings put North Carolina at 49th in the country, earning 35 percent less than non-teacher college graduates.
Other numbers that speak for themselves include important data on North Carolina’s teacher pipeline. To really understand the health of our public education system, we need look no further than whether our young people see teaching as a viable career choice.
When college-bound students take the ACT, they are surveyed on their intended majors. Although these results are not binding, they do provide an important view into which careers students are contemplating. From 2011 to 2017, the number of students who say they are considering an education major declined every single year.
Enrollment in UNC schools of education since 2011 follows a similarly alarming pattern — a trend that flatly contradicts legislators’ claims that Republican leadership has been great for teachers and students. The percent of students who actually enroll in teacher preparation programs has declined almost 27 percent since the GOP took control of North Carolina’s General Assembly.
Why is it that so few of our young people want to become teachers? Since 2011, our General Assembly has terminated career status, ended the Teaching Fellows Program, taken away retiree health benefits for state employees, and eliminated compensation for graduate degrees. Considering how consistently state legislators have devalued teaching, it should come as no surprise that students are looking elsewhere when trying to decide what kind of future they want to build for themselves.
When supporters of public education fill the streets of Raleigh and march to the legislature next month, we’ll be demanding that our elected officials take meaningful steps to make teaching a more viable career choice in North Carolina. Our goals include restoration of advanced degree pay, reinstatement of retiree health benefits, and an across-the-board raise of 5 percent for all educators — including the veterans who have been largely left out in the cold on salary increases over the past few years.
Our policies on education need to send a clear message to the next generation that teaching is a respectable — and respected — career. The 2019-21 budget will reflect whether our General Assembly is ready to send that message.