Public Education

Position Paper: Public Education

Ask Any Teacher if Raleigh Republicans Value Public Education

Until GOP Takeover in Raleigh, Supporting and Funding Public Education was a Fundamental North Carolina Value

September 22, 2016

By Art Sherwood

Democratic Candidate, N.C. Senate District 45

Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties

 

Introduction

Governor Pat McCrory and the Republicans controlling the North Carolina General Assembly would have you believe that North Carolina’s teachers have never had it so good.

That’s not true. But don’t take my word for it.

Ask any teacher.

That’s right. Ask any North Carolina public school teacher if they believe that McCrory and the Raleigh Republicans have been supportive and generous to them. The Republicans won’t like the answer, and that’s why they’re not asking the question.

Art Sherwood

Art Sherwood

The problem with the story being fabricated by the Raleigh Republicans is that too many of us know teachers. We call them wife, husband, mom, dad, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, grandma, grandpa, friend – and teacher! We watch them go out the door at 6:30 a.m. and not return home until dusk. Those who have taught – who have managed a classroom full of a couple of dozen children at any grade level at any school – know just how much work is involved in teaching. It is not just a job. It is a vocation, a calling.

And the truth is, McCrory and the Republicans in Raleigh are doing everything in their power to destroy public education. That is an insult not only to teachers, it is an assault upon the future of our state’s children and the rich history that, at one time, had North Carolina’s public schools the envy of much of the nation.

Indeed, former North Carolina Democratic governors such as Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt have been recognized for their innovative and robust support of public education. It is time for the Democratic Party, under Governor Roy Cooper and a Democratic General Assembly, to reverse the assault upon public education by the GOP and restore it to its prominence in the nation.

I am ready, willing and able to serve as your state senator to help restore North Carolina’s public schools to places where teachers want to work and where children’s interests – not politicians’ – are first.

ncae-imageBut rather than relying upon notions already proven wrong, it is time to listen to the subject matter experts leading our classrooms and schools.

I have. That is why I have earned the endorsement of the North Carolina Association of Educators. (NCAE).

Ask any teacher if the Republican-led General Assembly supports the public schools. What they will tell you is this:

  • Teachers often purchase their own school supplies;
  • Our most experienced teachers are neglected the most in the GOP budget;
  • Classroom size is putting a strain on teachers already micro-managed by Raleigh;
  • Teachers and their students need more classroom assistants; and,
  • The privatization movement supported by McCrory and the GOP-controlled General Assembly is designed to starve public schools that are already poorly funded compared to the national average.

I was first motivated to seek election to the North Carolina State Senate so that I could be part of restoring North Carolina’s public education system to its former prominence and student-focused outlook. That remains the case, as the superintendents, administrators, teachers and support personnel I’ve talked to all tell the same story – our public education system is under assault.

Rather than relying upon veiled attempts to privatize the schools through vouchers, charter schools and tax credits, it is time, again, to work in a bi-partisan manner to properly fund and promote public education. Our administrators, teachers and support staff work tirelessly. Parents give of their time and resources. Children give their best.

Meanwhile, the McCrory-led attack upon public education have put our students at the mercy of politicians undermining the work of those charged to provide our state’s children with the education guaranteed them by the North Carolina Constitution.

This is not consistent with North Carolina values. As your state senator, I will vigorously support public education, not engage in shenanigans to undermine it.

History

At one time, North Carolina was second to none in its commitment to public education. From visionaries such as Appalachian State University founders Blanford B. Dougherty and his brother Dauphin D. Dougherty, to former Democratic governors Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford, to current Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, our state’s best leaders have always worked to ensure that North Carolina’s children received their constitutionally-guaranteed public education.

Indeed, Appalachian State University (ASU) is an example of our state’s commitment to public education. The brothers Dougherty founded what we now know as ASU as a teacher’s college in 1899. Over time, it grew and in 1971 became part of the University of North Carolina system. The reason the Dougherty brothers founded the college was because they believed that the children living in the rural mountain counties of the High County deserved to have well-trained teachers who had lived among them. It was that spirit that existed across the Tar Heel State which led similarly-minded individuals to organize what eventually became the North Carolina’s graded public schools in the mid-19th Century.

This 150-year sacred commitment to our state’s children has been undermined by just a few years of Republican control in Raleigh. Our teachers, our students, and our state deserve better.

The Facts

Since the Raleigh Republicans have been in control, let’s take a look at what has happened to public education in North Carolina.

Teachers are underpaid. As Kris Nordstrom reports in this article for NC Policy Watch, “Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum understand that teachers are the most important classroom factor when it comes to improving student performance. Unfortunately, their policies over the past decade have failed to reflect this understanding. North Carolina’s average teacher pay ranking has fallen from 22nd in FY 03-04 to 41st in FY 15-16, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs is plummeting.”

Regarding claims by the GOP that teacher salaries are improving, Nordstrom notes, “To truly determine the salary required to attract and retain talented candidates to the teaching field, the important measurement is how compensation compares in relation to alternative careers with similar educational requirements. That is, the salaries of North Carolina teachers are best compared against the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This metric avoids the weaknesses of traditional state rankings and is more aligned with the data a talented university student considers when deciding which profession to pursue.”

Nordstrom concludes, “We need to change the dialogue on teacher pay. Policymakers should stop focusing on North Carolina’s ranking compared to other states and instead focus on making teacher salaries competitive with the salaries offered by other similarly-educated professions in North Carolina. Based on this measure, North Carolina’s teacher salaries are even more inadequate than previously thought. While creating a competitive teacher salary schedule would require significant investment, the required revenue could be realized by repealing recent years’ tax cuts that have largely benefited the wealthy and powerful. Policymakers should also feel urgency to act, as the teacher wage penalty has been increasing over time, and the benefits of a higher-achieving teacher force will benefit all students, particularly disadvantaged students who are less likely to be taught by the most experienced and effective teachers.”

I agree. It’s time to quit using Republican math when determining our salaries for public school teachers and other employees. It is time to treat them like the professionals that they are.

In addition to underpaying teachers, there are now 7,000 fewer teacher assistants in the North Carolina public schools, even while our population grows rapidly.

North Carolina consistently ranks near the bottom (presently 44th) in the nation in per-pupil spending.

Art Sherwood is surrounded by several Caldwell County educators

Art Sherwood with Caldwell County educators (from left) Joanne Boyd, Lynette Shelby, Carly Schwartz, and Teresa Shoun.

 

Standardized testing is out of control. Teachers are beholden to legislators who have absolutely no experience in education and have hence created classroom environments where administrators, teachers and students are more concerned about teaching to a test than teaching critical thinking.

Meanwhile, Charter Schools operate with impunity. They are often run by for-profit organizations that look at children as a commodity, not a student; no background checks are required for teachers; there are not standards for teachers; and, they are not required to enroll special needs students.

Conclusion

Despite the rhetoric of Pat McCrory and the Raleigh Republicans, they do not value teachers or public education. This spells doom for the children of our state. It is time we return to the Real North Carolina value of vigorously supporting our public schools.

It is time to develop a teacher pay structure consistent with that outlined by NC Policy Watch.

It is time to provide teachers with the assistants they need to serve our children.

It is time to move North Carolina to the top of the nation in terms of per-pupil funding.

It is time to establish a teacher-recruitment program in partnership with our university system. The example set by ASU founders B.B. and D.D. Dougherty is one we should continue to emulate today.

It is time to recognize that the state of North Carolina can – and must – treat our teachers and other educational professionals with more respect. Anything short of that threatens the quality of education received by our state’s children.

That’s simply unacceptable. Again, though, don’t take my word for it.

Ask any teacher. 

Support My Campaign

If you agree with me that it is time to again respect teachers and support public education, please support my campaign. I ensure you I will always strive to be a “Compassionate Servant and Effective Leader” in the North Carolina State Senate. You can donate here.

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