My State Superintendent Will Eat Doughnuts For Me Because That’s What Real Leaders Do

The following tweet reminded me of how dedicated Mark Johnson really is in advocating for public schools here in North Carolina.

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Every two years the Department of Public Instruction issues a Teacher Working Conditions Survey to get a sense of how public school teachers feel about their working environment.

Last year’s was the first one with Mark Johnson as the state superintendent. In a boost to get all teachers to answer the survey, State Supt. Mark Johnson sent out a video with a “sweet” incentive for teachers to fill out an already slanted survey.

 

If we as a state got %95 of teachers to complete the survey and were the top state as far as participation percentages were concerned, Mark Johnson said he would compete in the Krispy Kreme Challenge in Raleigh this year. We got %91, but that was close enough.

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The race has participants run 2.5 miles to a destination,  eat one dozen doughnuts, and then run another 2.5 miles.

Mark Johnson will run that race and eat doughnuts for us.

Mark Johnson will literally throw up, yak, hurl, puke, upchuck, heave, vomit, and blow chunks for us.

As long as he does not have to really meet with us. Remember May 16th? Johnson ran that day – away from Raleigh. He rallied for school choice week, but did not rally for public schools during the class size chaos debacle. And he will have privately held events to make announcements for public education (Feb. 19th).

Oddly enough,  as a teacher I usually run around campus a distance of a few miles a day (according to my FitBit), eat in a rapid fashion because of time constraints around halfway through the “race” of a day, and listen to my students, parents, and fellow teachers in a personal manner without a survey or need for technology.

Daily.

But I do not use that as an incentive to get people to raise a percentage or to look like I am really going the extra mile.

Because, it’s the job.

Mark Johnson seems to think that he can incentivize teachers with eating doughnuts to make him look as if he can galvanize the public school teaching force into solidarity.

Actually, the best way he can incentivize teachers is by actually doing his job, fighting for more resources, standing up to the NCGA instead of bowing down to them, and  LISTENING to teachers authentically.

Because, that’s his job.

Besides many schools use Krispy Kreme doughnuts to raise needed money to keep vital activities running and get resources that Johnson should be fighting for.

But I did go ahead and decorate a dozen doughnuts for his consumption during the race.

Doughnuts

Dear Mark Johnson, Is February 19th About This?

 

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“INCLUDING MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM.”
NO TAX DOLLARS WILL BE USED FOR THIS EVENT.”

 

And from the Washington Post: “The Daily 202: Koch network poised to scale up efforts to remake K-12 education with a pilot project in five states.”

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And as long as Johnson is allowing announcements about our public school system to be made at a private event, then it seems that it will be about how private entities will be able to make a profit off our public schools.

 

More About That Koch Network to “Remake K-12 Education With a Pilot Project in Five States” – Good Chance NC is One of Them

This report appeared in the Washington Post yesterday and deserves a read from any and every public school advocate in the state.

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One of the people who was quoted was Art Pope of North Carolina. Pope is well known for his endeavors in North Carolina and his establishment of the Civitas Institute and the endowment fund named for his father. His libertarian views are also well-known. He was quoted as saying,

“One reason the wealthy donors are so amenable to investing so much in education is alarm about the next generation. Recent polling shows younger people have a more favorable impression of socialism than capitalism. “The younger generation is less sympathetic and less understanding of limited government conservatism,” said Art Pope of North Carolina, a fixture of Koch meetings. “They’re more sympathetic or more willing to give not just social justice but outright socialism a chance. … It used to be you didn’t have to have a serious conversation about socialism in American politics. Now you do. So what is the appeal of that? How do you message?”

The angle seems to be that the Koch network wants to work with teachers and “unions” to better the educational outcomes for students.

This advocate does not believe that.  Nothing in the Koch network’s past has ever given the impression that working with teachers and unions has been a priority. In fact, their track record has been the opposite: working against unions and supporting the privatization of public schools.

Some other interesting quotes from the Washington Post report include:

  • “The announcement came Monday at the end of a three-day seminar where 634 donors who have each committed to contribute at least $100,000 annually to Koch-linked groups gathered under palm trees at a luxury resort in the Coachella Valley.” (That’s over $63 million a year).
  • “Families are getting more and more comfortable with experimenting and taking risks,” she said on the sidelines of the meeting. “Education should be getting way, way better and way, way cheaper, but the opposite is happening.” (Cheaper?)
  • “Berner points to examples such as the Netherlands, which funds 36 different types of schools, from Islamic to Jewish Orthodox to socialist,” the Charles Koch Foundation notes in a summary of her work. “Alberta, Canada, funds homeschooling along with Inuit, Jewish, and secular schools. In Australia, the central government is the nation’s top funder of independent schools. Other countries with plural school systems include Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Sweden.” (So, could we say the same thing about healthcare considering NC refused to expand Medicaid?)
  • “We’ve got to start supporting politicians who are willing to make compromises. Americans are tired of the battles between charters and district schools; these take up too much energy and resources. A pluralistic system doesn’t pit entire sectors against one another.” (Interesting that NC passed its last budget through a nuclear option and still has extremely gerrymandered districts.)

Simply put, the Koch network will have to do a lot more than offer platitudes and well wishes to convince me that they really want to work WITH veteran teachers and organizations such as NCAE.

 

 

So, Are the Koch Brothers About to Buy Their Way Into North Carolina’s Public School System?

“Officials with the powerful political network led by conservative billionaire Charles Koch said Monday that they are promoting a state-level education strategy that they hope educators and teachers unions will support.

The Koch network is launching a new group next month that will focus on 15 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students in five unnamed states, chairman Brian Hooks said.”

The Associated Press on January 28 released a report entitled “Koch group touts education push on curriculum, technology” which begins with the above excerpt.

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For most public school advocates in this state, the mention of wealthy out-of-state “donors” who want to help “reform” public education through providing curriculum and school options for families does not bode well. As a state that serves as a laboratory of business-minded school reforms prescribed by ALEC, it would not be hard to see NC as one of the states that will be targeted.

Add to that, it is the Koch bothers’ network who is spearheading this “initiative.”

If you know anything about the American Legislative Exchange Council, then you know of its toxic hold on policies on many fronts that advance a free-market approach and education is a foundational issue for them.

The Koch brothers have been large donors to ALEC and Koch Enterprises has been on the ALEC corporate board for at least two decades. Any initiative ALEC has probably has the Kochs’ fingerprints all over them.

And now they want to offer something “that they hope educators and teachers unions will support?”

The Koch brothers (and especially their father) are (were) NO FANS OF UNIONS or any semblance of a collective voice from educators. Looking further into that AP report, it becomes clear that it is more about advancing an ideology of school choice options.

Longtime Koch network donor Frank Baxter, a former charter school executive in California, said he was thrilled the organization was digging into K-12 issues. He said private school scholarships, charter schools and online learning could be important avenues to reform failing schools.

“We’re just beginning to evolve to work on K-12 education and trying to promote good policy but also to again unleash entrepreneurial ideas throughout the community,” said Baxter, who is also a retired banking executive and former U.S. ambassador to Uruguay.

The Koch network said school choice will likely be one of a dozen or more priorities of the new initiative but said it’s too early to discuss its comprehensive policy agenda, which is a work in progress.

“Unleash entrepreneurial ideas?” “Private school scholarships?” “Charter schools?” “Online learning?” “School choice?”

Translated that means using business models to “deform” public education and providing more vouchers and charter schools (both physical and virtual) run by for-profit companies at the expense of traditional public education funding.

It also means making the teaching profession look more like a conglomeration of contract jobs.

No, the AP report did not name North Carolina explicitly, but it is not a long stretch to see how easily North Carolina could be in line for such a “project” as NC has many connections with ALEC and with the Koch brothers personally.

For instance, there is Art Pope. From Duke Magazine on Nov. 14, 2013 in an article entitled “The Truth About Art Pope“:

“…and North Carolina’s chapter of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a small-government organization cofounded by billionaire energy executives David and Charles Koch. (Pope, a friend of the Koch brothers, served as one of Americans for Prosperity’s national directors.) “

Furthermore, NC Rep. Jason Saine was named the 2018 National Chairman of ALEC and was helping to open yet another charter school called West Lake Preparatory school that is affiliated with Charter Schools USA.

It’s not ironic that Betsy DeVos is also associated with ALEC. From sourcewatch.com it is learned that DeVos has “bankrolled the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

And remember that Darrell Allison who served as president of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina for the past few years will now be a director in DeVos’s American Federation for Children. Allison still plans on being based in North Carolina.

Oh, Allison is also on the UNC Board of Governors.

Then take a look at our state superintendent, who is a champion of school choice.

All of those ties indicate that NC very well could be one of those five states targeted by this new Koch network initiative.

It is supposed to be launching next month. That’s February.

Isn’t that when Mark Johnson is supposedly hosting a privately held dinner and presentation to provide major announcements about public education?

 

 

 

Give Schools and Students The Choice to Take Paper & Pencil State Tests

Exams are finally over.

At least for this semester. And in my school the largest obstacles and tallest hurdles dealt with technological issues.

Knock out the Ethernet connections to a couple of buildings, have a bad connection in another building, and then some scattered wireless availability in a couple of other buildings, then a school can experience an immediate logistical nightmare.

And that’s before students even begin taking the actual tests.

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We have a state superintendent bent on making technology the pathway to “personalized” instruction and a Lt. Gov. bragging about how we as a state have connected every classroom in the state to the world wide web. And while that might be a tremendous benefit in handling data and sharing knowledge and applications, for testing it may not be that beneficial.

Ironic that both the state super and the Lt. Gov. are proponents of the school performance grading system that places so much emphasis on student achievement as measured by standardized tests and both the state super and Lt. Gov champion school choice.

More ironic is that the dependence on technology during many of the tests that measure the very “achievement” used to formulate school performance grades for schools (that embolden parents to make “choices” in the schools for their children to attend), might actually be adversely affecting the scores of the very exams students take.

Many studies show that most students do better when allowed to kinetically use paper and pencil on their tests and not have to interface with a computer online. Studies show that scores are higher, thinking is more critical, and confidence is heightened. But as a state, we are pushing these online versions.

Do students primarily take AP tests online? Do students primarily take IB tests online? Do students primarily take the SAT online? Do students primarily take the ACT online?

No, they do not. But those tests tend to have a fee associated with them that covers the cost of having them graded, especially the need to have critical human eyes grading critical writing samples measured by rubrics and not an algorithm.

And it is the monetary angle that is driving all of this online testing. Less paper, more streamlined, automatic delivery, and….

If we really want students to perform optimally on tests that are used to measure outlandish things like school performance grades should they not be allowed to take those tests in situations that benefit them the most?

Students and parents should be able to actually practice some sort of choice with how they can take a test (since “choice” is such a big buzzword with people like Mark Johnson). If a student wants to take tests on paper and pencil, then let that option be there. If a student wants to take it online, then let that option be there.

But, a student will not have to change rooms or have delays if the technology is not working for them if they take it on pencil and paper. And if money is a problem, then that might involve really examining what is important to invest in.

Besides, allowing for students to opt into taking state exams on pencil and paper is the very definition of letting them use “choice” to make their academics “personalized.”

And we have mentioned that we already take too many standardized tests.

Many times.

 

The “Ordained” Opportunity Grants of North Carolina – The Least Transparent Voucher Program in the Nation

When Duke University’s Children’s Law Center’s released its March 2017 report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS one of the most glaring aspects of the program was how many vouchers were being used at religiously affiliated schools.

Some of the observations of the study included:

  • Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (p.3).
  • The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children (p.3).
  • Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools. This does not line up exactly with the percentages of vouchers used at religious schools versus secular schools (93% at religious schools), because several religious schools enrolled large numbers of students (p.8).

The entire report can be found here:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.

Many public school advocates, especially the teacher who writes this blog, have argued that the Opportunity Grants are a detriment to public schools in that it takes public money meant for public schools and gives it to private, unregulated entities which can practice admission standards that would never be allowed in public schools and can offer curricula that is not aligned with preparing students for 21st success.

It also strikes this teacher that 93% of vouchers used in NC when the Duke study was published goes to entities that are affiliated with churches and are possibly housed within churches that do not have to give tax dollars due to religious exemptions.

Today NC Policy Watch highlighted in their MONDAY NUMBERS segment a section of Public School Forum of North Carolina’s recent annual report on the Opportunity Grants. Specifically, they listed the ten private schools that receive the most money from vouchers.

From page 8 of the Public School Forum of NC’s report Top Ten Education Issues of 2018:

voucher schools

And all of them are religious schools.

The first school listed above is Trinity Christian in Fayetteville. It recently had its basketball coach / assistant leader caught for misusing lots of money received through vouchers.

In Texas, there is a group of religious leaders who have formed a rather formidable presence in the state called Pastors for Texas Children (http://pastorsfortexaschildren.com/). And they are pro-public education! And they have been very influential. Dr. Diane Ravitch frequently talks of them in her iconic blog. They are against vouchers and other efforts of privatization. And they are active.

Apparently, North Carolina is seeing a similar movement. It’s called North Carolina Faith Leaders for Public Education. From a June 18th, 2018 article:

The group’s mission is to address problems such as underfunded public schools and programs. 

Allison Mahaley chairs the organization’s public education committee and says the hope is the needs faith communities currently address can be dealt with at their root.

“What we want them to do is to keep doing that work, but to also realize that unless we advocate for changes in the public school at the policy level, there’s no end to the charity that will be required,” she states.

And don’t forget that we as a state are expanding vouchers by $10 million year until the year 2026-2027.

By that time we will have spent over $900 million dollars on vouchers in North Carolina in a system that is considered the least transparent in the entire country.

Duke study

 

Last Week Was National School Choice Week – Remembering Last Week Tonight With John Oliver’s 2016 Segment on Charter Schools

If you have any interest in why the charter school industry has been under the spotlight these past few years, you might want to check out a segment from the August 22, 2016 episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.

If you have HBO GO then you can watch all the episodes of a great show, but if you are a hard-line Trump supporter, you will not agree with a lot of things that Oliver says. Well, not anything he says. But he does do his research well.

In this particular episode from 2016, Oliver devoted over 18 minutes to the charter school industry you could tell that there was so much more to talk about. And yes, it is HBO, so there is a lot of vulgarity, but it’s not gratuitous to me and if your ears are too sensitive to listen to any “f-bomb” being dropped, then don’t view it.

In fact, if Oliver’s language is offending to you, don’t walk down the hall of a large public school. I’ve walked down the halls of small, private Christian schools and heard language that would put hair on your chest. Teenagers cuss. And some do it well. As an educator who teaches rhetoric and argumentation, I have heard some beautifully phrased lude comments come from our nation’s youth. Would I want my daughter saying that? No.

But man, there was no further explanation needed.

But back to Oliver. Here’s the segment. And watch the whole thing –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I .

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Interestingly, the segment begins with a lot of presidential hopefuls (mostly GOP) praising charter schools (it was 2016). Obama sings their praises. Even Trump is quoted as saying, “Charter schools work and they work very well.” In fact, it is safe to say that one cannot pin charter schools on a particular political party.

In over 40 states as well as the District of Columbia thousands of charter schools are educating over millions of students. They get to use taxpayer money, but can operate under less transparency like a private school.

And I liked that Oliver did not argue whether the concept of charter schools is bad or not. He agreed that they are good in principle. There are fantastic charter schools here in North Carolina. Many times I have referred to the Arts Based Schools here in Winston-Salem as an example. But they do something that public schools do not. That is using innovative practices to educate students. Their students typically go into traditional public schools for high school.

What Oliver was exploring was the way that many charter schools operate and handle money. And in eighteen minutes he could not begin to dissect all states. He focused mostly on Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Does that lessen what has happened in charter schools here in North Carolina? No. In fact, it really highlights what is happening here in the Old North State.

Remember the DPI report that Lt. Dan Forest wanted redone in early 2016 to shed a more positive light on charter schools here in North Carolina when there were glaring negatives? The report talked about lack of diversity. But it also showed how eager some in Raleigh were in giving charter schools so much freedom to use tax money to proffer a narrative that public schools were failures.

There is Sen. Jerry Tillman, the godfather of charter schools. Sen. Tillman was instrumental in removing obstacles for charter schools to get up and running without much oversight . Tillman is now the chair of the education committee in the NC Senate.

There is the ISD district here in NC. Launched in 2016 in a bill championed by then Rep. Rob Bryan, it now in 2019 has one school under its domain, run by an outfit where Bryan sits on the leadership team.

And many NC charter schools seem to be championed by people who live in more rural areas. Opening a charter school in a rural area can have incredible effects on the traditional public schools there. If enough students are pulled from the public schools, then those public schools have a harder time petitioning for money to actually have resources for their students.

Oliver’s segment also touched on virtual academies, which is under scrutiny here in NC for its attendance problems and lack of success. So what does NC do? Extend the contracts with those virtual charter companies.

But there is one common theme or thread that runs through all of those issues related to North Carolina, especially ill-conceived charter schools – everybody pays a price so a few can profit.

Having John Oliver explore this topic in 2016 when so much else was happening in the country and the world should be an indication that something had gone very awry.

And it’s still costing us.

Oh, and check out his segment on standardized testing.

Happy Groundhog Day! The Fall Semester Will Almost Be Over. Maybe.

My final grades are due the morning of February 1st, 2019 for the first semester of the 2018-2019 school year in my district.

Seems odd that grades associated with a season that ended last calendar year would be turned in the day before Groundhog Day.

Seems odd that grades for the fall semester be turned in after some winter sports have already had their “Senior Nights” and other sports are in the thick of conference play.

Seems odd that grades for the fall semester would be turned in about 40 days into the “winter.”

And report cards for students and parents will not be ready for a while after that as the LEA’s have to compile the data and report it accordingly. And then some systems have to deal with this:

School districts across North Carolina are delaying release of new student report cards and are revising earlier report cards because of a statewide software glitch that potentially miscalculated thousands of grades.

A software error in the PowerSchool PowerTeacher Pro application used by many North Carolina teachers to enter their grades caused some student grades from the first quarter of the school year to be incorrectly rounded up or down. Schools have been reviewing their grades, with several announcing that they’re delaying the release of second quarter/first semester report cards that would typically be sent to families in late January or early February – News & Observer on January 25th

There is no question that technology is an important tool.

But when so many students have to complete standardized tests (when research shows that students do better with pencil / paper tests) and the wireless internet can not handle the bandwidth or simply goes down, it affects student achievement.

And when the very program that is supposed to ease the work of teachers and schools to streamline data and grading information causes more work for school systems who are not only rushing to complete standardized tests but having to navigate all of the parameters, it affects schools.

And when that stress gets somewhat manifested in school test scores that then get processed by an outside entity to spit out school performance grades that “rank” schools by an unfair process which weighs achievement over growth, then the entire state system suffers.

Oh, and that outside entity is also supposed give teachers and schools EVAAS data to help guide instruction, but it doesn’t come until rather late in the very fall semester that we are about to finish.

Give schools calendar flexibility without need for waivers, stop relying so much on outside entities for data processing, allow for schools to offer tests in the format best for student achievement, and …

let the fall semester actually end in the same calendar year as the very season it is named for.

Happy Groundhog Day.

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The One Positive Effect of Mark Johnson’s Tenure as State Superintendent

The 24-month tenure of Mark Johnson has been rather eventful. And most of the actions or lack of action that have taken place under his “leadership” have been overwhelmingly deleterious. Consider:

  • House Bill 17.
  • Promotion of “school choice.”
  • Audit of DPI.
  • Reduction of funding for DPI
  • Reorg of DPI
  • Fighting with State Board of Education.
  • Spending more time with privatizers than with public schools.
  • Shady spending for iPads
  • Using a personal website to “conduct” the state’s business
  • Refusing to meet with teachers on May 16
  • Hiring a bunch of “yes” people and laying off of DPI veterans.
  • Not fighting for more per-pupil expenditure.
  • Empty questionnaires and glossy video messages.

That’s just a short list.

But there is one thing that Mark Johnson has done for public schools and public school advocates: he’s uniting us.

Consider what has happened to the state board of education this past summer: three people resigned their posts before their appointed terms ended. They were all of the same political party as Johnson. They intentionally did it to make sure that Gov. Cooper could appoint people on the board to help keep Johnson in check and offer a better balance of power.

Consider May 16th.

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Consider what happened in the midterms elections.

  • Super majorities were broken. Simply put, the governor now has veto power.  Any bill that seems to favor a privatization effort like vouchers, or the ISD, or charter school funding must now be done in a more democratic fashion instead of behind closed doors.
  • Budget process now has to be open. It is hard to pass a budget in committee without a super majority- a budget with education as the top spending priority.
  • Many municipalities and local LEA’s had school board shake-ups. With new leadership that are more teacher-friendly and willing to stand up to Mark Johnson and others in Raleigh, this might be a very encouraging thing.
  • Many privatizers and “non” public school advocates lost in races or had very close races. Nelson Dollar lost. He was the chief writer of the budget. Bill Brawley  got a huge wake-up call after the HB 514 affair. Jeff Tarte lost handily after the stunt he pulled with DonorsChoose.org being used to fund affluent schools in his district.
  • Look at the numbers of people who voted. It was a midterm election and over %50 of registered voters came out in a time where public education was a hot button item on many platforms. Teachers got voters out to the polls.
  • Young people came out. Imagine what kind of force they could be in 2020 when state level positions are up for elections.

And now there are more teachers galvanizing for the next election cycle in 2020.

respect for public ed

Yes, Mark Johnson is bringing teachers and public school advocates together.

The NCGA’s Teacher Assistant Contradiction

North Carolina has over 7400 fewer teacher assistants than it did ten years ago.

Let me repeat: North Carolina has over 7400 fewer teacher assistants than it did ten years ago.

When study after study published by leading education scholars and education historians (Ravitch, Kozol, etc.) preach that reaching students early in their academic lives is most crucial for success in high school and life, our General Assembly  actually promoted one of the largest layoffs in state history.

As a voter, I am disappointed that the last six years with this GOP-led NCGA has fostered a calculated attack against public schools with more power and money given to entities to privatize education. By eliminating teacher assistants, the NCGA  simply weakened the effectiveness of elementary schools even more and helped substantiate the need to divert my tax money to segregate educational opportunities even more.

Tim Moore is one of those architects.

And Tim Moore has 12 people on his staff: advisors – or rather – assistants. Just look on his website.

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In fact, he’s paying another “assistant” who isn’t even actually doing work. From the January 24th edition of the News & Record:

“By then, Gillespie had spent 14 years as a state lawmaker, followed by two years as an assistant Department of Environmental Quality secretary and a little more than three years advising Moore on environmental issues. Only the last two jobs were full time.

But after Gillespie, 59, of McDowell County, left the legislature in April, he continued to receive his paycheck. All told, he collected $81,700 in pay, state records show, and then he reported he was owed another $12,400 in unused leave. Those records show his last day as an employee was Dec. 31, 2018.”

$81,700 plus $12,400? $94,100 in total for no work? That’s enough to hire at least three teacher assistants in today’s salary schedule, although they should be making much more for what they do.

And what about Phil Berger? He has more “teacher assistants.” In fact, at least four of them make over $100,000 each. From the Winston-Salem Journal on March 14, 2017:

Four staffers for N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham County) make more than $100,000 annually.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Berger released his staff’s salaries this week in response from a public records request from the newspaper which had previously published salary records for Speaker of the House Tim Moore’s staff and for the staff and Cabinet secretaries of Gov. Roy Cooper.

The report states that Berger has more full-time employees and has a slightly higher total payroll than Moore.

Sounds hypocritical to this teacher.

If Moore and Berger want to make the argument that they need a staff / team of assistants, then they would have to acknowledge that schools need teacher assistants eas well.

And nurses for each school and psychologists and other personnel who can help our students.