Today’s op-ed in the News & Observer by Colin Campbell was simply cursory drivel that displayed a rather naive look at the May 1st teacher march and rally. It made shortsighted commentary at best and read more like what someone who had only followed North Carolina public education for the last month at most would have opined.
Why? Because what happened on May 1st was a rather EFFECTIVE step in a years’ long “dialogue” that has been occurring between the NCGA and public school advocates.
There is not much of a root system to the claims that Campbell makes. He states,
…while thousands of teachers and their supporters rallied outside the legislature, only a small percentage of them ventured indoors to meet the people who could address their concerns. Lawmakers from both parties were open to hearing from educators in their district, but few actually stopped by for a valuable face-to-face chat.
Senate Republicans estimated each senator in their caucus had an average of five visitors. And one of the most powerful people in state politics, Senate leader Phil Berger, had only a half-dozen or so teachers try to meet him, according to a spokesman.
Those words had echoes of what Sen. Ralph Hise released in a statement on May 2nd.
Did it even cross Campbell’s mind that many of the people who met with legislators were never chronicled? There were lots of meetings outside of the offices. And multiple teachers have expressed that many of the senators were simply “busy” or “not in the office.” There was even an appropriations committee that met at that time, was announced it would meet at that time before May 1st, and even started later than scheduled.
Many a lawmaker was in the crowd meeting with people outside. They went to engage with the people who came from everywhere in the state to Raleigh. They thought maybe walking a few yards to the people they represent was the least they could for those who traveled in some cases hundreds of miles.
That’s a huge missed opportunity. Teachers brought a lot of important concerns to Raleigh, and the most effective form of lobbying is dialogue. It’s hard to vote against more school supply funding if you’ve met a teacher from your district who has to choose between buying classroom supplies and saving up for their family vacation.
Conversations have been happening for years between teachers and legislators. To think that this would be the only time that such conversations have and would take place is willfully ignorant.
And this event was weakened by partisanship that has been enabled by NCAE?
It’s unclear why the N.C. Association of Educators, which organized the event, didn’t do more to encourage direct lobbying efforts. The group also failed to counter Republicans’ criticism that the event was a partisan political rally.
Most professional associations in North Carolina try to transcend petty partisanship, inviting leaders from both parties to speak to their membership. The NCAE has instead aligned itself closely with the Democratic Party, making it a stated goal to elect more Democrats.
As the adage goes, “If you don’t do politics, then politics will do you.”
And if only democrats are willing to fight for the very issues that affect public schools as seen by those who came May 1st, then yes, it seems logical that the NCAE align itself with the Democratic Party. And why? Because the voting booth has been the the best way to protect public schools in the last few years.
In fact, the voting booth is such a powerful platform that one party has gone out of its way to gerrymander districts and pass Voter ID laws. Talk about partisan.
Maybe Campbell could look at the history of the last eight years in North Carolina after the GOP took control of both chambers and had the governor’s office until Cooper was elected. Within those eight years, the powers that be in the NCGA have weakened public schools, championed privatization efforts, attacked the teaching profession, and refused to fully fund schools. After all of the “conversations” of the last eight years to directly “lobby” Raleigh to amend these reforms, really not much has happened except when the voting booth has been used.
And Phil Berger and Co. have been playing the partisanship card more than anyone. Even the N&O’s education reporter has tweeted out many of the released statements – all of which calls the NCAE “far-left.” And these are lawmakers who literally have gerrymandered the state in such a way that the highest courts in the nation are having to blink twice about it.
And the mentioning of bills that deserve bipartisan support?
That approach gives the GOP ammunition to dismiss the group’s policy agenda, much of which deserves bipartisan support: Higher pay for teachers with advanced degrees, a $15 minimum wage for school support staff, and more funding for school counselors, librarians, nurses and social workers.
Of course, they deserve bipartisan support, but there is one party that does not act on it. Sounds like partisanship there.
The proposed House budget includes extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees, and it includes long overdue raises for veteran teachers — bringing the top of the pay scale from $52,000 to $60,500. But lawmakers also included an act of retribution: A provision requiring school districts to have adequate substitute teachers available before approving absences.
It’s interesting that the House released its version of the budget literally a day before the march occurred. But it is not valid unless it actually passes both the House and the Senate. Until then, it is an empty proposition because as Campbell should know, Tim Moore and his side usually throw out many savory morsels for teachers to sample knowing damn well that Berger and his cronies in the Senate will revise it.
The relationship between educators and the legislature is in dire need of repair. To fix it, the NCAE will have to build bridges on both sides of the political aisle. And legislators will need to make some effort too. They could start by taking time to visit schools in their districts and meet with teachers on their home turf.
Simply put. it’s hard to build bridges in this state with those who are making the very divides that separate us. These are the very same people who literally passed the budget last year through a nuclear option so that “dialogue” would not have to happen.
Yes, Campbell is right in the last part in the excerpt above. In fact, many of those very legislators only had to walk a few hundred feet to meet with teachers on public turf in Halifax Mall.
But they did not.
Public education deserves better. And the public school educators and advocates who came to Raleigh on May 1st and have been engaging lawmakers on so many other occasions deserve better than this tunnel-visioned version of events.