If you believe that an ALEC-aligned (American Legislative Executive Council) lawmaker in North Carolina will ever want to work with a union or organization that is trying to advocate for the vitality of public schools, then you are mistaken. And there are many of them.
Take a look at this timeline.
That timeline is filled with actions that are calculated, highly crafted, delicately executed, and driven by dogma deliberately done to hurt public education and communities that rely on public schools. Each occurred before the May 16th, 2018 march in Raleigh.
Citizens United, you may remember, allowed for corporations and other entities to donate to political candidates. It gave rise to PACs and SUPERPACs. It’s why you now see an incredible amount of money in political races donated by people who have a vested interest in a race or candidate but cannot vote in that race.
HB17 was the legislation produced in a special session in December of 2016 right before Roy Cooper took office. It was a power grab that granted the incoming state superintendent, Mark Johnson, the most power any state super had ever had. Johnson might be the most unqualified person to ever hold the job. What ensued was a lawsuit between Johnson and the State Board of Education that lasted for 18 months. Ultimately, it cemented Johnson’s role as a puppet and led to DPI’s reorganization and reduction of personnel.
The Innovative School District is an educational reform that allows the state to select “poor” performing schools to be taken over by an out-of-state entity. In three years, it has only one school under its umbrella, but has gone through multiple leaders.
And then there was the Voter ID law, racially driven gerrymandered political maps, and the abolishment of automatically paycheck deductions for groups like NCAE. (Yes, the Voter ID law and the gerrymandered districting have been overruled, but we still as a state have not had an election cycle since both were overturned.)
It used to not be this way, but after the Great Recession of 2008 and the rise of a new wing of the Republican Party, a noticeable shift occurred in North Carolina politics. Decades ago, public education was championed by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Think of governors like Holshousher and Martin and you will see a commitment to funding public education like NC saw with Sanford, Hunt, and Easley. The governor’s office and the General Assembly were often in different hands politically speaking, but on the issue of public education, they stood much more united than it is today.
That unification is not there anymore. And it wasn’t caused by public education or its advocates. It was planted, fed, fostered, and championed by those who came to power after the Great Recession. These are not Eisenhower Republicans or Reagan Republicans; they are ALEC Republicans whose sole purpose is to politicize all things and try and privatize as many public goods as possible. And on a state level, nothing is more of a public good than public schools.
They have been very adept at combining racial and social issues with public education to make it hard not only to compartmentalize each through legislation, but easy to exploit how much social and racial issues are tied to public education without people thinking they are interlinked. Laws and mandates like HB2, the Voter ID Law, the gerrymandered districts, and the attempted judicial system overhaul have as much to do with the health of public schools as any other factor.
When you keep people from being able to vote, you affect public education. When you keep people below the poverty line, you affect public education. When you gerrymander districts along racial lines, you affect public education. You cannot separate them exclusively. And we have lawmakers in power who know that very well. It’s why when you advocate for public schools, you must be aware of social and racial issues and be willing to fight along those lines.
Public school advocacy that was “successful” before 2008 will not work as effectively in 2020. No ALEC aligned politician who is in a right to work state that outlaws collective bargaining is going to “work with” advocacy groups like NCAE.
For NCAE and other groups to truly advocate for public schools, they must fight for issues outside of school rooms that affect the very students, teachers, and staff who come into those school rooms.
There are many lawmakers not interested in compromise or debate. They don’t want to build bridges unless they are “moral toll bridges.” After watching legislators like Tim Moore and Phil Berger hold this state hostage through unethical measures to pass budgets, hold special sessions, and pass legislation that continuously weaken our public schools it has become apparent that these are not the people with whom you build bridges.
And before someone says that we must win over those lawmakers from either party who want strong public schools, he/she might want to look at the voting records. Most all of those who voted for taking away longevity pay for teachers, career status and graduate degree pay for newer teachers, teacher assistants in every elementary classroom, and retiree health care also voted for HB2, the Voter ID laws, the gerrymandered maps, and other insulting pieces of legislation.
In fact, why would public school advocates even want to “have a seat at the table” with them? Time and time again, the powers in the NCGA have shown that not only will they not invite teachers to the “table” but that they will go out of their way to make teachers part of the menu.
When in the last eight years has there ever been any indication that teachers and public school advocates would be given even a small role in the building of metaphorical bridges much less have a “seat at the table?”
That’s not a rhetorical question.
And teachers know how to build bridges: differentiated structures that expand classrooms and curricula to bring students together in ways that help them achieve in academics and life. Teachers also know how to “set a table” that includes all stakeholders.
The gerrymandered lawmaking body in Raleigh that claims altruism CAN NOT AND WILL NOT.
Some will say that NCAE should not get involved with social and racial issues. They may say that marching the past two years (May 16 and May 1) made the NCGA want to retaliate against teachers by holding up a budget. That’s not very good argument. The past decade has shown that the NCGA had no need for provocation to enact what it did.
In the same period of time as the first timeline, the same powers-that-be have made sure to keep a tight hold on other important issues as well.
And within that time-frame they have also made North Carolina a one-of-a-kind state.
- 21 states currently have a minimum wage that matches the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25/hour. North Carolina is one of them.
- 7 seven states currently outlaw collective bargaining for public employees. North Carolina is one of them.
- 14 states did not adopt Medicaid expansion. North Carolina is one of them.
- 18 states have vouchers and charter schools. North Carolina is one of them.
- 2 states measure public schools with a formula that weighs achievement more than growth. North Carolina is one of them.
Now name the only state in the country with the lowest legal minimum wage, no collective bargaining rights, no Medicaid expansion, loosely regulated voucher and charter school expansion, and a school performance grading system that measures achievement over growth. North Carolina.
Now name a state that has a lower state corporate flat tax. None do. AND ALL OF THIS AFFECTS PUBLIC EDUCATION.
In Pat McCrory’s last year as governor, the GOP super majority changed budget protocol and made the state budget a biennial process. In an odd-numbered year, a budget is set forth to encompass the next two fiscal years. Amendments to the budget can be made in even-numbered years. Furthermore, if a budget is not passed, then the state automatically reverts to the previous budget’s recurring spending levels.
When someone like Phil Berger tries to frame the narrative that Gov. Cooper and NCGA Senate Democrats placed teachers on the chopping block because they upheld a veto on what was presented as a 3.9% average raise in teacher salaries, he is not really being thoroughly forthcoming.
In fact, it is a gross misinterpretation of the reality.
When teachers were said to be getting a 3.9% pay raise in “this budget,” it meant it is over a two-year period. That “full” raise would not be occurring immediately. Plus, any budget can be amended in a future session to offset anything passed in the previous summer.
Now, consider this:
The budget was not passed because of not wanting to expand Medicaid. Teacher pay was the scapegoat, and the ability to allow for a budget to not be passed and revert to a previous version was done for a reason – to use as a political weapon like now.
Getting an NCGA that is pro-public education means confronting Voter ID, gerrymandering, Medicaid expansion, and other social/racial issues. That empowers people and opens them up for more chances to have a voice AND USE IT.
When lawmakers have shown no interest in engaging teachers in policies that affect public schools, then there is no need to waste time trying to convert them; you should work to get them voted out.
Garrison Keillor once wrote, “When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.” Public school advocates and organizations like NCAE realize that public schools are more than just physical classrooms – they are the very fabric of the community.
To fight for schools is to fight for communities.
To fight for schools means confronting social and racial issues.