Unlike our unconstitutionally elected General Assembly, our teachers across the state used a democratic process to determine their agenda—to support strong students, strong schools, and strong communities. They worked all winter to gather feedback from educators across the state and then met, discussed, and formally voted on the agenda in convention on March 22nd. The priorities are:
1. Fund school counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, and librarians to the nationally-recognized student-to-professional ratios
2. Expand Medicaid to cover 500,000 more North Carolinians
3. Increase salaries to a $15/hour minimum wage, and 5% raise for all school staff and retired professionals
4. Restore pay for advanced degrees
5. Reinstate retirement benefits for future professionals
This list is beautiful. It is not a complete list of needs that our schools have (NC Justice Center has a 48-page paper full of many more recommendations that would be helpful). But it is inclusive in terms of supporting more than just teachers. And more than just pay. As a community organizer, I see a clear, winnable objective that will show who in the General Assembly supports our public schools and who does not. Don’t let those who support privatizing our public education fool you—this list is a minimum of good things which we all ought to be able to easily agree on.
Point by point
- The mental health needs in our schools are staggering, in all kinds of schools. I’ve seen high-achieving schools send more students than you would ever think to the hospital for mental health challenges. Our schools with high levels of poverty have students who bring into our schools deep stressors from home and the community that are hard for most of us to comprehend children dealing with. Our students’ brains simply cannot learn if they are not healthy. Having these support systems may not seem like an educational priority, but without this support to ensure healthy (including mental health) students, they will never reach the potential of what our teachers are offering.
- See #1 – increasing Medicaid coverage will support healthy families across our state, thus opening up opportunities for accessing learning.
- Lawmakers last year very intentionally gave other state employees a $15/hour minimum, but punished our bus drivers, cafeteria workers, TAs, etc., by not including school personnel. These are folks who directly keep our kids safe and ready to learn. They need a living wage so that they can focus on helping students and not on living in poverty themselves.
- This is not a large amount of money, but is significant in restoring some level of respect that has been stripped from the teaching profession in North Carolina in the past 7 years.
- Another gimmick put into the budget because nobody is affected until they retire 20 years from now. Teachers accept that they aren’t getting rich in this profession. But part of the tradeoff has always been that basic needs would be met, including a comfortable retirement. Having the state provide a retiree health plan when our veteran teachers retire is an incentive to stick around in teaching and feel supported in the work.
Needless to say, I’ll be marching on Wednesday, May 1st to support strong students, strong schools, and strong communities. We know that we can’t achieve that goal without our teachers—and they can’t do it alone. They need allies in the community, supporting their goals to improve their profession and marching alongside them.