Across North Carolina, talented and dedicated teachers have welcomed students back to public school classrooms. Many of you probably read the news stories about the first days of school and all of the opportunities and challenges such an occasion brings for students and parents.
Among this coverage, there also were powerful stories about teachers. We read about teachers giving up time with their families during the summer to learn how to use Home Base and other technology tools. We read about teachers putting in extra hours to expand their knowledge of the state’s new standards and to share best practices and lesson plans with their colleagues. There are stories about teachers who came to set up their classrooms long before the first work day and who paid for art supplies, paper or new books with money from their own pockets. And there are the stories about how cuts to the state budget and other changes made during the 2013 legislative session will affect many teachers’ abilities to do their jobs and meet their students’ academic needs. These are the stories that matter the most. These are your stories.
You work hard to prepare each one of your students for college and a career. You are tireless advocates for your students and you make countless sacrifices to ensure our young people are learning and reaching their goals. You give so much, yet you receive more challenges and fewer resources in return. Those are just some of the reasons why some of the new legislation passed this summer by members of the General Assembly is so disappointing to educators.
By now, many of you are aware that:
- After only a 1.2 percent raise last year and no raises for the three years preceding, lawmakers did not include a raise for teachers or other school personnel in their 2013-15 biennial budget. You will receive five days of one-year special bonus leave. There is more information about this leave here: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/ under “Annual Bonus Leave 2013-14 Q & A.”
- Lawmakers eliminated the future salary bump for teachers who will earn master’s degrees. This means that if a teacher has not completed his or her degree and moved to the master’s degree pay scale by the end of this school year, he or she will not be able to receive the 10 percent salary increase in FY 2014-15. Last month, I requested that the State Board of Education look at an alternative degree validation process to allow more teachers who are in the process of completing their degrees by spring to move to this scale by the end of the school year. This week, the Board approved a change in State Board of Education policy that enables all teachers who earn their master’s degree and submit the necessary paperwork to the NCDPI’s Licensure Division by May 7, 2014 to move to the master’s pay scale and avoid losing the supplement. We will certainly keep you informed if members of the General Assembly make additional changes to this policy in the 2014 legislative session.
- Once again, there will be fewer adults in our schools serving more children. This trend has occurred over the past few years as district leaders were forced to cut teacher, teacher assistant and other positions so they could return enough dollars to the state to meet the discretionary reduction. This budget eliminates the discretionary reduction, and instead makes direct cuts to funds for teacher, teacher assistant and instructional support positions. These cuts result in the loss of thousands more positions from public schools across the state.
- Funds for textbooks should be $68 per student in 2013-14, but were reduced to $15 per student. That is a 78 percent reduction. Dollars for instructional supplies were reduced from $57 per student in 2008-09 to $29 per student in 2013-14.
- Up to $11.7 million will be taken from the K-12 public schools budget in 2014-15 to fund vouchers for children to attend private schools. While I support school choice, I do not believe it is fair to provide taxpayer dollars to schools that do not administer the same tests and are not held to the same level of accountability as public schools.
Nonetheless, thanks to your hard work, we transitioned to new standards and assessments last year while also reaching a record-high graduation rate. This is a testament to the quality of teachers we are fortunate to have in our state. You are not recognized or rewarded nearly enough for the valuable contributions you make to society and to our future.
The bottom line is that North Carolina’s public schools have more students and educators are facing more challenges than ever before, yet the support the state provides to K-12 education continues to fall well below the levels required to maintain a high level of teaching and learning. Public schools enrolled 33,000 more students in 2013-14 than they did in 2008-09 yet these schools actually received more than $283 million less in state dollars than they did five years ago. At this point, it is your passion, enthusiasm, resilience, sacrifices and dedication that enable our students to succeed and thrive. I do not know what we would do without you.Thank you for choosing this noble profession, for showing up and working hard, and for all you do for our 1.5 million public school students. You are making a difference in our state and it is my hope that one day soon, North Carolina will recognize this and return to making strong investments in you, your work, and our students.
June St. Clair Atkinson