I went to the “Moral Monday” protest on Halifax Mall in Raleigh this past week, the last one before concerned citizens fan out across North Carolina to register voters for the 2014 election.
What was most important about this gathering wasn’t how police had to close an additional street as protesters marched past the State Capitol, shouting “This is what Democracy looks like!,” but the preponderance of teachers. Many of them wore red T-shirts, forming a sea of red, angry at what the legislature has done to them, our children and our civic underpinnings.
Make no mistake, certain members of the Republican Party are out to dismantle public education once and for all, and it’s not just about ideology or religion or school choice or getting rid of leftist leanings or training future workers for technical jobs.
It’s about, as most things are, money.
The truth is public education – our K-12 public schools, community colleges and institutions of higher education – represents a gigantic chunk of the state’s budget. If you undermine funding for it, you walk away with a lion’s share of our tax dollars. How better to starve government?
The only problem is public education has been the mainstay of our way of life in this country. It has taught generations of children what democracy means by bringing together kids from all social classes, ethnic backgrounds, races and cultures to learn about each other and from each other. It has provided a place where our desire for a more egalitarian society is perpetuated.
To attack schools is to attack the roots of our society. In frontier days in America, one of the first things a community managed to do was raise funds for a school. A one-room schoolhouse was built, a teacher was hired and children were sent to get book-learning. Great value was seen in this community exercise. It led to bonds that reached far into the future.
But now according to the North Carolina Association of Educators, the legislature has adopted a budget that slashes education. NCAE members were out in force Monday protesting what they see as an attack on everything they stand for, specifically:
• Elimination of 9,306 education positions
• No pay increases for teachers, putting North Carolina near the lowest in the nation
• Elimination of career status for all teachers, meaning no tenure
• No more additional pay for teachers who get a master’s degree
• Decisions based significantly on standardized tests
• Elimination of our national model Teaching Fellows Program, which recruited classroom teachers
• No cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers
• Reduction of funding for school textbooks, classroom supplies and helping students with limited English proficiency
• Allowing more students in each classroom
• Cutting teacher-assistant positions
• Establishment of a school-voucher program that diverts $50 million from the public-school system over the next two years for private tuition and expenses.
Public education is in the crosshairs. Slashing tax dollars from public classrooms means more money in private hands, either through tax cuts for the wealthy or a voucher system that diverts money into private enterprise. It continues the privatization of America, adding our schools to a list that has included our military services, our national-security services, our prisons and our health-maintenance organizations.
This may be a great business opportunity for some, but others will find it most likely spells the end of their American dream.
Not only has funding for K-12 education been slashed but also funding for community colleges and our universities. The audacity of this attempt at leveling public education has many teachers and other educators enraged.
What about the rest of us?
Linda Haac lives in Carrboro.