The North Carolina Association of Educators is planning a one-day strike and march on Raleigh for May 1, and school districts across the state are now canceling classes to allow teachers to attend.
Durham, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Lexington City Schools have already cancelled class. Wake County, the schools largest district, cancelled Wednesday.
Thursday morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools joined in. Apparently about 1,200 teachers had called in for a personal day out of roughly 9,000 teachers in CMS. On a normal day, about 150 teachers call out.
CMS designated an optional teacher workday so teachers will have no negative repercussions whatsoever. Students and parents and other school employees certainly will. There are about 3,000 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, after-school care instructors, and custodians who are paid hourly and thus won’t get paid for this day.
Working parents are now going to have to scramble for childcare or lose a day’s pay. Children who get free and reduced price lunch might go hungry. And why?
School districts are under no obligation to cancel classes. Part of the state personnel handbook says teachers are only allowed to take personal days if there are enough substitutes to fill in.
This is not about education. It is about partisanship.
Let’s look at the five “demands” that the NC Association of Educators is making here.
• Additional funding to adequately staff schools with psychologists, social worker, nurses and librarians.
This is a good goal. This is also happening. Every year, the General Assembly is providing more money for this. They’re also passing bills to make it easier for school districts to hire psychologists in particular.
But after this, the ties to actual education go away and it’s about salary.
• Restoration of extra pay for advanced degrees.
There’s little evidence that teachers with master’s degrees perform better than those without masters degrees. I’d prefer to differentiate pay based on performance rather than a piece of paper. There’s been one bill to restore master’s pay for teachers who get an advanced degree in their subject area. For example, a geology teacher getting a master’s in geology. I can get on board with that. But a master’s degree in education for a kindergarten teacher — I’m not sure if that’s absolutely necessary.
• Increasing the minimum wage for all school personnel to $15 an hour and a 5 percent cost of living raise for school employees and retirees.
The state of North Carolina has already raised most state employee pay to a minimum of $15, but the bill that did that specifically exempted public school employees. I could see this happening, but I prefer to let the free market do its work. Here in Charlotte, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was having trouble hiring qualified bus drivers, so they raised the entry pay for bus drivers. This is how things are supposed to work.
• Expansion of Medicaid to improve the health of students and their families.
This doesn’t have anything to do with education. Medicaid expansion really only applies to childless able-bodied adults. Low income families and children already qualify. This is just partisanship.
• Restoration of retiree health benefits for teachers hired after 2021.
This isn’t teacher specific, but it does involve teachers. Back in 2017, the General Assembly passed a bill that ends retiree health care plans for people hired after 2021, which hasn’t happened yet. This is because our state health plan is unsustainable and currently has more than $40 billion in unfunded liability. Free or nearly free health care for retirees doesn’t exist in the private sector anymore.
I’m not necessarily surprised that a teachers union is pushing for these points, and they’re not inherently unreasonable things to ask for. The problem is that teachers are walking out on their classrooms to push for them, and the NCAE is wrapping all this up in the guise that they’re defending education from evil Republicans.
That’s just false and it’s damaging to our state. If the NCAE paints this picture that North Carolina schools are such a horrible place and starved for resources, who’s going to want to work there?
Cover image of a protest at the General Assembly by Gerry Dincher via Flickr (Creative Commons).