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NCAE issues open letter on public education budget

NCAE sent the following open letter to state lawmakers today.

Dear Honorable Members of the General Assembly:

As students and teachers get ready to walk through the schoolhouse doors again, instead of an exciting time for many, it’s a period of confusion, tension, fear, and in some cases tears. We have traveled around the state talking with teachers, teacher assistants, and parents as they prepare for a new school year, and there is tremendous unrest about the future of public education and the impact recent public school setbacks are having on students, their families, and our communities.

North Carolina cannot afford to lose a generation of students by continually disregarding the resources they need to help them be successful. Resources like modern textbooks, technology, and quality educators, including teacher assistants. Students are counting on you to use the valuable opportunity you have this year to make the right choices for their future. To help students be more successful, there are key outcomes from budget negotiations that are critical:

  • Fully funding teacher assistants gives our students the opportunity for more one-on-one attention and will avoid sending classrooms and families into turmoil.
  • Holding firm on adding $48.3 million to the state’s textbook and digital resource fund would partially offset drastic cutbacks that have left our classrooms with old, few, or no textbooks.
  • A fair compensation package for all educators will help to recruit and retain quality teachers and other education personnel to our public schools.

With a surplus budget of more than $400 million dollars, there is money on the table to make important investments in public education. You have the opportunity to counteract the systematic weakening of our public schools and the teaching profession that has been evident in recent years.

  • The possibility of spending more on private school vouchers than on textbooks for 1.5 million public school students
  • A 30-year teacher being capped at a salary of $50,000 when that’s close to a starting salary in some states, in addition to the shortchanging of veteran teachers on pay increases
  • Proposing to lay off 8,500 teacher assistants during a surplus budget year, after eliminating 7,000 teacher assistant positions previously
  • Removing increased pay for teachers with a master’s degree
  • Stripping away the most basic employment protections for educators
  • Proposals to take away health insurance for new teachers after they retire
  • Proposing legislation that could lead to termination for advocating for students and public schools when it’s clearly part of the evaluation process
  • Proposing TABOR laws that will permanently damage our public schools by tying your hands from making significant investments in our students

The unfortunate reality is the biggest casualty in the damage to our public schools is our students. North Carolina’s per-pupil spending continues to drop, ranking us 47th in the country. In addition, our local school districts don’t have enough teachers to fill the classrooms. Some districts are still looking for dozens of teachers just days before school starts. The continual disrespect of the teaching profession has led the teacher turnover rate to escalate since 2009, with the number of teachers resigning to move to another state doubling and the number of teachers leaving the profession tripling during that time. 

This generation of students only gets one shot, which is why it was extremely frustrating to hear the announced budget spending agreement will once again throttle efforts for critical public education investments.

What could be more important than investing in our kids? Erica Johnson, a teacher assistant from Alamance County, said it best. After she uses her $19,000 salary to take care of her family, she spends money out of her pocket, just like most other educators, to buy books and other supplies for her students. How will you invest your $445 million surplus? Public education is the lifeblood of our economic future; don’t snuff it out and extinguish the opportunities our kids deserve.  

Leaders in the business community agree with us on the importance of investments in public education. In a News & Observer opinion column this week, CEOs are worried about the kind of workforce North Carolina will be producing in the years ahead  and the risk to the state’s business climate because of the weakening of a once strong public education system.

By investing in textbooks, technology and teachers, not only will our economic future be more secure by providing students the best public education possible, but it will have an immediate positive impact on many of our state’s communities. The largest employer in nearly two-thirds of North Carolina’s counties is the public school system, and they are in the top four employers in all 100 counties.

Our families and communities are counting on you to do the right thing for the long term success of our students and state by making critical investments in our public schools.  When the bell rings, we urge you to stand up for our students and stand up for our state.


Rodney Ellis Sr., President

North Carolina Association of Educators


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.