LAURINBURG — What began as a call for the state’s public educators to risk their jobs by walking out of their classrooms on Nov. 4 has become a statewide walk-in to open dialogue about the plight of North Carolina’s public schools.
Spearheaded by a small group of teachers disgruntled by the state legislature’s failure to fund education to the level it has historically, the walk out has been replaced with a North Carolina Association of Educators-endorsed “walk in.”
Teachers who wish to show disappointment in the stagnant pay level in their profession or in changes that resulted from recent budget cuts have been encouraged by the association to wear red and walk into their schools as a group.
Many state legislators are planning school visits for that day in support of North Carolina’s educators and their intention to secure for them a livable salary.
“I don’t think the walk out is something that teachers will do if they’re committed to education,” said state Rep. Garland Pierce of Wagram. “I think they care too much about their students to do that.”
Pierce said that he is optimistic that the legislature will address teacher salaries during its short session, which begins in May.
“[Gov. Pat McCrory] has already said that he plans to do just that,” Pierce said. “With the outcry from the teaching community — he’s a very intelligent guy and understands what’s going on.”
State Sen. Gene McLaurin of Rockingham said that the lack of support shown to teachers by the state — with only a one percent pay raise in the last five years — has not been without backlash.
“I’m hearing from a lot of young people and students that they’re not considering education as a career,” he said. “I’ve got to believe that other legislators are hearing the same message.”
Both McLaurin and Pierce placed some of the blame for the small increase in education spending relative to a 100,000 student enrollment increase statewide with tax reforms pushed by the General Assembly’s Republican majority.
“Because of those cuts, there was no money to fund education,” said Pierce. “Tax breaks for the wealthy have just ruined the whole system.”
As schemes for a pay system based on teacher performance are tossed around in Raleigh, McLaurin cautioned against encouraging competition among educators.
“I’m open to some type of merit pay, but … I’d rather see teachers collaborating and working together in more of a team-based approach and being rewarded for that,” he said.
McLaurin reiterated a goal he stated at an education summit sponsored last month by the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, to work toward bringing North Carolina’s teaching salaries in line with the national average. Currently, the state’s salaries are well below average, and fifth-lowest in the nation.
“That would send the right message to business — that North Carolina is serious about educating the workforce for the jobs of tomorrow,” said McLaurin. “If I’m looking at a state to locate my facility, I want to know that that state has got education at the top of its priority list, and I think we fell short of that in the last legislative session.”