Ed­u­ca­tion is­sues help loosen GOP’s grip on leg­is­la­ture

The Herald Sun - - Front Page - BY T. KE­UNG HUI khui@new­sob­server.com

“Re­mem­ber, re­mem­ber, we vote in Novem­ber!” teach­ers shouted in May as they marched on the streets of Raleigh and in the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s gallery, drown­ing out state law­mak­ers as they opened the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the his­toric May 16 teach­ers march in Raleigh say the words of the protesters be­came re­al­ity this week when North Carolina vot­ers elected enough Democrats to break the Repub­li­can su­per­ma­jor­ity in the state leg­is­la­ture.

The May march marked the start of a months-long ef­fort by the N.C. As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors to elect enough “pro-ed­u­ca­tion can­di­dates” so that Repub­li­cans won’t have large enough leg­isla­tive ma­jori­ties to block ve­toes from Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

“When we had the March for Stu­dents on May 16, we wanted to make it per­fectly clear that all of our pri­or­i­ties were not a short ses­sion Gen­eral Assem­bly re­quest but a six-month stretch to Elec­tion Day,” said Mark Jewell, pres­i­dent of the NCAE, the largest group rep­re­sent­ing North Carolina teach­ers and other school em­ploy­ees.

“We feel like the cit­i­zens of North Carolina stood up and said what the cur­rent su­per­ma­jor­ity is do­ing is not the North Carolina way.”

There’s spec­u­la­tion on the im­pact the elec­tion re­sults could have on ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing and poli­cies now that Repub­li­cans will have to work with Democrats to get leg­is­la­tion passed.

“It’s a rev­enue is­sue,” said Terry Stoops, vice pres­i­dent of re­search for the con­ser­va­tive John Locke Foun­da­tion. “Whether Repub­li­cans are will­ing to raise taxes is the is­sue that will de­ter­mine the mag­ni­tude of in­creases in teacher pay and per-pupil ex­pen­di­tures.”

The sit­u­a­tion was dif­fer­ent be­fore the elec­tion, with Repub­li­can law­mak­ers pro­mot­ing record lev­els of spend­ing on ed­u­ca­tion and five con­sec­u­tive years of teacher pay raises.

But crit­ics, in­clud­ing NCAE, ar­gued that the amount is less than what was pro­vided be­fore the re­ces­sion of the late 2000s, when ad­justed for in­fla­tion. They also ar­gued that highly ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers were see­ing lit­tle of the in­creases in pay.

To kick off the elec­tion cam­paign, NCAE or­ga­nized the May that brought at least 19,000 teach­ers and pub­lice­d­u­ca­tion sup­port­ers to Raleigh. The event caused at least 42 school dis­tricts that ed­u­cate more than 1 mil­lion stu­dents to can­cel classes for the day.

The of­fices of Se­nate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a re­quest for com­ment for this story. But on May 16, Berger ac­cused teach­ers of “in­con­ve­nienc­ing so many stu­dents” by hold­ing the protest on a school day.

Stoops said the march may be a fac­tor in why Democrats did so well in ur­ban and sub­ur­ban ar­eas. In Wake and Meck­len­burg coun­ties, Democrats won nearly all of the state leg­isla­tive races, knock­ing out sev­eral in­cum­bent Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in the process.

“Folks in those ar­eas who saw per­haps even first­hand the May 16 event and may not have been aware of the dis­con­tent among some North Carolina teach­ers prob­a­bly con­sid­ered that when they went to the polls,” Stoops said.

The march helped per­son­al­ize the con­cerns teach­ers had, ac­cord­ing to Matt Ellinwood, di­rec­tor of the Ed­u­ca­tion and Law Project at the lib­eral N.C. Jus­tice Cen­ter. In­stead of NCAE com march plain­ing, Ellinwood said it be­came for vot­ers some­one they knew, such as their own child’s teacher.

“When peo­ple saw it was their own teacher, some­one in their own com­mu­nity, it was very pow­er­ful,” Ellinwood said.

As part of NCAE’s post-march push to the elec­tion, the group en­cour­aged teach­ers to be­come in­volved in the po­lit­i­cal process to sup­port leg­isla­tive can­di­dates.

Justin Par­menter, a Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg teacher, was among the ed­u­ca­tors who came to Raleigh for the May protest. But he also stayed in­volved af­ter the march, in­clud­ing host­ing an event in Oc­to­ber for Rachel Hunt, the Demo­crat run­ning against Repub­li­can state. Rep. Bill Braw­ley in Meck­len­burg County.

Par­menter said the event with Hunt was meant to help vot­ers see the kinds of can­di­dates that


Matt Ellinwood, di­rec­tor of the Ed­u­ca­tion and Law Project, on the May teach­ers’ march

teach­ers sup­port. Hunt, the daugh­ter of for­mer Gov. Jim Hunt, nar­rowly trails Braw­ley with the bal­lots still be­ing counted.

“It was pretty clear that teach­ers were fol­low­ing the adage if you don’t like the pol­icy, you change the pol­i­cy­mak­ers,” Par­menter said.

On Elec­tion Day, Gov. Cooper called Jewell to thank NCAE for its work in the elec­tion cam­paign.

“On Tues­day, vot­ers sent a clear mes­sage that they want their elected lead­ers to work to­gether and fo­cus on the is­sues that mat­ter to them,” Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, said in a state­ment. “No group spoke louder over the last year than North Carolina’s ed­u­ca­tors – who marched on the Gen­eral Assem­bly to stand up for bet­ter pay and more re­spect – and Gover­nor Cooper will con­tinue to work to make sure they are heard.”

Now that the po­lit­i­cal land­scape has changed, Jewell said, NCAE is look­ing for the leg­is­la­ture to do things such as in­crease per-pupil fund­ing, pro­vide more money to hire school coun­selors, so­cial work­ers and nurses and to in­crease spend­ing on in­struc­tional sup­plies and text­books.

Jewell said NCAE also wants leg­is­la­tors to re­store pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional pay for teach­ers who have ad­vanced de­grees and to de­velop a strat­egy for pay­ing teach­ers that also re­wards ex­pe­ri­enced ed­u­ca­tors. He said the group also wants law­mak­ers to in­clude school sup­port staff, such as bus driv­ers and teacher as­sis­tants, in the state’s prom­ise to pro­vide its em­ploy­ees a $15 min­i­mum wage.

“We have Repub­li­can friends who sup­port pub­lic schools in the House,” Jewell said. “We think with some bi­par­ti­san col­lab­o­ra­tion that we can def­i­nitely see some move­ment on stu­dent re­sources and ed­u­ca­tor pay. We in­tend for this to be a re­al­ity.”

Both Stoops of the Locke Foun­da­tion and Ellinwood of the N.C. Jus­tice Cen­ter said Democrats could press Repub­li­cans to put more reg­u­la­tions on pri­vate schools that re­ceive voucher money and on char­ter schools. They said that Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who have sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded school choice pro­grams may be pres­sured to back away from in­creas­ing fund­ing for them.

But Michael Long, pres­i­dent of Par­ents for Ed­u­ca­tional Free­dom in North Carolina, said he’s con­fi­dent that law­mak­ers won’t want to cut back on choice pro­grams be­ing used by so many stu­dents. He noted how the state’s cap on char­ter schools was lifted in 2011 when Demo­crat Bev Per­due was gover­nor and the Repub­li­cans only had sim­ple ma­jori­ties in the leg­is­la­ture.

“If there’s any talk about slow­ing down or back­ing down on th­ese pro­grams, what we are go­ing to tell th­ese fam­i­lies?” Long said.

ROBERT WIL­LETT rwil­lett@new­sob­server.com

Kevin Poirier, from Char­lotte’s West Char­lotte High School, and fel­low ed­u­ca­tors fill the ro­tunda of the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing dur­ing the May 16 teach­ers’ rally in Raleigh. The rally kicked off an elec­tion cam­paign that ended in Democrats break­ing the Repub­li­can su­per­ma­jor­ity in the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

ETHAN HY­MAN ehy­man@new­sob­server.com

Marchers walk up Raleigh’s Fayet­teville Street dur­ing the March for Stu­dents and Rally for Re­spect on May 16.

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