A debate: Should NC teachers go on strike?
Members of the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer editorial boards don’t always agree. That’s a good thing. We challenge each other’s thoughts and, sometimes, change each other’s minds. Sometimes we don’t.
That’s what happened this week with news that the North Carolina Association of Educators plans to quiz teachers about their willingness to strike over teacher pay if the legislature doesn’t meet its demands of a 5 percent raise and other benefits. In a meeting Wednesday, the NCAE board decided to hire a pollster to survey educators. NCAE members may take action, including a walkout, depending on the results later this year.
Is a strike a good idea? Here are a couple of editorial board perspectives, represented by Associate Editor Ned Barnett and N.C. Opinion Editor Peter St. Onge. We want your perspective, too, especially if you’re an educator. Email us your thoughts at [email protected]lotteobserver.com.
YES: TAKE ACTION LAWMAKERS NOTICE
North Carolina’s public school teachers know math and history and the math and history of public education in North Carolina over the past eight years tell them the same thing: It’s time to walk.
The math is plain: School funding was cut during the Great Recession a decade ago and has not returned to anything near adequate. A consultant’s report prepared for the judge overseeing the Leandro school funding lawsuit says that North Carolina needs to spend an additional $8 billion over the next eight years to bring public education up to a decent quality.
The history is equally clear. Since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011, public schools have taken a pummeling. It hasn’t been just a lack of funding. It has been a lack of respect.
School teachers, other school employees and parents have protested the cuts and the harassment. They’ve met with legislators, signed petitions and marched by the thousands on the Legislative Building — twice. All to no avail. Instead of help, they’ve gotten gaslighting. Republican leaders say there is no problem, that big money is being spent on schools, that North Carolina’s teachers are getting good raises.
Reasonable, teacher-like actions haven’t moved the legislature. Now is the time to act like workers and advocates for children and for the future of North Carolina. Teachers should walk out until legislators wake up. An election year is the best time to get their attention.
Many teachers are wary of a mass, open-ended walkout. A strike by public employees is illegal in North Carolina. Children will miss school. Parents will be upset. Republicans will label them selfish. But teachers in others states, some facing the same legal risks, have taken this bold step. They’ve gotten the attention and gained results in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona and Indiana.
The NCAE is going to survey how many teachers would support a job action. That’s a sensible step, but if teachers’ concerns are sincere there can only be one answer at this late hour as so many children are being deprived of the education they deserve — and the education North Carolina can readily afford. It’s time for what can’t be ignored: Leave the classrooms until lawmakers agree to support public schools.
— Ned Barnett
NO: DON’T RISK THE MOMENTUM
It’s not hard to understand why North Carolina teachers are frustrated. They’re underpaid, embarrassingly so. Their latest raise is stalled in a standoff between the Republican legislature and Democratic governor. Teachers deserve more, and they deserve better.
But should they strike for it?
It’s surely tempting, with Republicans bragging about teacher raises yet ignoring teacher pay rankings. It surely would be satisfying, too, to raise their voices above the squabble in Raleigh and get everyone’s fuller attention by walking out of some classrooms.
But if the ultimate goal is to get money, then the best path for teachers is to gain the political upper hand. A strike might do the opposite.
North Carolina is hardly a union friendly state. We have the second lowest union membership rate in the country at 2.2 percent and public sector collective bargaining is banned here. The NCAE is not technically a union, but it’s seen by the public as one, and a teacher walkout would be viewed as a union-type activity. That’s risky.
It also would be a direct slap at Republican leaders in Raleigh, who have a history of stubbornness when challenged directly. That might be a mistake for teachers, because at the moment, Republicans are backpedaling on teacher pay. They’re handing out raises — too small, yes, but enough to show that teachers have gained some political edge.
The fastest way to lose that momentum is to turn North Carolinians against you. While many might sympathize with teachers, at least some who side with educators now would see a walkout as an illegal action, an extreme measure and, yes, a liberal union move. Republicans certainly would paint a work stoppage that way in the walkup to a critical November election — one that has the potential to bring teachers closer to a friendly N.C. legislature.
Yes, educators are frustrated, and they have reason to be. But they’re getting closer to a breakthrough on teacher pay. A strike might be satisfying, but walking out may be taking a step backward.
— Peter St. Onge