Most teachers take summers off, but the teachers behind Red4EdNC continue to pressure the General Assembly for more funding for traditional public schools.
I’m a teacher at a private school in Apex, and I’ve been following Red4EdNC since they organized a statewide teacher strike in May. Now they’re calling for a “Teacher Congress” in January of 2019. The plan is for representatives from every school district to assemble in Raleigh over MLK weekend and “put extreme pressure on the legislators with the power of statewide unity and collective action.” This “extreme pressure” would result in curbing the General Assembly’s funding of public charters and private schools and then bring millions of dollars in education funding back to public schools.
In order to rally teachers to their cause, Red4EdNC issued the “Declaration in Defense of North Carolina’s Public Schoolchildren.” Issued appropriately enough on July 4, the proclamation lifts many phrases from the Declaration of Independence, primarily penned by Thomas Jefferson. By grounding their grievances in the “course of human events,” Red4EdNC depicts the General Assembly’s policies as the kind of Intolerable Acts that demand revolution. Even though the General Assembly has increased funding for public education by $700 million dollars for 2018 and authorized a pay raise of 6.5% for teachers, Red4EdNC claims that the legislature’s support of school choice initiatives harms NC students and reinforces economic inequality across the state.
The argument in the “Declaration in Defense of North Carolina’s Public Schoolchildren” is simple: education is a fundamental right for NC families. Since many families cannot afford private schools or cannot attend adequate charter schools, the General Assembly’s school choice policies are denying such students of their right to “a sound basic education.” As the News & Observer editorial board recently wrote, “If North Carolina is going to foster school choice, it should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice.” That leaves relatively little room for other types of schooling since public schools require considerable funding to remain that “excellent choice.” Other types of schools will have to go.
Reading Red4EdNC’s declaration, the General Assembly comes off as a haughty Parliament and NC teachers as the bedraggled colonists yearning to teach free—or at least, with more funding in public schools beyond the increases approved by the General Assembly. Red4EdNC hopes that by organizing a “Teacher Congress,” otherwise known as a union, traditional public schools will regain their privileged status in the legislature and the funding that comes with it. If this is the case, it is North Carolina parents, not Red4EdNC, who are the American colonists trying to remove the barriers that special interest groups want to impose on everyone else.
Judging from what I have read, the organizers of Red4EdNC are passionate, dedicated teachers. In one fell swoop, Red4EdNC put NC teachers in a long line of causes who have used the Declaration of Independence in their cries for more fair and equitable treatment in the public sphere. As a middle school teacher I know that teachers can never be adequately compensated for all the hours teachers put into their jobs, but in citing the Declaration of Independence, Red4EdNC goes one step too Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence for the people, not for special interest groups and certainly not to further the monopoly on education that public schools have held for so long.
Rather, the intent of the Declaration of Independence lends itself to school choice initiatives that would weaken the public school’s monopoly on education. In so large and diverse a country as the United States, it hardly seems democratic for one type of school to crowd out all the others. Elitist private schools may cater to wealthy students, but lower to middle-class families should also have the option to attend a school that fits their child’s academic and developmental needs. Considerable polling data supports the idea that parents want to determine how and where their child is educated. As such, the government should remove barriers that prevent new schools from opening so that parents have more affordable options for their children. This is all the more important, since many public schools are increasingly embroiled in controversial political and social agendas that many parents do not want for their children. The writers of the “Declaration in Defense of North Carolina’s Public Schoolchildren” neglected to mention that point in their manifesto.
As a private school teacher, I recognize my bias should prevent me from recommending one type of school over another. But that is my point. Only parents can decide which option is best for their kids, and the General Assembly should continue supporting an array of initiatives that make it easier for students to attend schools that best suit their needs. When Thomas Jefferson sat down at a small mahogany desk he designed himself and wrote the framework for what would later become the Declaration of Independence, he was inspired by the boundless possibilities the American people could enjoy if only they were free from an overbearing and an overreaching Parliament. When it comes to the furor over education funding, Red4EdNC is acting more like the British Parliament, not the General Assembly.
Winston Brady is a curriculum adviser and Humanities instructor at Thales Academy in Apex, N.C., where he has taught for 7 years. He lives in Raleigh with his wife Rachel and son Hunter.