School districts are starving for resources. We still have a huge teacher shortage crisis and our kids are suffering.
Mark Jewell, NCAE President
- May 1 teacher rally has little to do with helping schools and students
- 5 Point NCAE agenda is about increased pay and staffing and would cost billions to implement.
- Parents need to realize NCAE’s interests do not coincide with the interests of students and schools.
With the May 1st teacher rally in Raleigh right around the corner, you can’t help but notice rally organizers like Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, seem to be omnipresent. Jewell continues to sound the alarm on teacher and educator pay, more staffing and better funding. As he likes to say, “school districts are starving for resources, our kids are still suffering. And, “our students deserve better.”[i]
Yes, our students deserve better outcomes. The problem however is the agenda NCAE lays out. NCAE advocates for a five-point agenda that calls for adding more school support staff like school psychologists, social workers and nurses to meet national standards; higher pay, adding a $15 minimum wage for all school support staff; 5 percent raises for teacher and administrators and 5 percent adjustment for retirees; expanding Medicaid and reinstating retiree health benefits and pay for advanced degrees.
It’s hard to see how any of these proposals directly benefit school children. The changes add staff, increase pay or expand Medicaid. There is a big push to add instructional and support staff to national levels. It might sound good, but will it help? Who or what organization determines the national standards for these staffing areas? How do we know these changes impact student achievement or the school environment? Don’t local schools have a better idea of what their actual needs are in these areas, rather than have them decided by some national organization?
NCAE advocates for expanding Medicaid too. It’s a statement that causes many to wonder; what does that have to do with education? NCAE says unhealthy children can’t learn and make for an unhealthy school environment. NCAE fails to note that Medicaid already covers every child with a family income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. In addition, many parents and educators view such decisions as family decisions – not school concerns. NCAE’s decision to advocate for Medicaid expansion reflects the growing trend of transforming schools into social service agencies for more government spending and programs. A development that is unsettling to many parents and teachers alike.
NCAE said last year’s rally was about changing policymakers. This year’s rally is about changing policy. NCAE’s five-point agenda would be an economic disaster. Raising school employees to $15/hour would cost about $110 million this year. Reinstating pay differentials for those with advanced degrees would cost about $6.8 million this year. DPI estimates that raising selected instructional support to national average would cost about $700 million. The non-partisan Fiscal Research Division (FRD) of the North Carolina General Assembly estimates that reinstating medical benefits for retirees would cost practically nothing for the first couple years but then expand rapidly to almost $1 billion a year in 10 years. A conservative estimate for the cost of expanding Medicaid in North Carolina is $335 million. In addition, FRD estimates a 5 percent salary increase for teachers and instructional support is about 318 million; a 5 percent raise for principals and administrators is another $20 million, 5 percent for other educational LEA staff, $77 million. A 5 percent COLA for retirees adds another $240 million.[ii]
Alarmed yet? The question is whether implementing this agenda will bankrupt the state and local districts in the process.
None of these realities seem to register with NCAE. The rallies are necessary say advocates because legislative leaders don’t respect teachers and treat them as professionals. They point to inadequate budgets, chronically meager staffing levels and low salaries to make their case. When did this happen? According to NCAE, problems began when Republicans gained majorities in the State House and Senate. That’s a curious statement to make right when the state and nation was coming out of the Great Recession. It’s also plain to see the largest cuts in education funding and personnel were made in 2009-10 and 2010-11 — when Democrats controlled the legislature as well as the governor’s office. During this two-year period, state appropriations for K-12 education declined over a billion dollars ($8.19  billion to $7.15 billion ). In addition, during this time almost 20,000 public school employees were released from their jobs.[iii] Yet, there were no teacher rallies in Raleigh. Moreover, you had to look long and hard to read of any criticism of Democrats by NCAE.
NCAE asserts it is holding a rally because of disagreements over budgets, staffing and salaries. Here are the facts. The legislature has increased funding for K-12 education every year, since Republicans took office in 2011. State appropriations have increased from $7.15 billion (2011) to $9.44 billion (2018). The 2018-19 education budget is the largest in state history. Average teacher salary is now almost $54,000, up from $46,700 in 2011. Teachers have had five consecutive pay raises. Average pay ranking has climbed from 45th in 2011 to 29th [iv] . When adjusted for cost of living, North Carolina teacher salaries, rank 20th in the nation. Teachers in North Carolina have had the third-highest pay raise in the country over the past five years. In addition, North Carolina teachers can receive bonuses boosting math and reading performance as well as for obtaining certifications and credentials.
Things are not perfect. There is much to be done to achieve more common-sense solutions than merely spending more. Districts deserve more flexibility in how they hire and pay teachers and staff in their schools. And, the salary schedule should be done away with. It’s limiting and only benefits the union. It doesn’t benefit teachers – or students.
To continually ignore these facts and the improvements of the last few years reveals a cold fact: NCAE functions as a teacher union in North Carolina. The politics of the organization are consistent with the Democrat Party, and political donations reinforce that fact.
It’s tempting to think that teacher rallies and strikes are about money. They are not. They are about control. Money may be an issue, but ultimately strikes and rallies are about getting the upper hand. Teachers in West Virginia turned down a 5 percent pay raise when they learned the budget would include charter schools and other school choice provisions. Mark Jewell has said this rally is not so much about teacher pay but about changing policy. It also reflects it’s more difficult to talk about the need for teacher pay raises after five consecutive increases.
Good. Jewell and others are finally admitting what we all know. The May 1st event is really a giant political rally. It’s a major opportunity to boost membership in an organization that has been bleeding members for years and to get people involved in upcoming elections. That’s exactly what NCAE did with the May 2016 rally, use it to mobilize members for the 2016 elections.
NCAE has every right to organize and fight for teachers. However, NCAE’s narrative on teacher pay, staffing and budgets is simply not accurate. NCAE unfortunately has controlled the narrative on teacher pay, and truth has been the casualty. We’ve heard a lot about teacher pay, but nothing about outcomes or costs. Only 45.9 percent of students are grade level proficient in both reading and math. Less than half of students in exhibited Level 4 proficiency (College and Career Readiness) in reading and math.in End-of-Course tests.[v] We have heard nothing about NAEP Scores that have remained essentially flat. We’ve heard nothing about teacher compensation and benefits. Or how benefits as a percentage of total compensation has increased from 19.5 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2019.[vi] Benefits are a significant part of teacher compensation and healthcare and retirement costs have increased dramatically. Hence the competition for limited revenue is even more fierce.
NCAE members will attend another rally. And school boards will close school in many districts, so teachers and staff can attend a rally and advocate for policies that largely benefit adults. Such actions are not in the best interests of the student or school. It should come as no shock to anyone that what’s best for NCAE, a state-based affiliate of the National Education Association, is often not what is best for teachers, students and our schools. Students are all different. Students and families want more educational opportunities and school choice to address those differences. Yet NCAE and its parent organization, the National Education Association, are two of the largest opponents of school choice and education reform in America. Why? Simply because choice empowers parents and students to select the educational environment that is best for them. In doing so, choice takes that power away from unions and school districts. More than anything, NCAE’s vocal opposition to school choice, underscores that NCAE’s concern is not improving educational opportunity but about defending its interest in the current system.
NCAE is not working for students, nor for our schools. It’s working for member teachers. Remember that when you hear about the teacher rally and how NCAE is fighting for our children. And yes, remember that our children deserve better. *
 Correspondence with Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
[i] On the Record, April 19th 2019. Produced by WRAL TV. Available online at: https://www.wral.com/on-the-record-nc-teachers-plan-rally-end-of-the-light-rail-and-nc-voting-maps-go-to-supreme-court/18294293/
[ii] Correspondence with Fiscal Research Division Staff.
[iii] Highlights of the North Carolina Public Schools Budget (2009, 2010, 2011), published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Available online at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/#facts-figures
[v] 2017-18 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools, Executive Summary. Published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Available online at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/reporting/2018/documentation/chrtgrdrt18.pdf
[vi] See Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget (for respective years). Published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Available online at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/#facts-figures