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In N.C., itís readiní, writiní and reduciní
Education advocates slam retrenching of spending
 
Published Thursday, August 1, 2013 1:25 pm
by Latisha Catchitoorian

There’s less for North Carolina’s public schools in the state’s 2013-15 biennial budget. 

The 2014 fiscal year budget will spend $500 million less than the 2008 inflation-adjusted budget. The cuts mean no raises for teachers, increased class size, fewer classroom assistants, and less supplemental pay and professional advancement with master’s or doctorate degrees. 

“I’m worried about the teaching profession in North Carolina,” said June Atkinson, the state superintendent for public schools.  “We rank 46th in compensation to teachers… The teaching profession is being squeezed very hard.”  

Atkinson said North Carolina is the first state to eliminate extra pay for teachers who obtain master’s degrees. She said the General Assembly should revisit its decision that teachers with master degrees do not get extra pay. 

“It’s a really sad thing to know that master’s degrees no longer merit a pay increase while we teach our students that if they want to make more money they need education,” said Nicole Martin Savago, a Wake County public high school history teacher. 

“I know it’s really going to affect my job as an educator and most importantly the education of my students,” said McCrea Smith, a kindergarten teacher at Yates Mill Elementary School in Raleigh, a Title I, or high-poverty school.  “Teachers with a master’s will not receive additional pay for the higher education. As a teacher with a master’s degree, I am promised a 10 percent salary increase compared to teachers with just bachelor’s.” 

Teachers aren’t the only ones affected by budget cuts. 

“I see this affecting my students tremendously,” Smith said.  “The majority of my students do not speak English at home so resources being cut from the English Language Learners department isolates parents because of a lack of translators for parent conferences, info sessions… It sends the message that they aren’t welcome and their children aren’t either.” 

Savago said government grants to low-income students to help pay for a private school education won’t cover tuition. 

“Only the middle- and upper-middle class families who can afford the difference will benefit from them, not the poor who can’t afford any of it,” she said. 

The HB944 voucher bill will cover education scholarship grants for qualifying students up to $4,200.  Qualifying students must come from a household that does not exceed certain income levels. 

N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), who was instrumental in getting the voucher bill passed, said he wanted to make sure minority kids had a choice.

“One size fits all is a fantasy,” he said.  “The upper income tax bracket is able to provide their kids a choice.”

Brandon said minority students usually have to go to a school in the area in which they live, even if that school is not working for them. He said there is no justice for lower income kids and they end up becoming a statistic. 

Brandon contends the voucher system is not a one size fits all system, which necessitates the need for public education budget reform. He said public education has never been adequately funded and the voucher system was one way to implement a method to help students who have fewer opportunities. 

Brandon said students who live in Greensboro aren’t confined to attending colleges there, noting students can receive grants and scholarships to attend schools anywhere. Public grade school education should be no different.

“We only talk this way about education in K-12,” he said.  “Because we’ve been doing it for 50 years.” 

Atkinson said Harvard University researchers found North Carolina is “doing the most with the least” in terms of education funding. She said a beginning teacher today will make approximately $30,800 and in six years will be making the same amount. 

“In the short term I believe North Carolinians should participate in a campaign to thank teachers for what they do every single day,” Atkinson said.  “In the long term we need to bring North Carolina in line with all the other states.” 

Said Smith: “It’s hard to get pumped up for the new school year when you feel like your congressmen and governor don’t support quality education as a human right. Education should not be political. It’s not abortion, the death penalty, gun laws, or the environment. It should not be an issue that people have to ‘pick a side.’  The sad thing about all this is when they realize there’s a problem and test scores are low… We’ve affected millions of students’ lives.”

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