For the second year in a row, educators and advocates for education from throughout the state will spend a day — May 1 — in Raleigh marching, networking and trying to meet with legislators to discuss priorities.
Last year’s march drew about 20,000 participants. This year’s, with more time to prepare and more responsive school systems, is likely to draw many more.
Facing a likely shortage of teachers in the classroom, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System wisely decided to close for the day, as have at least 25 other school districts and several charter schools around the state. School board members Elisabeth Motsinger, Deanna Kaplan, Barbara Burke, Andrea Bramer and Chairwoman Malishai Woodbury all plan to be in Raleigh as well.
There’s no doubt that there will be a lot of enthusiasm among educators as they meet and march, but it won’t be a picnic. They have serious work to do — convincing recalcitrant members of the state legislature to increase their support for education — to give teachers and schools the resources they need.
This year the marchers intend to press five priorities:
- Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and other health professionals to meet national standards for professional-to-student ratios.
- Provide a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all school personnel, a 5 percent raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers and administrators, and a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees.
- Expand Medicaid.
- Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017.
- Restore advanced-degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013.
Some of these are practical matters that would allow students to learn more effectively. Some are signs of respect for an essential profession that is sometimes denigrated, even by our elected officials. All are worthy of support.
Of course, there’s been pushback. Some will point to a lost day of classes as if this one day — we often sacrifice days to inclement weather — is indispensable and teachers are neglecting their duties by spending it outside of the classroom.
But our educators are offering a civics lesson to the entire state by taking a longer view — not one day, but the decades that are required to teach our children — and by exercising their constitutional right to petition their government.
Some, like state Senate leader Phil Berger, are trying to portray the march as a political exercise by “partisan activists.” Last week in a news release he touted the contributions Republican legislators have made to education, including teacher raises and increased graduation rates.
But education shouldn’t be a partisan issue at all. “We’re talking about the future of our children,” Angela Coffman, a Durham elementary school teacher, registered Republican and Southern Baptist told NC Policy Watch last week. “I’m not sitting here thinking it’s a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. I’m thinking, why can’t they (state Republicans) understand what is happening to our kids, and how as a state we are failing our children.”
Even if they have reservations, we hope our legislators will be willing to listen. That’s their job.
As for the children who won’t be in school, the day needn’t be a waste. Among other activities, Kaleideum North will host a 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. day camp for kindergartners to fifth grade(registration required). For more information and to register, go online to: http://downtown.kaleideum.org/programs/destination-earth-day-camp-at-kaleideum-north/