Teaching Profession Opinion

The Most Backward Legislature in America

By John Wilson — July 29, 2013 3 min read
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I realize many of you in states like Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida, and Tennessee could tell similar stories, but the North Carolina General Assembly, with its GOP super-majority and leaderless Governor, who is also a member of the Republican Party, have managed to destroy the reputation of a state. Once known for having the most innovative and progressive public school system in America, North Carolina is now a trajectory of backwardness.

This legislature has put North Carolina in a race to the bottom on per pupil expenditures. This legislature chose to cut education by a half a billion dollars--even though the state had more resources available than in previous years. North Carolina will lose over 5,000 teachers, counselors, and school psychologists. A reading program that provided teaching assistants for K-3 classrooms was decimated by the elimination of almost 4,000 positions. Cuts to textbooks and instructional supplies exceeded $120 million. This is backward.

This legislature had plenty of funds to provide generous tax cuts to the wealthy. Ninety percent of the individual tax cuts go to the wealthiest 5 percent in NC. To show their disdain for the poor and middle class, state lawmakers eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as well as the tax holiday on back to school clothes and supplies, which has been an economic driver for our retail merchants. Everyone knows that tax relief for the poor and middle class are better economic drivers because the neediest people spend their money---unlike rich people who have the luxury of saving tax benefits. This is backward.

This legislature also had plenty of funds to provide generous tax cuts to corporations, many of them headquartered in other states. North Carolina has always been rated as a great place to do business because of its renowned universities, research and innovation, and strong public schools. However, this legislature has cut the institutions that prepare North Carolina’s workforce. This action is more about rewarding friends and donors than it is about economic development and recruitment of new employers. This is backward.

North Carolina was recently rated 46th among all states and DC for teacher pay. The state was already projected to be 48th this coming year, but that did not satisfy this legislature. Lawmakers wanted their teachers to be last in the nation so they failed to provide them with a salary increase. To underscore their anti-intellectual credentials, they eliminated additional pay for those who earn master’s degrees and other advanced degrees in the future. To add insult to injury, in two years, they will give 25 percent of the teachers a little over $300, after taxes, if their test scores are the highest. Of course, to silence teachers, they eliminated career status (so-called tenure) for all teachers and replaced it with terminating contracts. This is backward.

North Carolina has been known for its programs to improve teacher recruitment and retention. This legislature eliminated our crown jewel, the Teaching Fellows Program, which provided scholarships annually to 600 high-achieving high school students who wanted to make teaching a lifelong career. Instead, they chose to give Teach for America an allocation of $5 million to place 175 teachers in our schools next year. Of course, school districts must pay salaries, benefits, and finder’s fees for these TFAers. There are 6,000 Teaching Fellows who are still teaching. Those175 TFAers will be gone in two years. What kind of ROI (return on investment) is that for the taxpayers of NC? This is backward.

North Carolina has been acknowledged for its good citizenship efforts to encourage voting. We have a special program for high school students to help them pre-register to vote when they are 16 or 17 years old. This program is now gone. Suppression of young, minority, and disabled voters reigns supreme in North Carolina. This state has returned to the dark days of segregationist practices. This is backward.

Yes, North Carolina has the most backward legislature in America. However, thankfully, NC still has a majority of progressive and pro-public school people who have learned a great lesson about studying candidates’ positions on issues and voting in every election. They’ve also learned about encouraging good people to run for office and the power of civil disobedience to call attention to the misdeeds of a misguided legislature. The majority of concerned and compassionate Tar Heels will prevail. It will just take time, mobilization, and voting.

The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.