146 students, 146 personal handwritten notes of encouragement to students who are about to take standardized tests.

146 students, 146 personal handwritten notes of encouragement to my students who are about to take their 7th grade End of Grade Reading test.

My hand is tired, but it was so worth it reflecting on a year of working with these amazing kids.  So many triumphs, so many nicknames and inside jokes, so many challenges overcome, even a little Honduran slang acquired. So much growth in various shapes and forms for all of us.  

When you have 146 students, one size definitely does not fit all. And after 10 months of working closely together day in and day out, it’s amazing how well you come to know individual needs and exactly what kind of support each child could benefit from the most. Some of my students have never passed a reading test and need to have the confidence to believe that they can. Some may know they can do it but struggle with the motivation to sustain their effort on an assessment this long and dry. I have students who routinely score in the 99th percentile and are all stressed out about dropping to the 98th. They need to be reminded that they are good enough. 146 student, 146 sizes.

We talk a lot these days about More than a Score, about the need to help our students keep their assessments in perspective and not let anyone think they are completely defined by their scores.  And I am grateful that we can have those conversations and recognize the need for a well-rounded approach to teaching and learning. It’s my hope that one day our assessments of students will more closely measure the kinds of real-world skills we want them to have.

At the same time, while our current system is flawed, it’s the system we have right now. So we make the best of it while we advocate for the changes that our students need.  

146 students, 146 individuals with strengths and needs and hopes and dreams.  

NC Superintendent now comparing teacher wages to those of unemployed UNC graduates to show how good North Carolina’s educators have it

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and all across the nation educators are enjoying clumsily wrapped gifts from students and heartfelt notes of gratitude from parents.  Not to be left out of the festivities, North Carolina’s superintendent of schools Mark Johnson penned an op-ed to our state’s teachers. The piece is entitled ‘We must elevate, appreciate our teachers.’  Perhaps a more accurate title would have been ‘We must educate our teachers.’

Apart from a few obligatory platitudes about the amazing impact educators have on our children’s lives, much of Johnson’s message is to let teachers how good they have it in North Carolina.  It’s the latest in a marketing campaign that began when superintendent recently rolled out the North Carolina School Finances data dashboard in a move timed to undermine thousands of educators coming to Raleigh on May 1 to highlight our state’s chronic underfunding of public schools.

Johnson was immediately called to task for his dashboard because, in order to show how well teachers are paid relative to other professions, it compared the average salaries of teachers to the median wages of non-teachers.  This violation of 6th grade math has since been pointed out multiple times in the media but has still not been corrected, and the taxpayer-funded data dashboard continues to misinform the public.

In the latest round of our superintendent’s efforts to convince the public that teachers are paid handsomely and that the sea of red in Raleigh last week amounted to a bunch of misguided whiners, Johnson claims in his Teacher Appreciation op-ed that beginning teachers earn $13,000 more than the average UNC graduate makes one year after graduation:

Superintendent Johnson’s claim has now been republished by media outlets in Pitt County, Robeson County, Harnett County, Sampson County, Guilford County, Scotland County, and Forsyth County, and it’s likely to keep popping up in more places as Teacher Appreciation Week continues.  I would bet that, at breakfast tables in all of those counties and more, folks are talking about how teachers will never be satisfied with what they earn.  I would also speculate that was Johnson’s intent.

If the $26,400 average salary for a UNC graduate figure sounds implausibly low to you, that’s because it is.  

According to Derek Scott, that average salary includes graduates who are either unemployed or, at the very least, rarely employed.  In the study Johnson’s spokesman acknowledges the figure came from, for UNC graduates who earned less than $20,000, the most common salary was a little less than $2,000–which could only mean those graduates earned wages very intermittently at best.  Here’s a chart from another study using the same data which illustrates this point:

To sum up, the message Superintendent Mark Johnson wants North Carolina teachers to receive this week is the following:  Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. Be glad you’re earning more than someone who doesn’t have a job.

Red for Ed is about much more than politics for North Carolina educators

Earlier this week, veteran News and Observer political reporter Colin Campbell published an opinion piece entitled “Partisanship made teacher rally less effective” in which he chastised public education advocates for their approach to last week’s Day of Action in Raleigh.  The article has since been republished by a variety of outlets around the state.

In the piece, Campbell deemed the rally ‘a huge missed opportunity’ because, in his view, few educators took the initiative to speak with legislators who were ready and willing to listen to our concerns.  He accused the North Carolina Association of Educators–which organized the event–of ‘petty partisanship’ and suggested that educators consider building bridges ‘on both sides of the political aisle’ if they want their policy agenda to have any shot at becoming a reality.

Campbell generally does solid work reporting on the goings on at the state legislature, but his account of the events of May 1 and thoughts on North Carolina’s education advocacy landscape in general are condescending and riddled with inaccuracies.  

Here are a few things Campbell should have considered:

On May 16, 2018, many educators spent more than three hours waiting in line to get through security and into the legislative building to meet with legislators.  As someone who complains about having to wait in that line, I know Campbell can understand the frustration of valuable time being wasted in this manner.  This year, our plan was to march to Halifax Mall, then assemble by counties so that lawmakers could easily and efficiently meet with their constituents for dialogue about our five demands.  All members of the General Assembly were invited to do so, and some of them took the opportunity to come out and speak with their visitors.

Many May 1 participants did opt to go into the legislative building and meet with the legislators who remained inside.  I was fortunate to be able to sit down with some colleagues and have a productive conversation about teacher recruitment and retention with Republican Senator Dan Bishop, and I witnessed a lot of other educators having formal sit-down meetings with lawmakers or catching them for a quick word at their office doors.  

Campbell’s article specifically mentioned how few teachers tried to meet with Senator Phil Berger as evidence of a shortsighted strategy and a lack of understanding about who calls the shots in North Carolina.  Let’s be clear. Nobody is confused about who is most responsible for the catastrophic education policy changes of the last eight years. However, in the weeks leading up to May 1, Berger kept up a steady stream of social media posts and press releases labeling the event as a ‘far left strike’ and consistently framing it as a ploy to earn votes for the Democratic Party.  He questioned the integrity of educators calling for more psychologists and counselors to support the mental health of their students. His supporters took the divisive rhetoric even further, using the senator’s posts as springboards to attack teachers by referring to May 1 participants as Communists and calling for us to be fired for abandoning our students. It’s safe to say that few educators were imagining a welcome mat in front of Berger’s office on May 1.

Campbell also neglected to mention that House Speaker Tim Moore scheduled an all-day meeting of the House Appropriations Committee for May 1.  The Speaker announced the meeting to committee members on the evening of April 29. As this committee includes 88 of the 120 members of the North Carolina House, Moore’s move greatly reduced the opportunities educators had to meet with their Representatives.  You can infer for yourself whether that was the intended outcome.

The idea that the thousands of teachers who descended on Raleigh last week were all simply participating in a gigantic political stunt on behalf of NCAE or the Democratic Party is insulting on many levels.  But the most demeaning thing about this view is that it assumes educators are not capable of following specific policy issues, watching how their elected officials represent them, and holding them accountable for their decisions when they do not act in the best interest of our public school students.  

It’s also incredibly misinformed.  

Many of the advocates who attended the event are not members of NCAE, and there are quite a few among us who consider themselves lifelong conservatives.  Mecklenburg County educator Bishay Elshoukarey is a Republican who has gone to Raleigh the past two years to press lawmakers for change. He says, “I marched on May 1st because quality public education is not left or right, it’s a pillar of every civilized nation.”  Heather Blount, who teaches in Robeson County, has participated both years as well. Heather has never voted Democrat in her life but believes she needs to stand up for public education because the actions of our legislators make it clear that they “do not have a clue” about what is going on in our schools.  

I don’t pretend to speak for all of my colleagues, but I believe many educators view a quality public education as a basic human right.  As such, working to improve the education we’re providing North Carolina’s children, particularly in the face of the many harmful policy changes that have been enacted over the past few years, feels like a moral imperative.  It’s much deeper and more personal to us than politics.

In the end, a lot of the misinformation plaguing Campbell’s views on May 1 appears to come back to a basic lack of due diligence.  In fact, the only sources he cites in his piece are Senate Republicans and a spokesman for Senator Berger. (I did contact him to ask whether he had spoken directly with any educators about the rally and he didn’t respond.)

If your research for an opinion piece on teacher advocacy consists of asking Senate Republicans ‘What did you think about the teacher rally?’ it’s no surprise that the end result sounds a lot like it was written by Phil Berger.  Had Campbell taken the time to talk to some of the public school supporters who were in Raleigh last week, he could have gained some valuable insight into the important work we’re engaged in. I’d call that a huge missed opportunity.  

Virtual Pre-K back in House budget, no funds for expanding legitimate Pre-K

This is the post I didn’t want to write.

On Thursday night, a successful amendment to the House budget by Mecklenburg County Representative Carla Cunningham stripped funding from Representative Craig Horn’s Virtual Pre-K pilot program initiative and transferred the money to the Department of Public Instruction’s Students in Crisis grants, which aim to “increase school safety by providing evidence-based and evidence-informed crisis services and training to help students develop healthy responses to trauma and stress.”

It was a short-lived victory.

On Friday, at the eleventh hour of budget negotiations, Representative Lewis’s amendment to restore that funding for Virtual Pre-K passed.  Now the ball is in the Senate’s court.

To recap, the Virtual Pre-K pilot program will provide in-home access to online preschool for four year olds who are living below the federal poverty line.

In his impassioned speech to the House K-12 Education Committee last month, Horn vowed that his goal was merely to provide educational opportunities to those who would not be attending a real Pre-K program anyway and that Virtual Pre-K was not in any way intended to be a replacement for high quality Pre-K.  Furthermore, he claimed Virtual Pre-K would be accompanied by continued expansion of access to Pre-K. (You can actually hear him make that claim here.)

Neither Representative Horn nor any of his colleagues proposed expanded access to Pre-K in this year’s House budget.

North Carolina has received national attention for the quality of its Pre-K program, which research has proven reduces special education placement and the likelihood of children repeating a grade between 3rd and 8th grade as well as improving reading and math assessment results in both elementary and middle school.  Unfortunately, that national attention has also called out state funding for Pre-K as being entirely inadequate.

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Early Education Research called on North Carolina lawmakers to do a better job of providing young children with the foundation they need to be successful in school:

NC Pre-K now reaches less than half (47 percent) the children it was designed to serve. Significant numbers of young children–almost 33,000–across all races and ethnicities, in both rural and urban areas, are losing the opportunity to develop foundational skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. In fact, 40 counties are serving less than half of eligible children.

While children may be attending other early education programs, those programs do not provide all the quality components of NC Pre-K—so those vulnerable children are less likely to gain the lasting benefits provided by NC Pre-K.

But back to the Craig Horn and Virtual Pre-K.  Not only did Horn and his colleagues fail to even propose expanding access to NC Pre-K in the current budget, Horn’s Virtual Pre-K legislation calls for testing the feasibility of expanding Virtual Pre-K ‘to all preschool-age children in the State.’

(ii) test the feasibility of scaling a home-based curriculum in reading, math, and science delivered by computers and the Internet to all preschool-age children in the State.

This legislation opens the door to lawmakers backing away from funding legitimate Pre-K in favor of an approach they can frame as innovative ‘personalized learning’ for young children.

Our children deserve access to a quality preschool education.  They deserve to be provided with the opportunity to interact with other children and develop skills of collaboration and communication that will serve as a critical foundation as they transition to elementary school.  They won’t get that in front of a screen.

*Update: to those who have commented that this year’s budget does in fact include an expansion of Pre-K in North Carolina:

Representative Horn’s exact comment to the K-12 Education Committee was “We may, and I think we will, continue to expand access for Pre-K.”  He clearly was speculating that there would be continued moves by the legislature to expand Pre-K beyond what is already on the books.  

This year there are statutory increases to Pre-K in the base budget which were signed into law more than a year ago (here).  The proposed House budget does not include any additional expansion. The only new legislation around Pre-K is Horn’s pilot program of virtual preschool.

Proposed NC education budget would silence teachers who insist on better education budgets

The NC House unveiled its proposed education budget today.  A provision on page 34 of the budget would deny personal leave taken on a school day unless a substitute teacher can be secured to take the job.

The ‘Ensure Sufficient Staffing for Public Schools’ section of the budget would change the General Statute to read that, once a local school board adopts its calendar, it cannot alter that calendar except in cases of “a severe weather condition, energy shortage, utility failure, public health crisis, school safety crisis, emergency related to a school building or school transportation, or act of God.”

On May 16, 2018, North Carolina educators who were fed up with years of terrible education policy put in personal days to march in Raleigh.  The numbers were so high that 42 of 115 school districts were forced to close because they didn’t have enough substitutes to cover the absences.  With more than 20,000 teachers marching to the state legislature, it was by far the largest organized political action by educators in North Carolina history.

After seeing very few of the changes we advocated for last year, we’re coming to Raleigh next Wednesday as well.   As of right now, 29 school districts in North Carolina will be closed next week due to large numbers of teachers who have once again taken personal days to ask for legislators to change their priorities and put our students ahead of tax cuts for big corporations and wealthy individuals.  The number of closures is sure to rise.

The new budget provision is clearly designed to prevent teachers from organizing in large numbers to advocate for public schools in this manner ever again.

Let’s review the goals of those thousands of educators who will be filling the streets of Raleigh on May 1:

  • They include adequately addressing ratios for counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers which are so far behind national standards that our students don’t have the support for their social and emotional health that they need and deserve.  
  • They include closing the Medicaid gap so health problems are less likely to be a barrier to our students’ learning.
  • They include paying our custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria staff a living wage so they don’t have to work two or three jobs just to keep their lights on.  
  • They include restoring retiree health benefits so that our state employees don’t have to purchase their own private insurance when they are finished serving the people of North Carolina.  
  • And they include reversing policies which make it difficult for us to attract and retain excellent teachers to prepare our most precious resource, our children, for a successful and productive life.

Ideally, our elected officials would be listening to the very valid concerns of these constituents and working to correct the serious shortcomings in our education system that exist as a result of their public policy.  The education budget would be a really great place to start.

Unfortunately, it appears that some of North Carolina’s state legislators would prefer to use our education budget to silence teachers who are unwilling to accept the continued underfunding of our public schools rather than working to significantly address the underfunding that brought us to this point.  That’s a truly sad state of affairs.

It’s past time North Carolina increased funding for student support services

*this piece was published by Greensboro News and Record

When NC Child’s 2019 Health Report Card came out earlier this year, it contained some sobering data:  The number of North Carolina youth committing suicide has nearly doubled over the previous decade.  While thoughts of suicide and actual attempts are more common among children with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, other risk factors include bullying, persistent stress, trauma, and social isolation.  African American students were more than twice as likely as white students to attempt it, and gender and sexual orientation also play a major role, with 43% of LGBTQ students seriously considering suicide.

So where do our young people turn when they need help?  That depends largely on how much money they have. Research shows that living in a low-income household is linked to elevated levels of mental health problems that can continue throughout the lifespan, but children of poverty–who make up 33% of all people living in poverty despite being only 23% of the population–are least likely to be connected with high-quality mental health care.  Lack of access is a huge barrier for people who need help the most.

Our public education system is in a great position to fill the gaps and provide support that our children so desperately need.  After all, we see them every day. Unfortunately, insufficient funding for school counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers has left them so understaffed that they are constantly stuck in reactive mode, unable to utilize their training in the preventative services that can most effectively address our students’ social and mental needs.

Recommended ratios for school counselors and social workers are 1:250. This year NC students are supported by counselors at an average ratio of 1:367 and by social workers at just 1:1427. The suggested ratio of psychologists per student is 1:500-700. Statewide, our ratio is 1:2083. Ratios for nurses are more complicated, as the National Association of School Nurses maintains that ideal staffing levels depend on the needs of each individual school population.  However, we are not yet where we need to be on nurses either.

There are signs that lawmakers are beginning to realize that our schools need to do more along these lines.  After the Parkland, FL massacre, the NC House convened a select committee on school safety which looked at the ratios mentioned above.  Representative Craig Horn, who sat on that committee and also chairs the House Education Committee said in a subsequent interview that he foresaw a  “significant increase in funding for mental health services.”  

Michelle Hughes, Executive Director of NC Child, says there are “enormous opportunities for public schools to more effectively address the mental health needs of our students,” but that health and mental health professionals in our schools are so understaffed that funding will need to be increased incrementally over the next few years in order to get up to nationally recommended ratios.  

Our students today are under more pressure than ever, and their ability to endure should not depend on their socioeconomic status. We need to provide adequate resources for our public schools’ support services so that staff can use their training in preventative strategies. We need to put professionals in a position to build trusting relationships with children and nurture the coping skills students so clearly need.

As state legislators begin the process of crafting the 2019-21 budget, the community will be watching to see whether they are ready to make a real commitment to our students’ social and emotional well being.

NC Virtual Pre-K program moves forward despite experts’ grave concerns

A bill which would bring online preschool to children of poverty in North Carolina took one step closer to becoming law this week.

If approved, a three year pilot program would deliver the software via computer to families living below the federal poverty line and test the feasibility of scaling the project to bring online preschool to “all preschool-age children in the State.”

On Tuesday, the House K-12 Education Committee heard from the bill’s sponsor, Representative Craig Horn, and Howard Stephenson, a retired Utah Senator who lobbies for Waterford Institute, the Salt Lake City-based organization that developed the Upstart software.

Speaking to the committee, Horn claimed the program is not intended as a substitute for high quality Pre-K:  “We are targeting our most underserved children, four year olds that for whatever reason don’t have access to a Pre-K or just can’t get to one.  Transportation issues, health issues, socio-economic issues, issues that we can’t even imagine.”

Stephenson displayed research of the program’s impact to the House members and spoke hyperbolically of gains made by four year olds who spend just 20 minutes a day sitting in front of a screen working on the Upstart, saying “There has never been, in the history of Pre-K programs, anything that has produced this kind of initial first year start.”

The abbreviated version of the study Stephenson showed neglected to mention that the results were for children whose demographics are vastly different from those Horn proposes targeting:

91% Caucasian

96% English speaking

83% of the parents had at least some college

88% married

30% had household income of 50K or more

80% had household income of 25K or more

76% needed no additional technology or services

14% required computers

6%  required computer and internet

                        (full study text)

Senator Stephenson also declined to tell North Carolina lawmakers about the fact that last fall more than 100 early childhood education experts, educators, and child advocacy organizations signed a statement calling for an end to online preschool programs.  These experts expressed concern about the proliferation of virtual Pre-K and cited Upstart specifically:

As educators and advocates, we are alarmed at the adoption of online preschool across the United States. The state of Utah, citing the need to serve families in remote areas without spending much money, sponsored the first state-funded online program of this kind, called UPSTART, and thousands of families have enrolled. Alarmingly, UPSTART has expanded pilot programs to at least seven other states.

The experts identified a whole host of problems related to online Pre-K:

Research shows that screen overuse puts young children at risk of behavior problems, sleep deprivation, delays in social emotional development, and obesity.  Extended time on screens diminishes time spent on essential early learning experiences such as lap-reading, creative play, and other social forms of learning. Relational learning requires healthy interactions with adults, and online experiences falsely marketed as “preschool” sabotage the development of these essential relationships. Diminishing the role of early educators both deprives kids of crucial relationships and threatens needed investment in actual high-quality preschools. Children without access to quality pre-K (often the targets of these online programs) already face a higher risk of academic difficulty than their peers, and online pre-K threatens to expand, not close, that gap.

After Stephenson’s sales pitch, Horn took the microphone again to beseech his fellow lawmakers to support the virtual Pre-K pilot for North Carolina.  He reminded them it was not intended as a replacement for actual Pre-K and assured them that we probably, uh, might continue to expand that too:

“Now I think it’s time for North Carolina to address the needs of our own kids, our own 4 year olds that are missing out.  Not just because we don’t have the funds for more Pre-K slots, cause these kids will miss out even if we had the funds for more Pre-K slots.  And we may, and I think we will, continue to expand access for Pre-K. But I’m not willing to leave these kids that are not on that list for any reason, I’m not willing to leave them behind.”

The bill was approved by the House committee and is now headed to Appropriations.

If our lawmakers are serious about wanting to improve the lives of North Carolina’s high-poverty four year olds, they need to expand access to high quality Pre-K and work on removing impediments to children attending those programs.  In the meantime, virtual Pre-K is nothing more than an ill-conceived Band-Aid solution to a problem that deserves our legislators’ genuine commitment.

NC school districts working hard to limit teacher leadership on May 1

As the numbers of people planning to head to Raleigh for the May 1 Day of Action swells, a broad strategy for preventing educators from mobilizing is emerging.

In numerous counties, superintendents and school boards are offering to ‘facilitate’ delegations of teachers going to Raleigh to advocate.  Union County Public Schools, for example, is congratulating itself as a ‘forward thinking’ school district for being on the front lines of fighting for good education policy and encouraging teacher leadership by allowing teachers from each school to be in Raleigh on May 1 (while ensuring schools stay open that day).

Don’t get it twisted.  

These districts are doing everything they can to keep teachers from leading. What they’re after in this case is the appearance of supporting teachers, but their premise is that the terms must always be dictated from the top down rather than through a powerful movement created by everyday teachers like you and me.  Their goal from the very beginning this year has been to do whatever it takes to keep schools open on May 1. Their goal has been to make sure that teachers do not have the power.

Let me be clear that the goal of May 1 is not to shut down schools.  The goal is to win on five specific policy needs that thousands of educators had a voice in choosing.  But the only hope we have of winning is to fill the streets of Raleigh with a powerful sea of red, to pack the legislature with folks using their teacher voices to be sure members of the General Assembly hear the echo when they’re writing this year’s budget.  That means turning out in massive, unlimited numbers.

We don’t win by riding to Raleigh in the principal’s minivan with three other teachers that he’s handpicked to have the privilege of attending.  We don’t win by co-signing a plan that deprives our fellow educators of the opportunity to get out there and fight for the schools our kids deserve.

There’s a lot of ugly rhetoric about Communists and far left agendas beginning to circulate around May 1.  Haters gonna hate. Do not forget the moral authority that you carry as someone who has dedicated your life to public education.  We are trying to win enough nurses and psychologists so our students can be healthy. We’re marching to ensure that our custodians don’t have to work 3 jobs to pay their rent.  Picture their faces as you put in the personal day which is your right under state law.  

And if your request is denied, screenshot that denial and get it out there for the world to see what ‘facilitating teacher advocacy’ really looks like.  Then put it in that personal day again. And again. And again.

We need your power and leadership in Raleigh on May 1.  

Latest move by Mark Johnson and state lawmakers would be really bad for schools

A bill filed by Lincoln County Representative Jason Saine in the NC House this week would bring the State Board of Education’s legislative director Cecilia Holden and general counsel Eric Snider under NC State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s supervision.

As Johnson already has a legislative director and general counsel (Kevin Wilkinson and Jonathan Sink), it’s very possible that Holden and Snider would then be relieved of duty.

Let’s unpack the implications of this move for North Carolina’s school system.  

The State Board’s legislative director serves as the primary point of contact between the board and state and federal policymakers.  The loss of Cecilia Holden would deprive our State Board of Education of a valuable source of information which is essential to shaping the work it does on behalf of 1.5 million students and nearly 100,000 teachers every day.  

Recently, Holden was instrumental in laying the groundwork for collaboration between the State Board’s J.B. Buxton and Senator Berger’s office in working to improve Read to Achieve legislation.  On the other side of the coin, the school supply bill which was proposed last week by Senator Wells included zero input from the State Board. That legislation was dismissed by our last two Teachers of the Year as being a terrible idea for schools. Amid the resulting fallout, Mark Johnson was left scrambling to reassure teachers that he was working with the General Assembly on increasing funding for supplies.

The work of a legislative director in connection with the State Board can be that crucial link in the chain to ensure policies that are in the best interests of our teachers and students.  The State Board’s general counsel also plays a vital role in allowing the board to effectively carry out its management oversight, through legal services that impact school personnel directly such as contract review and responding to litigation.

The loss of the independent check and balance of the board’s legislative director and general counsel would allow Mark Johnson to work even more in isolation with the General Assembly than he already does.  That would come as a serious blow to our public school system at a time when constructive working relationships between the various bodies that serve North Carolinians are more needed than ever.

NC educators gearing up to win big for our schools on May 1

House Chamber packed with teachers, May 16, 2018

*this piece appeared in the Washington Post

Last May 16 saw unprecedented action by thousands of North Carolina educators.  Energized by the boldness of our colleagues in states like West Virginia and Arizona, we marched through the streets of Raleigh to the state legislature to let lawmakers know that we’d had enough of their indefensible lack of support for public education.  We flooded the legislative building with a sea of red, filling the galleys of both Senate and House chambers and chanting ‘Remember, remember, we vote in November!’ so loudly that the Speaker of the House had to momentarily halt business because nobody on the floor could hear what he was saying.

But we’re not done yet.  

In November we held true to our word and worked tirelessly to keep education at the forefront of the general election.  Through our advocacy, dozens of pro-public education candidates were elected all over the state. We broke the 8 year Republican supermajority that was responsible for much of the appalling education policy we marched against, and we restored Governor Cooper’s veto.  We demonstrated our collective power and won big for our schools and for our children.

Earlier this year, we surveyed thousands of educators and public school supporters to find out what they saw as the biggest obstacles facing public education in North Carolina.  At the convention of the North Carolina Association of Educators last month, delegates were polled to determine, of the challenges identified, which were the five most pressing. Our delegates then voted overwhelmingly to hold a Day of Action on Wednesday, May 1.  That day we’ll be descending on Raleigh again to send a clear message to lawmakers about what our public schools need from them.

These are our five demands:

1. Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards

Youth suicide in North Carolina has doubled over the last decade, and many of our students do not have access to mental health care.  Our schools are in a position to help, yet staffing ratios for student support services in the state remain far below recommended levels (for example, the suggested ratio of psychologists per student is 1:500-700. Statewide, our ratio is 1:2083).  

2. Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees

The past few years have seen some progress on educator salaries, but North Carolina remains far behind the national average and ranks 49th in wage competitiveness.  Our veteran teachers and non-certified employees such as custodians and teacher assistants have been largely left out in the cold on recent raises, as have retirees.  It’s way past time for a significant commitment to all school employees.

3. Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families

Good health forms the foundation of success in the classroom, yet lots of children do not have access to quality health care.  Research shows that expanding Medicaid for their parents results in a ‘welcome mat effect’ with increased enrollment of children.  Closing the health coverage gap in North Carolina would remove an important barrier to learning for many of our most needy students.

4. Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017

State lawmakers eliminated retiree health benefits in the 2017 budget.  All state employees hired after January 1, 2021 will be forced to purchase their own health insurance when they retire.  This change cripples recruitment and retention of educators at a time when our teacher pipeline is already in crisis, and it must be reversed.

5. Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013

The revocation of master’s pay has led, unsurprisingly, to a sizeable decline in those seeking graduate degrees in education at UNC schools.  Recent research out of NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill finds positive impact on student attendance, achievement, and evaluation results for teachers who hold a master’s degree in their subject area.  

NC’s state legislators are in long session this year and will soon be crafting the 2019-21 budget.  Supporters of public education are in an excellent position to help shape the priorities reflected in that budget, provided we can bring sufficient pressure.  To do that we need to turn out in massive numbers on May 1.

If you’re ready to help us fight for the changes our schools desperately need, please take this survey to help All Out May 1 organizers measure statewide interest and level of commitment.  

What we saw last May is that we are powerful when we rise together.  This year we’re more focused. This year we’re more organized. And this year we can be even more powerful.  

Teachers, put in that personal day, and we’ll see you in Raleigh.