Teachers can make North Carolina’s midterm elections a big win for education

NC House of Representatives gallery, May 16, 2018

It was five months ago today, but I can still hear your voices, still feel the goosebumps on my arms.  

On May 16, after standing in line for more than two hours outside the North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh, I finally made my way inside and slipped into the House gallery.  The gallery was packed with teachers, all dutifully following the ‘be quiet’ directions like only educators can. But the real display of power was just on the other side of the glass, in the rotunda separating the House and Senate galleries.  Teachers there had the volume set on 10, waving signs and chanting ‘Remember, remember!  We vote in November!!’ over and over.  At times the Speaker of the House Tim Moore had to pause at the microphone and wait for the noise to subside because nobody on the House floor could hear him.  We truly felt the power of our numbers that day.

The next day we all went back to school, and the General Assembly’s Republican supermajority went back to business as usual.  They passed the entire budget in a conference report, an unprecedented move designed to eliminate debate about education-related topics like higher teacher pay.  They made sure a $1.9 billion school bond which would have repaired our crumbling schools and relieved student overcrowding all over the state was not allowed on the general election ballot.  Instead of focusing on public education, they put their energy into adding six unnecessary and dangerous constitutional amendments to this fall’s ballot in a brazen, last ditch effort to keep their stranglehold on power by driving conservative voters to the polls.  

In other words, as painful as it is to admit, May 16 had no direct impact whatsoever on the actions of our current state legislators.  None. Their priorities remain to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy, to privatize education, and to starve traditional public schools of resources.  No number of teachers waving signs and yelling is going to change those priorities. As Senator Jeff Jackson put it, you can’t make both tax cuts and public education number one at the same time.  You have to choose. And the GOP supermajority’s choice couldn’t be more clear.

So what’s left is to change the legislators.

If you’re unhappy with our current General Assembly’s approach to education, then you need to do your part to end the supermajority that is behind this mess.  Thanks to extreme gerrymandering in our traditionally purple state, North Carolina Republicans currently hold 74 seats to 46 Democrat seats in the House, and they hold 35 seats to 15 Democrat seats in the Senate.  As a result, they can pass any bill they want and override Governor Cooper’s veto. This lack of balance has led to a far-right agenda which includes the de-prioritizing of public education over the past 8 years.  It’s turned us into a national laughingstock, with out-of-town relatives constantly asking us, “What the hell’s going on in North Carolina?”

In order to break the supermajority, restore the Governor’s veto, and bring back transparency and debate to our democracy, we need to add either four Democrats to the House or six Democrats to the Senate.  That’s completely within our means, but it depends 100% on who votes.

The teacher vote has the potential to impact the General Assembly’s future approach to education in a big way.  There are more than 94,000 teachers in North Carolina.  We’re a diverse crew, and there are some political differences among us, but the vast majority of us agree that public education must be a bigger priority and that schools should be provided with the resources they need to get the job done.  With historical NC midterm voter turnout hovering in the mid 40% range, teachers voting for pro-public education candidates have the opportunity to make a real difference in election outcomes this year.  If we show up at the polls.

Early voting starts tomorrow all over the state, and voting is more convenient than ever (find the location near you by using the handy tool found here).  Please, please, please, put it on your calendar right now if you haven’t already, and make sure every single teacher you know understands the urgency of voting in this midterm election.

We don’t have to continue to helplessly accept policy and processes that are bad for North Carolina’s school children.  We can vote in legislators who believe that public education should be the number one priority for our state. On November 7 we can wake up to a new dawn and begin working to restore North Carolina to its former position as a leader in education.  

But it all starts with holding true to that promise you chanted back on May 16:  “Remember, remember, we vote in November!!

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