Burr and Tillis: I’m A NC Teacher. We Desperately Need Coronavirus Relief in the HEROES Act.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in January 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By Kim Mackey

July 1, 2020

With NC facing billion-dollar budget deficit, NC educators can’t take another round of budget cuts.

We don’t want capes; we want safe working and learning conditions.

We don’t need heroism; we need the HEROES Act.

The HEROES Act, passed by the US House six weeks ago, would offer $1 trillion to state and local governments and is the only way NC school districts would be able to hire the staff and purchase the resources necessary to safely reopen schools. 

The bill includes hazard pay for frontline workers and another round of stimulus checks too. 

But as I write this, the legislation would seem to stand little chance of surviving the Republican-controlled US Senate. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the Democratic bill “an unserious product from an unserious majority.” 

And NC’s senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr,  are taking a “wait and see” approach.  

Apparently Tillis and Burr are not convinced North Carolina’s state and local governments actually need the $13.3 billion they would reportedly receive from the HEROES Act.

But even if — as their party leader suggested — they can’t take Congressional Democrats seriously, Tillis and Burr should take us, the educators of North Carolina, seriously.

RELATED: Thom Tillis Is Still Running Ad Featuring Restaurant Owner Accused of Racial Bias

With NC projecting a budget shortfall in the billions, Gov. Roy Cooper has warned of the cuts the state would have to make, including cuts to education and transportation.

If you think NC educators are prepared for another round of cuts, think about the tens of thousands who marched in Raleigh in recent years. 

NC educators marching in Raleigh in 2019 to protest K-12 funding. (Image via Shutterstock)

After a decade of underfunding, it’s not likely they’re here for a “wait and see” approach, senators Tillis and Burr.  

‘If you would not be willing to use a school restroom, sit in a poorly ventilated classroom or trailer, monitor social distancing while driving a bus, or spend your day in a building shared by hundreds of people without a full-time school nurse – do not expect our children and educators to do so. ‘

Our educators shouldn’t have to put themselves or their students and families at risk in poorly maintained, short-staffed buildings that house hundreds of children for hours each day.

Likewise, our medical professionals shouldn’t have to be heroes working in a pandemic while reusing personal protective equipment meant for one-time use.

Acts of heroism are defined by people overcoming incredible challenges and sacrificing themselves to help others.

But when it comes to education and health care in one of the richest countries in the world, heroism should not be required because our educators and health care workers should have what’s needed to do their jobs effectively.

These problems existed before COVID19, but because we refused to invest in infrastructure improvements or restoring staff positions during economic growth, our state and nation look to ask educators to be heroes during a pandemic instead of equipping our schools with essential resources to meet health requirements and recommendations.

We have not had a statewide school construction bond since 1996 and our buildings show that neglect as we are currently $8 billion behind on school building infrastructure needs.

Instead of brick and mortar, thousands of classes across our state take place in poorly ventilated trailers.

Even in actual buildings, many classrooms are not designed for circulating fresh air inside as the windows that open are much too small to accomplish this.

The NC House recently approved a bill that would put a $1.95 billion bond measure on the ballot in November, but it is currently sitting in the file cabinet of the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.If you’ve followed the NC Senate in recent years, without support from Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s office, that’s where bills go to die.

Despite the benefits of creating jobs and replacing or renovating outdated buildings, some worry about the impacts on the state’s credit rating.  

But refusing to borrow money for something our state needs —when we have a high credit score and record low interest rates no less — is like bragging about a 4.0 GPA but refusing to get a job.

With so many out of work and the worst unemployment insurance program in the country, our state has an opportunity to get two birds with one stone by hiring people to fill jobs needed to responsibly reopen school buildings.  Our schools need more bus drivers, custodians, teaching assistants and other student support staff.

Those who tell educators to “dig deeper” and do their part forget that staff and students are still in the hole with funding levels below what they had before the last Recession hit.

If you would not be willing to use a school restroom, sit in a poorly ventilated classroom or trailer, monitor social distancing while driving a bus, or spend your day in a building shared by hundreds of people without a full-time school nurse – do not expect our children and educators to do so. 

The Preamble of the US Constitution reminds us that the purpose of our government is “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Members of the NC General Assembly and the US Senate, lawmakers like senators Burr and Tillis, take an oath to uphold these principles.

Allocating funds to support safe return to schools in August would not require an act of heroism, just enough lawmakers at the state and national levels who take their oaths seriously.


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