In this May 2019 file photo, teachers march to protest school funding shortfalls in North Carolina. (Image via Shutterstock) Educators protesting NC General Assembly
In this May 2019 file photo, teachers march to protest school funding shortfalls in North Carolina. (Image via Shutterstock)

After a decade of punishing education cuts, a North Carolina educator says the latest Republican teacher pay proposal is insulting.

“I want to laugh in their face,” Rep. Craig Horn told Cardinal & Pine in April when asked about teacher pay raises during the pandemic. 

To have a legislator, especially one who ran for state schools superintendent and chairs a state budget committee on education, express such derision toward those who care for and teach the next generation tells you a lot about K-12 policy implemented by the current legislative majority. 

But Horn and his GOP colleagues in the NC General Assembly took it to a new level last Wednesday. Amid debate on a new “teacher raise” bill authored by Republican senators, Horn received two minutes to say his piece, but then lawmakers rebuffed any further debate or amendments, calling for a speedy vote instead. The bill ultimately prevailed, with 35 Democrats opposing, and has been sent to Gov. Roy Cooper. 

In part, Senate Bill 818 “borrows” $47 million from the State Health Plan to fund small salary step increases for newer teachers, but neglects veteran teachers since they do not receive higher wages on their end of the schedule.  

They plan to reimburse the fund with federal coronavirus aid that should be dedicated instead to safely reopening school buildings.

RELATED: Coronavirus Is No Excuse for NC Lawmakers’ Leandro Failure

It is odd that the state health plan, which provides coverage for teachers, state employees and retirees, would be seen as a slush fund when it has been ranked one of the most underfunded state health plans in the nation.

Last year, Gov. Cooper proposed across-the-board raises for all educators averaging 9%, but NC General Assembly leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore refused to negotiate.  If the money existed last year to have offered raises worthy of the name, where did that money go instead?

When asked recently how I felt about the new GOP pay raise plan, the person turned it into a multiple-choice question: “Are you angry, disappointed, frustrated?”

None of the above. 

I’m not surprised.

‘Public school students and staff are used to having their faces laughed in by too many folks in this state for too long.’

It reminds me of the time lawmakers took longevity payments from veteran teachers only to roll it into their salary schedule and call it a “raise.”  

They’re at it again by either taking from our health plan or funding to safely reopen schools to pay for “raises” that are barely worth the label and leave out many educators.

Public school students and staff are used to having their faces laughed in by too many folks in this state for too long. 

Our state tells students as young as third grade they are not on track to be college and career ready. But they fail to restore the 7,000 early grade teacher assistants cut from their classrooms under GOP leadership.

NC became the first state in the nation to devalue teachers furthering their own education by eliminating supplemental pay for educators with a Master’s degree.  

The General Assembly slashed taxes on the wealthy and corporations in the same year per pupil expenditure was the weakest purchasing power offered in recent memory.

And in 2014, NC voters laughed in our faces by promoting Thom Tillis from NC Speaker of the House to US Senator.  The three actions above are a small sample of what took place on his watch and with his support.

Riding the coattails of a national economic recovery while overvaluing their role, the Republican majority undervalued prospective and retired educators alike by cutting the NC Teaching Fellows Program in 2011 and refusing cost-of-living adjustments to those who served our students for many years.

More japes.

In 2016, NC voters laughed in our faces by electing Mark Johnson, a man with two years teaching experience, as our state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The legislative majority refuses to follow the conclusions of their own study, rebuffing Democrats’ proposals to hire more student support staff such as nurses, social workers, psychologists and counselors.

They exclude public school custodians, assistants, and office staff from the $15 minimum wage offered to other state employees in the same roles.

‘Perhaps if our staff and students were Confederate monuments, there would be a larger outcry and sense of urgency by the legislative majority to protect them.’

They laugh in the faces of voters who elected more public school supporters into office by refusing to compromise and continuing the undemocratic “my way or the highway” attitude toward governing.

They bury an ill-informed social studies curriculum bill into an unrelated one the day after teachers met with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s aides to share concerns and offer improvements.

Republicans brag about 20% pay increases for teachers. But in reality, the current schedule is on average 10% below the purchasing power of the salary schedule they inherited.

They say there’s no money to meet the Leandro mandate or fund school reopening because of COVID-19. But they’ve turned away billions of dollars in revenue each year since cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy in 2014.

Perhaps if our staff and students were Confederate monuments, there would be a larger outcry and sense of urgency by the legislative majority to protect them.

If they’re going to laugh in our faces yet again by closing session and going home after this week instead of passing bills that provide resources to safely reopen school buildings, at least wear a mask while doing it.

Since they are unable to accept campaign funds from political action committees while in session, it makes sense why some are itching to get back onto the campaign trail in a big election year. 

But while they’re attending campaign fundraisers, remember the absence of funds needed to support reopening our schools during a pandemic.

Otherwise, this Election Day public school supporters should issue “stay at home” orders to folks whose track record proves they would rather laugh at our needs than fill them.