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In 1999, when I started teaching in rural Alamance County, my mentor, a wise and wonderful woman told me, “Join the NCAE and read what they send you.”
NCAE is the acronym for the North Carolina Association of Educators. It is our state chapter of the National Education Association, the professional organization for teachers, teaching assistants, administrators and others who work in public schools. A few years later, at the NCAE’s recommendation, I took a day of leave to travel to Raleigh for a day of advocacy. We met up and eventually made our way over to Halifax Mall where we listened to speakers, stood in the sun and clapped for better pay for teachers and more funding overall. As a busy mom, devoted teacher and generally busy, happy person, I really thought politics had nothing to do with me; I was simply there to support public education.
Since then, I have earned a master’s degree in school leadership from one of the best schools in North Carolina, served in three school districts and lost most of my naiveté. During that time, I began to understand that politics had everything to do with my job. Legislators in Raleigh, most of whom were neither trained as educators nor informed by educators, were constantly dictating how my days were spent (and what I focused on) with my students.
In 2014, when former Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders proposed giving raises to 25 percent of teachers if they gave up their due process rights (this, after having frozen our salaries for years), I had had enough. I walked away from my role as a full-time educator and became an advocate.
Since 2014, I have worked to raise the alarm about the deep peril our public schools face — not just in North Carolina, but across the country. Here at home, the malicious attack on our sacred public institution has been orchestrated and executed with precision by out-of-state political action committees endorsing such “wolves in sheep’s clothing” schemes as the “Excellent Public Schools Act” and the “Innovative School District.”
This type of legislation represents a play on words. It seems to describe something positive but is, in fact, destructive to local school districts as they struggle to meet unfunded mandates.
Since conservatives took control of the General Assembly in 2011, there have been so many underhanded, bad-for-education bills passed, it will make your head spin. In a recent in-depth study (“The Unraveling: Poorly-crafted Education Policies Are Failing North Carolina’s Children,,”) veteran education policy analyst Kris Nordstrom of the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project chronicles a long and sobering list of new laws that have undercut the strength of what was once a flagship state system of public education.
In an attempt to show lawmakers we will not sit idly by and lose one of our greatest community assets, NCAE and other allied groups including the North Carolina Council of Churches are planning to welcome the General Assembly back to Raleigh on the opening day of the upcoming “short session.” Teachers are being encouraged to request personal leave for that day. This is not a walkout. It is a planned day of advocacy.
On May 16, teachers, parents, students and concerned citizens from across North Carolina are being asked to join the #AllIn4PublicEd movement. Why should you help?
• Because parents should not be hoodwinked into thinking “choice” is more important than their voice in demanding great schools.
• Because teachers’ salaries should be competitive with other professions and adjusted for more than just inflation.
• Because teaching assistants have been cut from the state budget, but are, in reality, essential to creating safe, effective learning environments.
• Because high-stakes standardized testing should not be the focus of schooling.
• Because all of our children deserve a well-rounded experience in school that includes art, music and physical education.
• Because school districts should not have to choose between smaller classes and excellent programs.
• Because too many school buildings are now dilapidated, roach-infested, crumbling eyesores.
Most of all, everyone should be in Raleigh on May 16 because teachers, children, administrators and parents all deserve respect. Public education advocacy groups from across the state are standing up and saying students deserve more.
We are, in other words, #AllIn4PublicSchools.
Allison Mahaley is chairwoman of the N.C. Council of Churches’ Public Education Committee.