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A Teacher’s Letter To The General Assembly, Part II

A Teacher’s Letter To The General Assembly, Part II

You can find Joel on Twitter at @abirdonawire, or read Part I of his letter, here

Dear Members of the NC General Assembly,

So I was flipping through the House budget proposal that started popping up on local news sites Friday, and I noticed a section within the proposal that struck me as ironic and frighteningly hilarious.  It begins on page 63, if you’d like to read along at home.  For your convenience, I have copied and pasted a portion of the text below.

48  “§ 115C-562.2. Scholarship grants.

49  (a) The Authority shall make available no later than February 1 annually applications to eligible students for the award of scholarship grants to attend any nonpublic school.

Let’s skip a few (dozen) lines and touch on how much money these scholarships, made up of public funds, will offer students to attend private schools, shall we?

No scholarship grant shall exceed four thousand two hundred dollars ($4,200) per year per eligible student, and no scholarship grant shall exceed the required tuition and fees for the nonpublic school the eligible student will attend.

I would just like to be clear on this – you (members of the NC House) think it’s a good idea to use public funds to send public school students to private schools.

. . . what?

It would strike me as patently absurd to walk into Wal-Mart, be handed a $500 gift card to Target by a Wal-Mart employee, and be shooed out the door while the same employee then handed me driving directions to my nearest Target.  I can’t imagine Wal-Mart managers thinking,

“Yep.  This business model can’t lose.”


Now, to be intellectually honest, I won’t ignore that the scholarship grants are designated for students who reside in low-income homes (to qualify, household income must be below the 133% income level required to qualify for free and reduced lunch).  At first blush, this section can read as Robin Hood-esque, but I just have to ask:

Why not devote these public funds (which, over two years, total $50 million) to the public schools and improve schools for all students?  Why cut master’s pay ($19 million) and TA positions ($50 million), only to turn around and spend that money on private schools?

Am I missing something?

As mentioned, I notice this budget proposal still includes the phasing out of master’s pay for teachers, starting in 2014-2015.  I also would like to draw attention, if I may be so bold, to lines 18 and 19 of page 285.  The lines list monthly salaries of North Carolina teachers who do not have master’s degrees (“A” Teachers).

Years of Experience                “A” Teachers               NBPTS Certification

0-2                                           3,080                           N/A

3-5                                           3,080                           3,450

Now, I’m no math guy, but the numbers in the middle column seem strikingly similar to each other, even with five years of gained experience for North Carolina teachers.

So, not only does this budget proposal no longer reward teachers who will earn higher degrees, making them even more highly qualified, this budget continues the trend of not providing raises to teachers the state already employs.

Members of the NC General Assembly, I ask you my second question now:

If you do not plan to provide incentive for teachers to earn degrees of higher education, and you do not plan to provide incentive for young teachers to remain within the public school system, and you find it appropriate to pay families to take their students out of our public schools,

What is your plan to improve our public schools?

Please, members of the General Assembly, feel free to comment on this article or contact me via email.

Thank you for your time,



  1. John R. Gilbo

    Joel….I napplaud your deductive reasoning qnd applied analogies. They sharply point out the present state of ignorance and bigotry that exists in the North Carolina State Legislature. As well, your thinking wholly supports my feeling that this present state legislature is determined to set our public education system, back 50+ years….which, of course, takes in the days of segregation and Jim Crow laws!

  2. Carolyn

    I am a teacher in NC who has my National Board Certification. I have taught 27 years in public schools and 10 years in nursery school (when my kids were small). I have never felt appreciated or respected. The fact that NC voters chose these legislators proves that I am correct. I told my children I would not pay for their college if they majored in education. That makes me sad because teaching is important and rewarding, but I wanted more for my intelligent girls!

  3. Morris Haywood

    Perfectly reasoned. I would not hold my breath for a response from the GA. Your father and I fought some pitched battles against the same kind of thinking as grad students together. The ones that think along those lines do NOT like to engage in conversation about what they are doing. They are probably aware all too well their reasoning never holds up under scrutiny, but that never seems to stop them. And it’s a damn shame, I think.

    • Kristen Outen

      They’re testing the patience of society’s most patient demographic. It’s cruel.

      As it would be stupid to stay in education, count me out. I can’t wait for the change that, based on the state’s track record, is not in the works. I knew I wouldn’t get paid much, but the yearly increases seemed reasonable enough to me when I embarked. Four years later, I realize I’ve been lied to.

      Sadly, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s all heavy on my soul.

      Thank you for voicing what we teachers are too downtrodden to speak.

  4. Ted

    reward*** but good article.

  5. David H.

    Your Wal-Mart analogy is interesting. While I don’t expect the greeter to hand me a competitors gift card, I know I have other options if I’m not happy with that store. My third and last child will finish in two more years and I’ve been unimpressed with the ONLY option my county provides. We even have a local supplemental tax that goes to the schools for improved teacher salaries. I find my concerns are quite a bit behind the teachers union, politicians, and local powers that be. Students and their parents are one of the last people a teacher or school administrator need to worry about to keep their job or advance in their field. If the county and state are going to spend (x) dollars on my child and they empower me with the decision on where that money goes, my guess is I move up the line a lot.

    • Bev

      FYI, there are no teacher unions in NC

    • Lee

      Do you believe that an educated population is better for NC? That is what your tax dollars go to, to support PUBLIC education, for the betterment of the PUBLIC. If you do not like the available public educational system, you are welcome to spend your PRIVATE money on a PRIVATE school for your children. While I do not drive on all the roads in NC, a portion of my taxes pays for them, for the betterment of all. And may I say, the local county supplements enable many teachers to squeak by financially, we certainly are not living the high life with our bottom of the nation salaries.

      • matt

        That’s exactly the debate… why should my money (which is all PRIVATE immediately after I earn it) become PUBLIC if it doesn’t have to?

        Losing is supposed to taste bad. As a conservative, I will be the first to apologize for the meaningless and symbolic legislation passed by the GA this term, but as a teacher myself, this voucher legislation is something I will stand up and cheer for. There are alternatives to teaching in public schools, and now there will be more of them.

        I choose to draw the line somewhere between roads and schools.

  6. Larry butterton

    These Republicans are greedy pigs who hide under the cloak of “Christianity”. They wouldn’t know Jesus Christ if He walked into the room with a name tag on.
    Skip Stam, Phil Berger, and Tom Tillis are racist pigs who seek to line their own pockets (and their buddies’ pockets) with money taken from the gullible tax payers of North Carolina.
    They are trying to reach the “high standards” of South Carolina and Mississippi – and are succeeding.
    When ya gonna wake up People? When ya gonna say something? Or, are you too afraid your neighbors or fellow church members will look at you in a funny way? The German citizens in Hitler’s day were cowards, too…they liked their status quo and turned a blind eye to the bullying around them. Maybe YOUR kid will be the next one to get sick and have no insurance coverage. Maybe YOUR kid will be the next one shot from some cowboy defending his “2nd amendment rights”.
    It is no joke and no exaggeration: this crowd is EVIL and only YOU can stop them. Bullies can’t hurt if you stand up to them, but they will run you over if you do nothing.

    • matt

      I imagine your solution to classroom size is to abort the kids before they make it to the classroom in the first place. Save your sanctimony for the Occupy rallies.

  7. Joy Collins

    Thank you so much Joel for your eloquent letters and posts. Wish I could say those things as well as you do, but that is why you are saying them and not me. It is a truly sad state of affairs as I see it. I think the idea in this state is to get rid of public education all together. Maybe you think so too.. I just retired 3 years ago after 39 really good years of teaching high school world history. My husband ,also a high school teacher ,has one more year to go. We both have Masters. I have taught in Ohio and Texas also. The district we left in Texas was so wonderful. Anything a teacher asked for he/she got. I HAVE worked in districts where teachers were respected as was the profession. It is not in this state as our legislators are proving. It is pitiful here. It’s a plan alright on the part of the GA.. And you know the old adage,don;t you? ” And the plan stinketh” If you don’t, google it in. The story says it all. What can we do to help? I still believe in public education and have met few teachers who were not doing the very best they could!

  8. BJ Boyarsky

    Just saying:

    Note that our Constitution clearly states that NC should provide free public schools to all. It does not mention supporting private schools.

    ARTICLE IX, Section 2. Of the NC Constitution reads:
    Sec. 2. Uniform system of schools.
    (1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.

  9. Lauranne Nuttall

    Joel, I love your reasoning. My question is “Why can’t the members of the General Assembly see your reasoning as well”? Maybe we need to elect teachers to the GA in hopes that their higher education would allow them to understand just what you are saying. Where do they these people come from? God forbid, I helped put one in. Thanks for you sanity.

  10. Kristie Arrowood

    Joel. . . I AM that teacher! I just finished my 5th year teaching and am in the process of getting my master’s degree. . . however, none of that seems to matter to those in charge. If their plans go through, I will continue to be paid the same as a teacher in their first year with no advanced degree. And they wonder why the teacher turnover rate is skyrocketing.

  11. T.D.

    Excellent letter. The only thing that will be left is job security when all of the teachers who can leave NC teaching positions or who are eligible to retire, leave. Then there will be a HUGE teacher shortage! So sad.~~~~An NC teacher!

  12. Billie Proctor

    What can you expect from Republicans? They help the rich get richer and keep the poor down in everything. So very sad. Thanks for sharing. Billie

  13. Patrick R Rogers

    There is so much ignorance in so many of these responses I don’t even know where to begin. But I will tell you this. Get your eyes off the legislature and look at school administration and the student body and the culture and climate of the classroom, and you’ll find where education’s real problem is. The enemy is not the legislature. I have seen the enemy and it is US!

    • kendal

      Will you please explain the ignorance you mention? I am trying to understand these issues. I am a teacher who feels an undercurrent of disrespect and mistrust – I don’t feel that in my building or community, but do when I read the bills proposed by my state legislators. In what way am I being ignorant?

  14. George

    Thank you, Joel. My wife is a Music Teacher, and she luckily already has received her pay increase for receiving her Master’s. I am concerned that her pay will actually be lowered at some future date.

    In your reading, have you been able to figure out how the merit pay system will work? My wife is a music teacher, and there isn’t an EOG test for music. I wonder how the many arts and music teachers’ pay will be decided upon with no test to (supposedly) judge their merit as teachers?

  15. matt

    A better example might be…

    Walmart has been taking $500 out of your monthly paycheck whether you like it or not, whether you shop and Walmart or not, whether you think Walmart sells a crappy product or not. You can shop at Target if you want, but you still must let Walmart keep your $500.

    Now, Walmart says, “We hope you will choose to shop with us. But, to be fair, we are now only going to take $200 from your paycheck, and give you the other $300 to shop elsewhere. Try to show a little gratitude.”

    I understand that vouchers will pull resources away from public schools, but I still don’t understand why public schools are seen as a sacred cow. Systemically, your position sounds noble and well-intentioned, but it falls apart when you consider a lower to lower-middle class family who, RIGHT NOW, must suffer through a tragically underperforming school.

    That student now has an opportunity to receive a quality education from a school he/she deems worthy of their time and money, instead of slogging away in a school where he/she has a 2-out-of-5 chance of performing at or above grade level, never mind at a level capable of competing for scholarships and college admissions with more privileged students.

    Long term, I will admit… this may lead to closings, redistricting, and consolidation of resources for public schools. In my opinion, this is not a bad thing. The purpose of these tax dollars is to EDUCATE children, not to prop up institutions or ensure job security for adults.

    • Salvador Dalai Llama

      Boy, that analogy would be really great if WalMart also provide police and fire service, maintained roads, supported public libraries…

      I’m sorry, Matt, that the State is taking some of your hard-earned money and using it to prevent the breakdown of society. That’s tough.

      Why are public schools a sacred cow? Because without them, class mobility, which is already at frighteningly low levels in our society, will be even further restricted. Without them, only the rich will be able to obtain a decent education. Of course, that assumes that private schools do, indeed, perform better than public schools, which is not always the case. The best private schools will be very swanky indeed, but the ones that I could afford for $4000 a year might be, well, somewhat less effective.

      I think Mr. Orr’s point is that the money would be better spent to fix underperforming schools. That would be the most efficient use for the longest term of that money. Ironically, it seems that the best way to fix underperforming schools is to alleviate poverty–the best way to do that is to invest in infrastructure, schools, and services to lure better-paying employers to the state, and the best way to do that is to actually focus on jobs and infrastructure rather than legislation which is alternately crazy and punitive. This latter trick seems something the current legislature is ill-equipped to perform.


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