This Wednesday, May 16, teachers and advocates from across North Carolina will be traveling to Raleigh to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances about the state of public education. Participants will begin the day with a march to the Legislative Building at 10:00 a.m., and conclude with a “Rally for Respect” on Bi-Centennial Plaza 3:30 p.m.
Event organizers have been clear that their goal is “a positive, respectful display of power with numbers.” Explanations of their approach and goals can be found here on the North Carolina Association of Educators website.
As a native North Carolinian, a product of North Carolina public schools, a father of a public-school student, and a Christian pastor, I write to express my support and encouragement for those who plan to attend the march and rally, and for their overall aims.
North Carolina was once a paragon of public education, with vital contributions made by Democratic and Republican leaders throughout the latter half of the 20thcentury. The citizens of our good state saw public education as a common good worth substantial investment. We have all enjoyed the manifold benefits of this shared vision, from an overall decrease in poverty, to a university system that has served as a model of excellence for the nation.
In recent years, leading up to and following the 2008 recession, legislators have cut public school funding, focusing instead on tax-cuts and other initiatives that have left public schools scrambling for dollars. Teachers in North Carolina now make 5% less, on average, than they did before the recession, in inflation-adjusted dollars. They’ve cut 7,500 teaching assistant positions, along with substantially reducing the number of nurses and counselors. They’ve withheld raises from our most experienced teachers, and removed financial incentives for aspiring teachers to further their education.
Even more troubling, legislators have increasingly treated teachers and administrators like enemies. One representative recently called rally organizers “Teacher Union thugs.”
These cuts and accusations have no place in a society committed to preserving the goods we hold in common. They certainly have no place among Christians.
One of the most essential goods we all share is the good of public education. Public schools enrich and sustain the common good because they enable everyone to learn, regardless of income or race. Public school teachers stand tall among us as dedicated public servants, no less crucial to our communities than nurses, first-responders, soldiers and others who give themselves so completely to us every day. Leaving our teachers and schools further diminished will magnify our divisions, and concentrate more power in the hands of fewer people.
Though it is only a small thing, as a token of support to teachers from Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools, First Baptist Church of Asheville will be offering to defray the cost of gas for 10 local teachers and their carpools. (See details, as well as a prayer for educators written by our Minister with Children and Families, Amy Stertz, at fbca.net.)