RALEIGH — On the same day that the General Assembly was working to pass a $1.1 billion dollar coronavirus relief package that includes $115 million in education spending, the North Carolina affiliate of one of the largest national teacher unions was asking for even more funding.
The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA) held a press event led by NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly.
“The General Assembly likes to talk about saving for a rainy day, and we need to make it clear that for public school educators and parents, it’s been raining for months,” said Kelly in a release prior to the event.
Flanking Kelley in front of the legislature were several women carrying red umbrellas. The umbrellas were an attempt to tie in the theme of “raining down funding” for education by tapping the state’s Savings Reserve Fund, often referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund.”
“Educators have been working day in and day out to shelter students from this storm” said Kelly of the pandemic situation. She said it was time for lawmakers to “offer their umbrella of assistance” to teachers and citizens.
“Let’s face it, it is raining and it has been raining for a very long time,” said Kelly. She also said that the “storm has been going on for months” and said the federal response to the pandemic was “inadequate.”
Kelly cited “$900 million” in CARES Act money available and that more of it should be use for education. She also called for $44.5 million for PPE, despite around 70% of the state’s schools being closed, many of which will remain so for at least the first quarter.
Lawmakers have already appropriated $600 million for K-12 education and nearly $400 million in federal CARES Act money. If signed by Cooper, the latest round of COVID relief from the General Assembly adds even more, with over $1 billion in total appropriations, $115 million of which is for education purposes.
Other demands made by Kelly and the NCAE included holding districts harmless for enrollment declines due to COVID-19 school closures, which the legislature was already doing while the press conference was going via House Bill 1105.
Another theme during the event was more money to “feed and house our kids.” One of the speakers said that she and other teachers shouldn’t have to choose between “food or hand sanitizer” for her students.
Kelly called on the legislature to “extend the eviction moratorium.” She said evictions that were increasing due to moratoriums expiring could impact the “4 out of 5 students” who were at home due to school closures. Yet, the NCAE was instrumental in keeping school districts closed to in-person instruction.
Over the summer, the NCAE organized protests and letter writing campaigns across the state to pressure Gov. Roy Cooper and the districts to keep schools closed. The governor was notably two weeks late in announcing school reopening plans on July 14. At that time, Cooper said the state’s schools would reopen under “Plan B” but he also said districts could decide to use “Plan C,” which is remote instruction only.
The NCAE event concluded with a “car caravan” set up by Organize2020, the NCAE Racial and Social Justice Caucus. Less than a dozen cars participated, honking their horns as they passed by the General Assembly building.
While the NCAE was asking for more money, their parent organization had recently released their annual education spending rankings. North Carolina landed at number one in the Southeast and within the top six states nationally for education funding metrics.
The NEA rankings for North Carolina included coming in first in the Southeast and seventh nationwide for increases to K-12 funding during 2019-20. For that same year, the state came in first place in the Southeast and sixth nationally for increases to K-12 funding per student.
During 2018-19, North Carolina increases in public school instructional staff salaries ranked the state fourth in the country and, again, first in the Southeast. For that same year, increases in teacher salaries by the Republican-led General Assembly were also ranked first in the Southeast and third nationally.
Under Republican leadership, the state’s education budget increased from $7.6 billion in 2011 to $9.8 billion in 2019.
Around half a dozen media outlets were the only ones in attendance at the NCAE event, whereas a crowd of about 50, including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, converged on a rally in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The OSP is a popular school choice option that grants $4,200 scholarships to eligible low-income students for tuition at the private school of their choosing.
The school choice rally was put together by Parents for Educational Freedom North Carolina (PEFNC). PEFNC’s Executive Vice President Brian Jodice said that families and teachers were there to show their support for the program and to thank legislators for recently expanding some of the program’s options.
“What we’ve always been proponents for is opening up resources for families to be able to benefit,” said Jodice. “And for a funding system that benefits families and children that keeps the end user – the student – in mind.”
Jodice said it was unfortunate that there is an “education elite in this state” that wants to take all the resources and dictate how they are spent. He said that pattern and way of thinking just isn’t working for students and families.
“We’ve always said let the resources follow the child and that’s the beauty of school choice,” said Jodice. He added that education spending shouldn’t be a case of pitting public against private or charters, but instead should be about “freeing up resources” in the best interest of the child.
“Unfortunately, it looks like the NCAE and their allies are continuing to prioritize buildings and systems over families and students,” said Jodice. “So, you know what we said why don’t we bring some families here today and let them be a voice for what really matters most, which is our student and those families.”