The secret Senate attack on the teaching profession

The secret Senate attack on the teaching profession

- in Fitzsimon File

education-budget-400No one disputes that North Carolina faces a teacher shortage in the not too distant future. Not only are veteran teachers leaving the profession because of low pay, frustrating working conditions and lack of respect from state policymakers, enrollment in education programs at UNC campuses is dropping too, down 17 percent in the last four years even as North Carolina’s population grows and more kids are showing up at school.

Legislative leaders have responded in the last two years by raising starting pay. Provisions in both the House and Senate budgets would raise the salary for new teachers to $35,000, but that’s still below what many entry-level administrative personnel in state government earn. And many veteran teachers will face another year with barely a raise at all under the Senate budget.

Senate leaders don’t seem too concerned. They apparently don’t see teaching as a career anymore, just something young people dabble in for a few years before finding another profession.

That’s the only conclusion to draw from their budget, especially when you consider a startling provision buried deep in the 500 plus page budget bill that would end health care coverage in retirement for teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016.

The radical change in benefits, first reported by Lindsay Wagner at NC Policy Watch, was never discussed or debated in public by a Senate committee and never mentioned on the Senate floor.

A News & Observer story on the change says Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca, who is rarely at a loss for words, had no comment on the provision since it didn’t come from his committee.

The same story says Senator Harry Brown, a top budget writer, walked away from a reporter when asked about ending the health care benefit.

It’s as if Apodaca and Brown are ashamed of what they have done—and they ought to be. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said that secretly cutting off retirement health care for new employees was a “prudent way to way to address the long-term viability of the State Health Plan,” a talking point recently parroted by a prominent right-wing pundit on a television talk show.

Apparently the only “prudent” way to address a financial concern about health care for teachers and state employees is to slash the benefits by sneaking a provision into a massive budget bill and hoping nobody notices.

Otherwise there might be an actual debate about how we attract and keep qualified teachers—and state employees for that matter—-and suggestions that maybe we could address the problems in the State Health Plan by providing more funding for it instead of cutting taxes by another billion dollars as the Senate budget proposes.

Senate leaders don’t want to talk about that.

They’d rather boast about how much they are raising teacher pay because they claim to understand that the most important part of ensuring a quality education for North Carolina students is a quality teacher in every classroom.

But many of the state’s best teachers are not getting a raise and bright college students thinking about a career in the classroom just got another reminder that policymakers don’t want quality teachers to stay in the profession and hone their craft and help students learn.

It’s all about saving money to cut taxes, not educating kids or supporting teachers. That’s at the core of the ideology of the folks in charge of the Senate these days, and they know it’s not popular with the people they are supposed to be representing.

No wonder they walk away from questions.