Since Mark Jewell was first elected to be president of the North Carolina Association of Educators in 2016, he has been an outspoken leader of the 60,000-member teacher advocacy organization. He led two high-profile marches on the General Assembly that brought thousands of North Carolina educators to downtown Raleigh to demand better pay teachers and increased funding for public schools.
Now after two terms, Jewell is stepping down; his tenure expires June 30.
Jewell is running for the executive committee of the National Education Association. With more than 3 million members, the NEA is the nation’s largest labor union and professional interest group. It represents public school teachers, support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators and college students preparing to become teachers. If elected, Jewell would serve full-time on the nine-member committee that is responsible for general policy and NEA interests. The committee also represents the NEA board of directors between the board’s regularly scheduled meetings.
Jewell agreed to answer some questions from Policy Watch about his time as president of the NCAE.
PW: As your tenure as president of the NCAE comes to an end, what do you think is the organization’s greatest achievement under your leadership?
NCAE was able to convince a critical mass of educators that you cannot have good public education policy without politicians who support great public schools for every child. That includes all branches of government. It started when the Supreme Court approved the use of school vouchers which was the most political and unconstitutional vote affecting public schools in our lifetime. In my first year, NCAE members funded an independent expenditure to oust a member of that court who voted wrong, and our members took that energy to the 2018 elections to oust another sitting justice who ruled incorrectly.
Also, we won almost all of our targeted legislative races to provide our “Education Governor” [Gov. Roy Cooper] the votes he needed to sustain his vetoes. As the 2020 elections approach, NCAE is primed to have the public education support in all three branches to assure every child in North Carolina attends a great public school. Then and then only can we restore our reputation and brand in America.
What is your greatest disappointment when you look back over your time as president?
Our failure to get the legislature to restore the funding of public schools at the 2008 level with a cost of living adjustment did more damage to the most vulnerable students in our state than any inaction I know. This legislature crippled an attractive teacher pay plan, discriminated against school personnel in pay who did similar jobs as state employees, eliminated support services for students like teacher assistants, failed to extend Medicaid to the families of many of our students, and continually disrespected the hard working educators in North Carolina in word and deed.
Do you think the teacher marches on Raleigh made a difference? And if yes, how so?
Absolutely! The mobilization of tens of thousands of educators from every part of the state allowed the marchers to see up front and personal a recalcitrant legislature who was not acting in the best interest of their students. For the marchers, it was no longer about political party, it was about electing courageous legislators with integrity and loyalty to public schools. They will never forget that experience.
Will North Carolina ever fulfill the promise of the Leandro case?
That depends on the results of the 2020 election. Every candidate in every branch of government needs to be asked that question, and North Carolina voters must stand by their public schools when they cast a ballot. This state cannot afford our poorest students being left out of educational opportunity. A constitutional right to a sound basic education must be preserved for North Carolina to thrive.
What does the next chapter of your life look like?
My heart is in the classroom, but my experiences have prepared me to run for the NEA executive committee, which is a full-time position in the governing structure of America’s largest union. That election will take place in July so when school opens after Aug. 17, I will either be working in some capacity with North Carolina Public Schools. or I will be fighting for teachers and education support professionals throughout the country. Either place is rewarding and joyous for me.