North Carolina Becomes the Front Line of a Brutal Corporate Assault on Education Raging in America
Photo Credit: Kristin Rawls
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Corporate education forces are on a destructive march throughout the U.S. While busting teachers' unions has been long been an initiative of the GOP and Christian Right, it’s also on the agendas of urban mayors like Chicago Democrat Rahm Emmanuel and New York City independent Michael Bloomberg. And it’s a large component of the regressive agenda that has sparked mass popular uprisings in Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.
Enter the notoriously right-wing North Carolina General Assembly. The NCGA has been on the warpath since 2010, when the Tea Party took the state legislature and for the first time in over 150 years of NC history, conservatives gained control of both houses. Since coming to power, they have mounted vicious attacks on voting rights, abortion rights, Medicaid access, unemployment benefits, and public education.
The extreme agenda has prompted the North Carolina NAACP and its president, Rev. Dr. William Barber, to spearhead the Forward Together coalition movement, a broad-based group of 150 organizations in the state, including everything from NARAL Pro-Choice NC to Black Workers for Justice joining together in the fight. The coalition is best-known for drawing tens of thousands to the General Assembly between April and July to protest the aggressive legislative session. The protests galvanized public support throughout the state and led to 925 civil disobedience-related arrests in the NCGA.
It’s no accident that the NC-NAACP-led coalition has made public education a rallying point. Rev. Dr. Barber first gained widespread recognition in the state for his advocacy on behalf of public schools. He became a central figure in Triangle-area organizing against the resegregation of Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools, as well as school choice policies in Wake County that would have destroyed the area’s progress fostering diversity and equal opportunity.
Privatized Education Takes NC by Storm—And NC Teacher Association Fights Back
So the NC-NAACP and its coalition partners were ready when the GOP mounted a full-on assault on public education: In 2013 alone, North Carolina deregulated charter school administration, introduced school vouchers into the state budget, terminated most teaching assistants, raised class sizes, reduced funding for schools, ended supplemental teacher pay for graduate education and dismantled due process protection for teachers, called tenure. The new budget provided no teacher raise – remarkable only because it marked a six-year period in which teachers received virtually no raises and only one 1 percent raise to cover new health insurance costs.
Now North Carolina, long near the bottom in teacher pay, is lowest in teacher salary growth. Plus, the state is rapidly approaching the bottom when it comes to per-capita student spending. The cuts were so severe that when the punitive state budget passed almost two weeks ago, school superintendent June Atkinson, who usually stays below the radar of education politics, noted that she was worried about students in North Carolina for the first time in 30 years.
The GOP’s attacks on education have antagonized the state’s major teacher union affiliate, the North Carolina Association of Educators, which assumed a leading role in the Moral Monday protests after the draconian budget passed. President Rodney Ellis spoke at the July 22 rally, where he said he committed disobedience on behalf of the more than 95,000 teachers and 1.5 million students who would be negatively affected by the state budget. He also challenged teachers to play an active role on July 29, the final Raleigh Moral Monday protest of 2013.
Like every other Moral Monday, the final one had a theme: This time it was the future of education in North Carolina. According to organizers, the protest drew an estimated 10,000 participants. Teachers wearing “red for public ed” T-shirts crowded the lawn by the NCGA Building that day, and helped lead the march to Fayetteville Street. The downtown area became a sea of protest signs contesting corporate education “reforms “with messages like, “Say no to vouchers,” “I’m a teacher, not a tester,” “I teach the new voters of 2014,” “Just another public school teacher with a second job” and many others.