If you’ve been reading this blog (and I’m simultaneously grateful and sorry if you have), you may have noticed that the titles of these posts don’t always fit perfectly with the content of them. That’s because they’re titles of episodes of The West Wing and I’m a super-huge nerd. (I may have put those items in the wrong order.) Tonight, for the first time, I was unable to find a halfway appropriate title. Looking back at two-and-a-half months of blog silence, though, I was reminded of a line of dialogue that fit just right.
I’m supposed to be grateful. For the first time since 2008, I received a meaningful raise this year. There are thousands of WCPSS employees who, like me, will experience varying degrees of relief as they rework their household spending to reflect changes enacted by this year’s state budget. And we’ve been reminded by certain policy makers (ahem, Skip Stam) and pundits that we should be grateful.
Let me be clear: I am grateful. I’m grateful to the thousands of public school workers and concerned citizens who organized during the 2013-2014 school year. It was their actions that forced this General Assembly to make an effort to appear to be doing something—anything—about school funding. I’m grateful to the 18,000 WCPSS employees—teachers and bus drivers, administrators and custodians, instructional assistants, clerical staff, counselors, cafeteria workers, central office personnel—who came to work today ready to do their best work for the students of Wake County. And I’m grateful to this school board and leadership team for the exhausting work they’ve done to balance thousands of competing interests and priorities against shrinking resources and a growing student population.
I am glad to have extra money in my paycheck—and I’m glad for the thousands of other WCPSS employees who will share that experience. But I’m too angry to be grateful.
I’m angry because teachers with decades of experience have seen that service rewarded with pay raises of 0.3%. I’m angry because classified employees—like custodians and secretaries—who work in public schools only got ½ of the raise that their counterparts in other parts of state government received. I’m angry because legislators bemoan the difficult task of finding money for public schools while simultaneously budgeting money for private school vouchers and creating enormous budget deficits through hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest North Carolinians.
This year’s state budget pays for the average 7% teacher raise with cuts to instructional assistants and Medicaid. And, maybe worst of all, it uncouples school funding from student enrollment growth. That last part, it seems to me, is the clearest sign yet that the General Assembly’s agenda isn’t about building stronger public schools: it’s about eliminating them altogether.
But there’s hope for our schools. There’s hope in the thousands of new hires who began work with the Wake County Public School System this year. There’s hope in the sacrifices made daily by public school workers and parents and community leaders who spend their extra time and money on other people’s children. There’s hope in the public school organizing done across Wake County and the entire state last year. And there’s hope on November 4.
Elections matter—even boring midterm ones. On November 4 we can continue to push back against the neoliberal agenda that is crushing NC’s public schools. If you’re a public school worker, parent, supporter or student who will be of legal voting age on or by Election Day, get registered. Get involved. And get out to vote.
We won’t win overnight. But together we can’t lose.