Tuesday, June 21, 2011

After the veto override, teachers keep jobs

Governor Perdue vetoed the Republican legislature's budget, saying the budget made too many cuts in education funding. The legislature, along mostly partisan lines (with five Democrats in the House siding with the majority), voted to override the veto.

Then a strange thing happened: School superintendents in Wilson, Raleigh and Charlotte announced that they would have enough funding from the sharply constrained state budget to retain all current teaching positions. No layoffs for teachers. Despite dire warnings that the Republican-written budget would result in massive teacher layoffs and a resultant decline in educational quality throughout the state, it looks like most school systems will survive with their teaching positions intact. Some support positions, even some "central office" positions, will be eliminated; after all, even Perdue's budget contained severe cuts in education funding. But massive layoffs of teachers statewide? It doesn't look like that will happen.

That's not to say that there aren't severe -- and questionable -- cuts in state funding. Mental health services will suffer. Prisons will be without peacekeeping chaplains. Many teacher aide positions will disappear (although there will be money to reduce class size in kindergarten and first grade -- a tradeoff whose wisdom I question). In what seems to me might be the worst for the long-term health of public schools, legislators decided to eliminate the Teaching Fellows scholarship program. For 25 years, this innovative program has provided four-year scholarships to students willing to teach in public schools for a minimum of four years. Teaching Fellows targeted academically superior students and provided enrichment opportunities in an effort to improve the quality of the state's teachers, and it is teacher quality, more than any other factor, that improves student performance. (Full disclosure: My younger daughter was a Teaching Fellow and was an exceptionally good math teacher in three different school systems, more than fulfilling her obligation to the state, before resigning to raise her children.) If the Republicans running the General Assembly are going to reduce class size, thereby increasing the number of teachers, they'll need a Teaching Fellows program to attract students into the ranks of teaching.

For legislators (and others) who want to know what's wrong with public education, I recommend this article from The Atlantic. Although many of the problems cited are confined to New York City Schools and other heavily unionized systems, the interests of the entrenched bureaucracy and the "us first" attitude of the teacher unions (the North Carolina Association of Educators is an affiliate of the National Education Association) also apply to North Carolina.

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