Thursday, August 1, 2013

Seems I moved to Oceania...

Two years ago, I moved from Illinois to North Carolina. It was a jarring move - I'm a life-time resident of the Land of Lincoln, a state where politics are considered a true sporting event. Yet despite the state-wide passion for political sport, governance of that state is at an all-time low. Governors tend to end up in jail. Illinois is facing a terrible fiscal crisis caused by unfunded pensions. Pat Quinn, Illinois' current governor, is now withholding legislator salaries until the passage of pension reform; House Speaker Mike Madigan, the most powerful man in the state, has filed suit because he wants his paycheck regardless of whether or not a significant, long-term problem is solved for the state.

Because of the serious and ongoing political issues of Illinois, I was, to be frank, looking forward to a change of pace. 

And the Tar Heel state CERTAINLY has provided that for me... in spades! The GOP has taken charge - and as a colleague told me the other day, the state today is vastly different than the state I moved to two years ago.

What is the Tar Heel State?
North Carolina is a fascinating state; very rural in many places, but with an extraordinary focus on innovation in the Research triangle area (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). According to the US Census, the median family income is about $46,000, ranking it in the bottom half of the United States. Poverty is a significant issue - about 16 percent of the state's residents live in poverty.

Geographically, it's the widest state in the nation; bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and the beautiful Outerbanks, and on the west, it holds the magnificent beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains. This is a state with historical significance - North Carolina is one of the 13 original colonies; home of some of the first English colonial settlements. 

The Wright brothers first took flight here in this state, at Kitty Hawk. Sometimes, what happens in North Carolina can transform the world. 

Education long a priority
North Carolina has been known for its focus on education. My children are in the local schools; I've been exceptionally happy with their teachers, with their principal, with their supplementary teachers in band and art. I love my school; I appreciate the local businesses who support our fundraisers. 

It seems, however, that North Carolina is in a transformational moment right now. And not for the better. The 2013 legislative session was one that seized (for a moment or two) the attention of the nation, with stories by the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, among others.

At one point, the 2013 North Carolina legislative session floated the idea of creating a state religion. This was the session that introduced "motorcyclevagina" into our cultural lexicon, shut down abortion clinics in the state and created what some call the worst voter suppression bill in the country.

And then there's education. The 2013 budget has an enormous impact on education as well.

Why I live in Oceania
If you look at the governor's website, the new budget seems like a dream come true for educators, with more money than ever before for education, allowing for investments in early childhood education, $10 million set aside for merit pay for deserving teachers, more resources for digital learning.

But people are not happy. Why is that?

Because North Carolina has become an Orwellian Oceania. Because the governor who likes to give cookies to people protesting serious issues is being disingenous with the facts.


Yes, the education budget is bigger by $400 million than last year's budget. But this is in a state that has systematically chopped funding from education since the crash of 2008. When inflation is factored into the budget, educators are working with significantly less dollars than in 2008. And there are more children entering the system. North Carolina is also one of the states with a high number of English language learners, which means teachers without support are taxed even further in the classroom. $10 million dollars will go toward vouchers, disinvesting funds from public schools.

This is a system where teacher's pay is among the lowest in the nation. Five years ago, North Carolina ranked in the middle for teacher pay. Because of the terrible crash of the economy, teachers have gone without raises for years. This lack of investment in teachers is costly - the state has lost 4,000 new teachers over the last few years - they simply cannot afford to work within the North Carolina system. Losing so many new teachers now has ramifications in the future.

And that $10 million set aside for merit pay? That translates to $500 for each teacher deemed worthy enough to get it.

Even some Republicans are angry.

Tweeting the "truth" the McCrory way
Today, @PatMcCroryNC, the verified account for the governor, is issuing a stream of tweets about education that are incomprehensible to parents who want the best for their children. Here's an assortment:
Education is everyone’s business & only by working together will we make North Carolina a beacon of educational excellence.
Our people deserve better and I know you will join me in making sure education is the leading factor in North Carolina’s economic comeback.
Education is more than testing, pay scales & rankings.
It’s about unleashing teachers & focusing on outcomes that will produce highly qualified workers for well-paying jobs.
That's why I know I've moved to Oceania. Moments after passing a budget that offers no raises, values "merit" work as being worth $500, removes any financial incentive for a teacher to seek a master's degree in education, provides teachers with one-to-four year contracts (a one-year contract is no way to build a curriculum for a classroom, no way to know what you will be doing next year, what matters, how it matters, very unstable!), McCrory takes to Twitter to brag about how much he cares about education.

McCrory is a man who understands the concept of paying people "so that they could afford to live." In fact, one of his first acts as governor was to give his cabinet significant raises so that "they could afford to live." Unfortunately, he seems to feel that only his cronies are deserving of this.

Refusing to acknowledge the fact that pay for North Carolina teachers is among the worst in the nation is a recipe for disaster. Talent will flee. Talent IS fleeing. As a result of the governor's appalling and dishonest approach to governance, the state that once gave us the future of flight is allowing education - the ticket to opportunity and success - to crash down in ruins.

And that is a terrible legacy for McCrory to leave a state that has so much potential.

More links...

NC 2013 budget

NC teacher calls it quits  

What do teachers make? 

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