Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The unbearable insanity of being in the state of North Carolina

So three years ago, I moved away from a state that half of the residents want to leave. We left Illinois to settle (for now) in the Tar Heel state.

And I have to say - coming from a state everyone wants to leave, a state that has nothing in the coffers but a lot of IOUs to state employees looking for their pensions, a state with political corruption famous throughout the nation - nothing I witnessed in the Land of Lincoln has prepared me for politics in the Tea Party Tar Heel state. Nothing in Illinois - not a series of governors on the path to jail, not Blago and his big mouth (and fondness for Kipling), not RM Daley and his crony capitalism that helped the Loop grow pretty flower boxes and a very expensive Bean as the neighborhoods withered, not the epic failures of privatization set into play by Daley before he retired - none of this prepared me for politics in North Carolina.

That's how crazy it is in this state today.

When we moved to North Carolina from up north, it was in part because North Carolina had a reputation for being a moderate Southern state - purple, not blue or red. This is a Southern state that even went for Obama in 2008 (!!!)

Everything changed in 2010 when the GOP took over the state senate and house. And then it became one of the angriest red states in the country in 2012 when the GOP won all three branches of state government.

Since achieving super party status, the NCGOP has ripped up everything in the social contract - the NCGOP refused Medicaid expansion, initiated some of the worst voter suppression legislation in the country, looked the other way when a big donor started polluting the Dan River, shrank unemployment compensation (which shrank the labor force participation rate), slashed a huge amount of money from the UNC-system budget (no raises for professors either, under NCGOP rule), etc. and so on.

It has been more than half a decade since K-12 teachers were given a substantive raise. A couple years ago, they got a 1.2% raise - but that's not a raise - that didn't even cover cost-of-living increases since the last raise. It was PR that could be spun as a raise, but really, the "raise" probably wouldn't even cover a state politician's Starbucks budget.

Last week, the Republican governor proposed a modest pay raise for many (not all) teachers, and to do so, he had to pull money from the UNC system budget to cover the raises.

Today, after years of starving K-12 teachers (their pay rank dropped from middle of the pack in 2008 to 46th in 2014), the NCGOP-led state Sentate magnanimously announced generous raises for all teachers - raises that would bring NC back up into the middle of the national pack on the teacher pay scale.

Of course there is a catch... teachers must give up tenure if they want the raise. Those who do not want to give up tenure do not get a raise.

Now I may not be the biggest fan of tenure, but this is not the way to get rid of it. To get a long-delayed, much deserved raise in North Carolina, a teacher must first align with NCGOP ideology that tenure has no purpose and no reason for being. In NC, K-12 "tenure" is the right of due process before being dismissed. With that protection removed, I can see a future where teachers who do not teach what the NCGOP deems ideologically appropriate will get fired.

This is a state that made it illegal in 2012 to discuss global warming trends. This is a state that today wants to make it a felony to discuss chemicals used in fracking. This is a state that passed legislation allowing guns in bars and in parks and on college campuses, but arrests citizens for exercising their right to peaceably assemble at the state capitol.

So it is not far-fetched to think that this is a state where untenured teachers who do not teach creationism will get fired.

And that is part of the unbearable insanity that comes with being and living and paying taxes and sending one's children to school in the state of North Carolina.

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