Publisher's note: This post, by Bob Luebke, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
Today the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is holding a rally in Raleigh where the organization is having teachers meet to lobby legislators for higher salaries and more education funding. The event has garnered significant media coverage, yet we'd like to respond to a few questions raised by recent developments.
1. The May 16th teacher rally is called March for Students and Rally for Respect. Why does Civitas refer to the rally as a teacher walk out or strike?
At last count, today's rally forced the closure of 40 school districts enrolling nearly 1 million students - approximately 2/3 of all K-12 students in North Carolina. The closed districts employ approximately 60,000 teachers. NCAE organizers expect 15-20,000 teachers to attend the rally.
School officials are quick to say since schools are closed, teachers are not missing work. The reason for school closure however is that too many teachers are missing from the classroom.
Chapter 95-98-2 of the North Carolina State Statutes defines strike as follows:
- 95-98.2. Strike defined. The word "strike" as used herein shall mean a cessation or deliberate slowing down of work by a combination of persons as a means of enforcing compliance with a demand upon the employer, but shall not include protected activity under Article 16 of this Chapter: Provided, however, that nothing herein shall limit or impair the right of any public employee to express or communicate a complaint or opinion on any matter related to the conditions of public employment so long as the same is not designed to and does not interfere with the full, faithful, and proper performance of the duties of employment. (1981, c. 958, s. 1.)
Some relevant facts: Thousands of students aren't in school because thousands of teachers are in Raleigh lobbying legislators for higher pay and more funding for education. Teachers are voluntarily participating in an organized event where they will be making demands on their employer - the state. As a result of those activities instruction in forty districts has been stopped or slowed.
Teacher strikes are prohibited in North Carolina. Chapter: 95-98:1 of the North Carolina statutes prohibits strikes by public employees. It reads:
95-98.1. Strikes by public employees prohibited. Strikes by public employees are hereby declared illegal and against the public policy of this State. No person holding a position either full-or part-time by appointment or employment with the State of North Carolina or in any county, city, town or other political subdivision of the State of North Carolina, or in any agency of any of them, shall willfully participate in a strike by public employees. (1981, c. 958, s. 1.)
Joining a strike by public employees is a class 1 misdemeanor, (95.99) which carries a maximum penalty of 120 days in jail and a discretionary fine.
Since teachers are public employees and because voluntary teacher actions contributed directly to a "cessation or deliberate slowing down of work as a means of enforcing compliance with a demand upon the employer" such actions are consistent with the definition of a strike and - in our opinion - violate North Carolina law.
2. What are NCAE's goals for the rally?
NCAE calls the May 16th Rally for Respect
. As much as NCAE wants to say the rally is about respect, their agenda for legislators
released yesterday says otherwise. Major demands included:
- Ending experienced educator pay discrimination
- Average Teacher Pay to National Average in Four Years
- Restoring Advanced Degree Pay
- Restoring Longevity Pay
- Annual Cost of Living Increase
- Ending Pay for performance based on test scores including for administrators
- Reinstating Career Status
- Adding at least 500 additional school nurses, social workers and counselors this year
- Expanding Medicaid for vulnerable students
- No corporate tax cuts until per pupil spending and teacher pay reach the national average
Every bullet point listed is a demand for more money; lots of money. NCAE even weighs in on expanding Medicaid and ending corporate tax cuts. And you didn't think NCAE "did" social and fiscal policy. If the North Carolina General Assembly were to implement every demand it would cost North Carolina taxpayers billions of dollars.
As progressive as NCAE likes to consider itself, these demands show that NCAE wants to turn back the clock to when teachers had lifetime jobs and pay raises were not tied to performance. NCAE's deep opposition to linking pay and performance puts teachers outside the mainstream as to how most North Carolinians think about teacher pay.
What's also interesting is what's not on this list. There are no initiatives focused on student outcomes or academic achievement. Aside from two references to expanding Medicaid for vulnerable students and halting the decline in corporate taxes the entire agenda is focused on obtaining more money. More money for higher salaries, more staff and better benefits - the focus is exclusively on inputs. NCAE prefers that no one focus on student outcomes.
3. NCAE says May 16th is about respect. Others say the NCAE teacher-walk out is about money and politics. Who's right?
NCAE is the largest professional association in North Carolina. NCAE claims it is not a union since North Carolina is a right-to-work state and no employee can be compelled to join a union. This is a fine - but important point. Even though NCAE is not a union, NCAE members are required to join NCAE's parent organization
, the National Education Association (NEA). Doing so makes NCAE members part of the largest teacher's union in the nation.
NCAE and other NEA unions are political organizations that represent teacher's interests. They are deeply involved in the process of advocating for legislation. These organizations have contributed millions of dollars to elect political candidates who reflect their views. It's no secret that NCAE and NEA overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates, political contributions heavily favor Democrats. Those realities along with the Republican ascendency to power in the State legislature in 2011contributed to a significant loss of influence for the NCAE over education policy over the last several years.
Sensing a change in public currents in such places as Arizona, Oklahoma and West Virginia, NCAE is certainly looking to organize and energize its members. The organization has historically been shy about how they are using the day to organize and energize
its membership with an eye toward mobilizing for the 2020 elections
. But not anymore.
A recently obtained May 16th coalition email discusses NCAE's plan for the rally and how it needs to organize and mobilize to be an effective union in North Carolina.
- You'll hear lots of talk about the November elections on May 16th. That's important. Look at the numbers again. We could fill up every seat. But also remember what it feels like to be in the streets with tens of thousands of people, all wearing the same color, and making a sacrifice to be with each other and fight with and for each other and our students. Look around and imagine what would happen if all those people sent an email to, or called, the same human being on the same day. What if we all spent our money somewhere specific, or specifically didn't. What if we showed up, with all those people, at every school board meeting? What if everyone there joined NCAE at the same time and local leaders could get the time and support they needed to become skilled organizers we need? What if we correct Phil Berger? This isn't union-like activity. It's union activity
The document continues,
- If May 16th is going to matter, we have to build our union. From the Facebook pages and building discussions, it's clear that there are mixed feelings about NCAE. Some people don't feel like the organization's body of work is worth the cost of membership. Other people were once members and had bad experiences. Some people think we are "too political" Other people don't think we fight hard enough. ...The political leadership in Raleigh is afraid of us now because we are organized. From here we can win things for our students and each other. From here we can have the future we deserve. No one is going to give us anything. We have to get organized and go get it. Our students, our co-workers, and our families are worth it. So are we.
Moreover, NCAE President Mark Jewell has abandoned all non-partisan pretenses when talking about November. Commenting on upcoming prospects for the legislature, Jewell boldly told a reporter from WRAL
, "We don't anticipate much change from this group. So, we're going to change the players in the game."
Nor has Jewell been bashful about sharing such sentiments via Twitter. One NCAE tweet
reads: "If legislators don't want to listen now, they WILL hear about it on Nov.6. See you at the polls. -Rest assured, the journey begins May 16th."
Let's face it, Jewell and other union leaders are sensing an opportunity to reenergize NCAE. Jewell and other union leaders believe what happened in Arizona, Oklahoma and West Virginia can happen in North Carolina. Others disagree. Jewell fails to tell you that those states ranked lower on average teacher salaries than North Carolina. Furthermore, none of the teachers in states participating in teacher strikes or walkouts received four consecutive pay raises.
Jewell fails to tell you that NCAE membership is down 40 percent
over the past five years, the third largest decline among existing affiliates, or that in 2015-16 NCAE posted a $754,000 operating deficit, the seventh largest deficit of NEA state affiliates. NCAE has been losing members and money for years. Jewell and others are betting the declines have cratered their influence and that's why NCAE is desperately using May 16 to rebuild their union ranks and mobilize for 2020.
4. NCAE is asking the legislature to raise teacher pay and boost funding for education. What are the recent trends in North Carolina with regards to educational funding and teacher pay?
State appropriations for K-12 public schools
have increased every year since 2011, the year when Republicans gained majorities in both houses of the legislature, growing from $7.15 billion (2011) to $8.93 billion in 2017-18. Last year total spending - state, federal and local - on the public schools was $13.1 billion
, that's up from $11.8 billion in 2010-11. There have been, however, declines in overall appropriation levels in recent years. The largest two-year decline (12.6 percent) in public school spending occurred in 2009-2011, years when Democrats controlled both Houses of the state legislature as well as the Governor's office. Curiously, NCAE didn't organize any rallies for respect as education spending dropped by one-eighth in just two years.
This week legislative leadership announced that teachers should expect to see an average 6.2 percent pay raise in 2018-19
. It will be the fifth consecutive pay raise for teachers in North Carolina. The changes will increase average teacher from $51,214 to $53,600
When implemented, the changes make the average teacher pay raise since 2013 $8,600. The average cumulative percentage pay increase for teachers since 2013 is 19 percent.
Earlier this year the NEA salary survey ranked North Carolina 37th
among states in average teacher salary. When those results were adjusted by cost of living, North Carolina placed 29th
Finally, another relevant point to consider when discussing North Carolina teacher pay. Average teacher pay does not include benefits
(e.g. health and life insurance, retirement) or pay differentials for academic degrees (e.g. master's degree) or certifications (e.g. National Board of Professional Teaching Standards), which can boost a teacher's salary 10-12 percent. Beginning teachers with a bachelor's degree in Wake County receive benefits valued at $16,000. Experienced teachers with a bachelor's degree (30 years of experience) receive a benefit package more than $21,500. Experienced Wake County teachers with both a Master's degree and NBPTS certification can earn $102,500.