Republicans have spent eight years insisting that the plain truth about their education policies is a Democratic lie. A mind-bending cavalcade of twisted statistics pours forth to obfuscate the facts about a policy of harsh parsimony. As the 2019 legislative session finally adjourned, they shifted to a simpler message: Blame Roy Cooper.
In a Hail Mary move executed in the closing days of the “short” session, Republicans passed a teacher pay increase of 3.9% over two years. Cooper promptly and bravely vetoed it. The GOP, surely having anticipated this decision, energetically moved to define Cooper as an enemy of teachers’ interests. As usual, they looped in their eternal bete noir, the North Carolina Association of Educators, with gubernatorial frontrunner Dan Forest questioning “who they really represent.” Together, they insist, Cooper and his progressive allies failed public-school families.
There are no doubt some exceptions scattered through a 100,000-person workforce, but I am sure most teachers know who really stands with them in the state’s ongoing budget battle. Basic arithmetic reveals that the Republican teacher-pay “raise” was not really a raise at all. Inflation grows at 2% per year; adjusting for CPI growth, a 3.9% raise would leave teachers treading water at best. Note also the timing of their rather calculated move: Republicans unenthusiastically pushed through their bare-bones pay package on the heels of a $250 million corporate tax cut. After slashing corporate taxes for seven straight years, bull-headed Republicans refuse to throw more than a token amount of money at public education.
Cooper, on the other hand, has placed education at the center of his vision for North Carolina. His budget would have allotted a 9.6% raise to the average teacher–more than enough to supersede inflation and a real step toward decent pay. Contrasting sharply with Phil Berger’s punitive rhetoric, Cooper celebrates schools and educators. And yes, it tells you something that the NCAE–the voice of thousands of working teachers–is solidly behind the governor.
Legislative Republicans’ anemic 3.9% pay raise was nothing more than an effort to protect their political flank. The party demonstrates every year that it does not believe public education is worthy of support. As teachers know, there is a clear alignment of forces on this issue, and Republicans are on the side that is hostile to teachers and public schools.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.