When teachers across the state staged a “walk-in” to draw attention to the cuts to education, two of our state leaders had remarkably different reactions. Gov. Pat McCrory started backtracking after signing the budget that did the damage. He said teachers had legitimate grievances and announced his teacher advisory committee.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, though, warned the teachers about “bullying” legislators. Seriously. The guy who denied teachers raises, ended their job security, increased their work load by eliminating assistants and increasing class sizes thinks teachers are trying to bully him. And Berger holds the purse strings.

This looks much more like an abusive relationship than a bullying one. Nobody believes a group of teachers can bully the most powerful man in the state. But like an abusive spouse or parent, Berger is blaming the victim. He’s basically threatening, “Are you gonna make me beat you some more?” His response is disturbing. He doesn’t even acknowledge the complaints as legitimate.

So why the difference in the responses? Well, McCrory suddenly understands that harming public schools and teachers is a political liability. His approval ratings are in the tank and he’s not going to revive them by looking mean and uncaring. McCrory seems to be learning from his mistakes during his first nine months. At least he’s listening. Or pretending to. Now, we need to see if he has the backbone to stand up to the legislature.

Berger, on the other hand, is confident in his redistricting. He sees little political risk and is not going to tolerate dissent from his underlings. I don’t know if some teacher gave him an unwarranted paddling when he was a kid, but he obviously has resentments against teachers. Throughout the legislative session, he showed them no respect and he barely contained his pleasure at screwing them. Hence, his threatening tone.

Veteran teachers are leaving the public schools. Maybe that’s what Berger and company want to happen. It’s cheaper to hire younger, inexperience teachers and money is all that GOP legislators seem to care about. Or maybe it’s part of a bigger plan. Break the public schools by ridding them of their best and most experienced educators and use their demise as an excuse to expand the voucher program to subsidize more private schools. Regardless, our kids are the ones who will really suffer.

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