Raleigh, N.C. — Even though they're on summer break, dozens of teaching assistants spent Tuesday on a field trip, lobbying state lawmakers not to cut their jobs.
The Senate budget for the next two years calls for cutting 8,500 TAs statewide, instead targeting money to hire 6,700 teachers to help reduce class sizes in lower elementary school grades.
Although the new budget year starts Wednesday, lawmakers this week passed a stopgap spending measure to keep state funding at current levels until mid-August so they have a few more weeks to agree on a budget after they return from a week-long break.
"The message the politicians are sending is, 'Y'all have a happy 4th of July! We're going to the beach! Maybe we'll fire you when we get back,'" said Melinda Zarate, state secretary of the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants.
"I'm so shocked, and I'm going to say that I am also angry that these wonderful, hard-working, competent teaching assistants who are so important to education have to spend their summer worrying if they are going to have a job in the fall," said Lisa Kaylie, a parent of two special-needs students in Chapel Hill.
TAs no longer simply make copies for teachers or put together classroom bulletin boards, said Michelle Bailey of Onslow County, the state's current Teaching Assistant of the Year.
"We teach side by side with our teachers in the classroom," Bailey said. "It's as if what we do is not important."
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said that, if the cuts are included in the final budget, the number of TAs statewide will have dropped by 70 percent since 2008-09.
"This is a ridiculous approach to educating our children," Stein said, noting that a lone teacher in a class of 17 kindergartners cannot escort a child to the bathroom or handle a behavioral problem without sacrificing the needs of the rest of the class.
Legislative leaders said school districts have the flexibility to continue funding TA positions with local funding, but Zarate said the uncertain financial picture this summer has already prompted some districts to start cutting back.
"The school systems have to go ahead and make their plans. They can't wait until the beginning of school," she said. "It's just very nerve-wracking. Imagine one of you going home and not knowing if you were going to have a job in the coming months."