Education

NCAE calls on lawmakers for more funding for teacher and student supports

Posted February 1, 2021 5:49 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2021 9:05 p.m. EST

North Carolina Association of Educators, NCAE

— Increasing funding for educators, support staff and student support systems are the top legislative priorities for North Carolina’s largest teachers organization.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has released 12 priorities, largely requiring an increase in funding, for the 2021 legislative session.

A common priority for the association and others — including state education leaders and a state education think tank — is expanding access to broadband Internet in rural parts of the state. That’s been a bipartisan concern since the COVID-19 pandemic forced education to be largely remote. NCAE has opposed reopening schools for in-person instruction without certain safety measures.

Recent studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two North Carolina universities and others suggest relatively lower rates of COVID-19 transmission at schools that had reopened, compared to their communities. The CDC recommends “proper mitigation strategies” for school reopening.

School reopening is a contentious issue, as many families fear spread of the virus while many others contend their children aren’t learning as well in a virtual environment. Some North Carolina school districts have reopened for in-person learning, but the state’s largest, the Wake County Public School System, is virtual for the at least the start of the spring semester.

During an outdoor news conference announcing the priorities Monday afternoon, Tamika Walker Kelly, NCAE president, also touched on school reopening. She argued that schools need more resources to safely reopen.

Walker Kelly wants students back in classrooms, but the association opposes reopening if sufficient personal protective equipment, vaccines and other safety precautions aren’t available to educators. North Carolina and 26 other states haven’t yet opened vaccination eligibility to educators.

“We know that what we are requesting here is not insignificant,” Walker Kelly said. “It will require additional funding.”

She called a recent proposal to allocate more public dollar for private school vouchers “opportunistic” and “destructive” during a time in which public schools need more money, badly.

Halting private school vouchers is one of the priorities NCAE announced Monday, and it has been a long-time priority of the association.

NCAE has also has for a wage increase for education support professionals — such as teacher aides, food service workers or administrative assistants — to $15 per hour. It wasn’t clear Monday how much that would cost.

The association also advocates for restoring pay increases based on master’s degree attainment or longevity, increased cost of living adjustments for retirees and restoration of state health care benefits for new teaching hires.

NCAE also recommends efforts to help students, such as hiring more school nurses and psychologists and expanding Medicaid to cover more lower-income North Carolina families. Additional support personnel at schools would help with the “many mental and emotion challenges our students are facing daily” because of the pandemic and allow schools to meeting nationally recommended ratios of those personnel to students.

Starting this month, NCAE will solicit feedback from North Carolinians via an in-person listening tour all 100 North Carolina counties until June.

“We know that public education benefits everyone, from rural to urban, black to white, rich to poor and even Democrats and Republicans,” Walker Kelly said.

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