We understand teachers’ frustration over the Legislature’s slow progress combating the growing teacher shortage, and we share much of it.
Although lawmakers are poised to make a significant investment this year in increasing teachers’ salaries as part of a multiyear effort to reverse years of underfunding, there is in fact room in next year’s state budget to invest more in teachers and other school-related needs, without cutting spending in other important programs. Not a lot more, but more.
And it’s deeply disappointing that the Senate hasn’t moved faster on a package of other important changes that could make the teaching profession more attractive and improve the education our state provides to children who need the most help.
But a teacher walkout based on the argument that teachers’ “grievances” have “fallen on deaf ears” in a Legislature that is poised to give teachers a 4 percent pay raise, and whose leaders are committed to making this the first increase in a multi-year effort is an unreasonable reaction.
Yes, organizers of the SC for Ed initiative argue that it’s not a walkout. They’re calling it a “day of reflection and renewal,” and teachers who participate will use personal leave days — thus assuring that their students have a substitute teacher and that they aren't violating the state's prohibition on public employee strikes.
No, a 4 percent pay raise might not return teacher pay to the Southeastern average, as required by law, and even if it did, it wouldn’t make up for years of missing the goal.
Yes, May 1 is the date that teachers in North Carolina are staging their own walkout, and S.C. teachers understandably want to be seen as part of a larger effort.
But even if it might not meet the definition, the planned “day of reflection” looks to all the world like an illegal and politically unpopular teacher strike.
And beside the fact that unilateral demands have no place in public policy debates, the idea that lawmakers have demonstrated “a lack of good faith action on the matters public school teachers have petitioned for redress throughout this session” is patently false.
In a year when other state employees will receive 2 percent raises, the House and Senate both have added $159 million to next year’s state budget to cover those 4 percent teacher raises and to increase starting teachers’ salaries to $35,000 — up from $30,000 a year ago.
By insisting on getting 100 percent of their demands, and by mimicking union actions, SC for Ed supporters run the risk of sabotaging the support that has been building in the Legislature to improve teacher pay and working conditions and to make reforms that will help our state provide a decent education to all children, regardless of where they live.
Roughly speaking, teachers’ likelihood of receiving the increased pay and improved working conditions that they deserve is inversely proportional to the size of their walkout. We urge teachers to boycott this walkout, a bad idea that’s based on unrealistic expectations and will do far more harm than good.
Editors' note: This editorial has been updated to correct starting teachers' pay for a year ago.