All posts by SusanBook

Why I’m Marching

On May 1st, educators in North Carolina have called for a day of action.  They have highlighted five main issues that they’d like to see addressed this budget cycle.  As a parent, I will be marching with them. We are in the midst of a public education crisis and it is time to demand better.

I could give you  a page of statistics and bar graphs, but it feels no one reads those anymore.  I can tell you from personal experience that my son is in crisis in an underfunded public school.  He is on the autism spectrum. There is so much I can’t do to help him in his journey, but the one thing I can do is work to advocate for his teachers and his public school to get the support he needs.  

We can’t hide our heads in the sand, support means funding. We can’t can’t keep patching things over. Our roofs are literally leaking.  Our children don’t have enough busses or drivers, Our children with life threatening health issues don’t have a nurse. Our children struggling with trauma don’t have a mental health professional in their school. Our children have lost thousands of vital TAs that assist with everything from classwork to our special needs kids. Our public schools are starving for funding. This is not just a problem. This is a crisis.

To help my son and many like him, I’ve joined forces with educators and fellow advocates.  We’ve knocked politely on the doors of our Senators and Representatives. We’ve been a part of lobby days, big and small.  We’ve made formal appointments, or we’ve randomly shown up, and had conversations with our lawmakers in and out of the hallways of our General Assembly. We’ve been part of organizations, held demonstrations, and events.  We’ve sent invitations to our lawmakers and officials. We’ve used social media, and engaged politicians on Twitter. We’ve rallied in summers and on weekends. We’ve been nice.

We’ve been told to be patient.  We’ve been told it takes baby steps.  We’ve been told the budget is tight and we can’t do everything.  We’ve seen band aids placed on top of bad policies. We’ve watched as even the baby step bills die in committee.  We’ve experienced closed doors, unanswered emails and phone calls. We’ve gotten polite notes of thank you, but no. Mark Johnson tells us things will be better in 2030.

We demand better for our children.  We’re tired of baby steps to nowhere, We’re tired of a constrained budget manufactured by corporate interests. We’re’ tired of the lack of funding and bad policies.  We’re tired of being told to wait. Our children can’t wait. Many children are in crisis in their public schools across the state at this very moment. Now is not the time to ask.  Now is the time to demand.

No more waiting.  No more asking. No more starving our public schools.  March with our educators as they demand better for our public schools. March with the bus drivers and staff to demand a living wage. March with librarians, nurses, counselors, and  psychologists as they demand to expand their numbers. March with our retired teachers as they demand back retiree benefits and a decent cost of living increase. March with the community to demand health care for families and children. March with parents, but most of all march for all the kids in crisis across the state.  March with me, march with your fists raised high.

If you’re in the Cary area, join us on April 24th from 5pm -8pm at Jordan Lake Brewery for advocacy, information, and fellowship.

The App

A new initiative was just announced today from Mark Johnson and Senator Andy Wells, a Republican from Catawba County. The announcement essentially gives flexible state supply money directly to teachers instead of to districts. Each teacher will receive about $400 each to spend on classroom supplies according to the press conference.

The most startling aspect is that no new money is coming from the state. We are just redistributing money. Senator Wells was quoted as saying “All too often local bureaucrats decided not to spend the money on school supplies” Districts once again are being painted as the bad guys who aren’t using state money properly. I’ve heard this song and dance before. It seems to be the sounding cry before bad policy is introduced.

Districts use state and county buying contracts to purchase the big and basic supplies. These are things like paper, toner, and even toilet paper. Purchasers are trained and it is drilled into their heads that, “You are stewards of the state’s money.” With districts doing less of the buying I see a potential for money loss. Individual buying costs more. Any shopper at Costco knows the power of buying in bulk.

Yesterday the Wake County School Board Superintendent released the budget. As it was presented we learned that half the budget request was due to state obligations and loss of budget flexibility. Loss of budget flexibility costs our districts money, and ultimately the tax payers. This new initiative takes more money from our strapped districts and confines it to a very specific purpose. Budgets need to be as flexible as possible. Districts never know when they might face an unexpected expense like rising utility costs or broken down buses. Loss of flexibility makes budgets for districts that much tighter and expect to feel it in your property taxes.

Teachers absolutely need flexible supply money provided by the state. It should be new appropriations. They shouldn’t have to worry if their district can supply the copy paper. They also have to use an app to purchase. The app itself seems fraught with issues including limited vendors, and limiting when supplies can be purchased. A blog from Florida seems to sum up the issues : Why Teachers Hate Class Wallet

Being a steward of the state’s money isn’t easy. I don’t think an app is the answer. Districts don’t move around supply money just for fun. They move money from one pot or another based on need. It is also tracked and documented with many steps of approval along the way. We may not always agree on how our districts spend their money, we might feel teachers need more supply funds, but this app is just bad policy.

Medicaid Expansion

While we often talk about fully funding our public schools, we don’t often talk about fully funding our families. Strong families make even stronger students, schools, and communities. One way to support strong families is to advocate for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.

While many or our children are covered by current Medicaid, most of their parents and even caregivers fall in the coverage gap. Under current Medicaid restrictions, parents with 3 kids making more than $8,004 without disability are ineligible. A stable home life is important for the health and well being of all our children. Sick parents can have a deep impact on our kids. We all know that problems at home can impact their education.

Healthy parents also lead to healthy children. North Carolina has a terrible infant mortality rate. One way to help change that is to provide better coverage to adults. Many North Carolina women don’t get the pre natal care they need.

Listen I get that many think we should stick to education funding topics only. However, healthy families and communities play a key role in our students’ lives. The financial implications are huge. Medical bills can lead to tough financial choices for families, that they shouldn’t have to make. Check out our partners thoughts on the issue and support Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 5.

https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/profiling-north-carolinas-uninsured-how-expanding-medicaid-can-make-a-difference/

https://www.ncchild.org/north-carolinas-leaders-must-come-together-health-care/

https://www.ncjustice.org/projects/health-advocacy-project/medicaid-expansion/expanding-medicaid-in-nc/

https://action.momsrising.org/sign/nc-med-ex-2019/?source=blog

 


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Lifting Up Our Public Schools

It is School Choice Week in North Carolina.  I’m seeing phrases like, “failing public schools” on twitter by some of school choice’s most ardent believers.  I hate the term, failing public schools.  If there is failure, it is the failure of our state to fully fund our public schools.    However,  sometimes those funding failures aren’t clearly articulated to the public.  Sometimes, we put school boards in the hot seat or even county commissioners.  We see our kid struggle to learn, but sometimes don’t ask the right questions as to why this is happening.    We don’t point the finger in the right place.

Public Schools are public.  That means it is up to us to lift them up.  We can vote, we can advocate, we can speak up.  When we see a problem in our schools, it is our job to find a solution that benefits not just our child, but our community as a whole.    We are the public, and ultimately we are responsible for our schools.  We can’t let them fail.  We can’t let our legislators fail our students any more than they already have.

Here lies the biggest struggle.  How do we lift up problems, and not scare away parents.  I get to hear terms like ‘market share’ in meetings now.  It means administrators and even teachers won’t voice their real concern for needs in the classroom.  As a parent, I’m not always aware of the number of TAs our school has or how much a difference that can make to teachers and students.   Many parents may know that their child’s 4th grade class is overcrowded, but not the reason why.

Despite market share and the threat of competition, we need to speak out.  Rarely do we fix problems and issues with our silence.   We need to get educated on the issues facing our schools.  Parents need teachers to speak out.  Parents need administrators to speak out.  When we identify the problems, we can also identify the solutions.    Don’t be afraid to speak up.

As legislative agendas get finalized by many education non profit organizations and advocates, you will hear about some of those problems and solutions.   As parents, as the public, we need to be part of the solutions.  It might mean showing up to a meeting or two.  Maybe your school could benefit from some education issue forums?  Maybe a legislative visit is in your future?  Save Our Schools NC would be happy to help.  Contact us.  We have materials and are happy to share.

So when looking at other choices I urge you to ask hard questions.  Ask if fully funded, how different our already awesome traditional public schools could be?   We need to make the choice in North Carolina to fully fund our public schools.

 

 

Creating a Positive and Safe School Climate in North Carolina

More and more studies are showing that having a positive school environment can help promote school safety and wellness.  We are starting to see data come out to back up the idea that having a positive school climate and students connected to the school can decrease violence in our schools.  One researcher, Ron Astor, at the Summit on Student Safety and Wellbeing, spoke of starting out with a welcoming school climate in which programs to decrease violence can thrive. Do North Carolina Schools provide a positive welcoming school climate?  My answer is that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

    We need to first look at our physical space. We have billions of dollars of need for renovations in our public schools.  I can’t imagine how we begin to provide a positive school climate, when we literally have trouble with climate.  We have air conditioning and heating failures.  We have mold. We have insect infestations. What we don’t have is a statewide school bond with dedicated money to address the problem.  To have a safe environment for our students we need to begin by providing them a healthy space to learn. School bonds promote school safety.

      Next, our teachers need care too.  We need healthy teachers. We need them physically healthy and mentally healthy.   Our teachers don’t always feel secure. I’m not just talking about rude or violent students.  I’m saying they need to know that if they have a toothache, they can afford the dental bill.  Teachers can hardly feel mentally safe when they are working multiple jobs and worry about bills.  We need to take care of their mental health as well.  I’m sure teachers don’t feel safe when leaders in the state call them thugs for simply advocating for a better living wage.  This also applies to our principals and staff members. We need better teacher pay and benefits to begin our journey to safer schools.  Better teacher pay, better staff pay, and better principal pay promote school safety.

     Next, our students can hardly begin to embrace a social emotional programs with the testing burden perched forever on their shoulders.  We tell them about kindness and empathy yet also tell them that the fate of their future rests on a scan-tron or computerized test. It is difficult to feel safe with constant anxiety.  We need to decrease the testing burden to begin our journey to safer schools.

      Our legislators need to take a hard look at policies they support that have little payoff and seem to cause chaos and anxiety in our schools.  They need to take a look at the class size mandate and the problems it is causing our school boards and our principals. They need to look at principal pay as well and ISD school takeovers.  We can’t have a positive school climate with legislation that is hindering our progress as a state. No one feels a positive connection to a school system in constant crisis.

      Finally,  we need more adults in our kids’ lives that can help them feel safe.  We need our counselors, we need our nurses and we need our psychologists.  They are professionals in school wellness. They do it best and we need more of them in our hallways.  We need healthier ratios than what we have now. We don’t need limited grants where some counties miss out.  We don’t need limited grants that only last for one or two years. We need permanent funding across the state for support staff to begin our journey to safer schools.

     Creating a welcoming positive school climate is step one to a safer school  We have work ahead of us. We need welcoming physical space. We need a staff that is healthy and connected to our students.  The blueprint for a safe school is out there. We just need the public and political will to get started.

 

Giving Thanks

Education in North Carolina seems to be in perpetual crisis mode.  In all honesty, we have a mess.  We still have a class size mandate that is draining our counties of funds and space.  We have a dreadful principal pay policy with consequences on the horizon.  There are no textbooks in many schools;  there are few TAs.  That doesn’t even to begin to address the many issues our teachers face everyday in the classroom.  It is hard to look back and be thankful.

Yet, I’m very thankful.   What a wonderful experience seeing a bill like HB90 get passed.  It was ugly and dirty, but it wouldn’t have happened at all without us.  It wasn’t what we envisioned.  However, how many times did we hear they wouldn’t take up class size.  How many times were we told it was impossible.  I’m thankful we didn’t listen.

I’m thankful for some solid changes to our General Assembly.  We have broken the super majority in the house and senate.  It may not yield drastic changes, but it will change things in NCGA.  I’m especially proud and thankful for everyone who stepped up and worked on campaigns.  Doors were knocked, text and phone calls sent, and postcards written.  I’m thankful for all the hard work to get us in a better starting place then when I began my little advocacy journey.

I’m thankful I got involved.  I’m thankful that I found my voice and new purpose.  Most of all I’m thankful that I get the chance to interact with all of you. I’ve made real solid friendships.  Somehow over coffee meetings and planning rallies, friendships have been forged.  It continues to drive me forward.  I don’t get out much, well except town halls, teach-ins, or lobby days.  I once went alone not anticipating knowing or seeing anyone I knew.  Now, I go to town halls and education events and I’m surrounded by friends and faces I have grown to love.  I am now part of this great education advocate community, and that is why I give thanks.

So let’s celebrate a little.  Let’s talk as human beings not just as advocates.  Let’s share what we want to get accomplished this coming year.  Regardless of what group you are part of, let’s all work together to make solid positive change to our public education funding.

When: Anytime 5pm – 8pm December 5th, 2018

Where: Jordan Lake Brewing Company: 320 E. Durham Rd., Cary NC

What: A celebration and meeting of education advocates.  Parents, Teachers, Community Members, Advocacy Groups, EVERYONE!

We hope to do this again in other locations in other parts of the state!

 

#NixAllSix By Guest Blogger Michelle Burton

 Welcome Michelle Burton our guest blogger!   Michelle Burton has been  a public school library media specialist for 23 years in the state of North Carolina (Alamance, Durham and Wake counties)  She believes all students deserve a high quality, well-rounded education and art, music, P.E. and school libraries staffed by highly educated professionals is apart of every child having a sound basic education.   Please take time to read her thoughts on the amendments on the 2018 ballot.  

The six constitutional amendments that have been placed on the ballot will cause irreparable harm to our state.  These amendments would drastically alter the North Carolina constitution forever, and would be almost impossible to change if they are approved. They were written to purposely deceive North Carolinians in handing over power to the North Carolina legislators by stripping any little power the governor has left, taking away the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens, and destroy any additional funding public schools and many public services that North Carolinians depend on.

 

Here is an overview of the six amendments and why you need to vote against all of them.

 

  1. Protect the right to hunt and fish: Your right to hunt and fish is not under attack. The sole purpose of this amendment is to get conservative leaning voters to turn out and vote during a midterm election. If this amendment passes there may some harm done with regards to wildlife and our environment.

 

  1. Strengthen Protections to Crime Victims: Again, this is another ploy to get more conservative voters out to vote in November. North Carolina already has protections for crime victims in its state laws. Many people do not know that this amendment  is being bankrolled by a California billionaire and if this amendment passes there will be unintended consequences with regard to people being treated fairly in court and having due process.

 

  1. Reduce the income tax cap to 7 percent: This amendment will benefit wealthy people so they don’t have to pay income taxes. If this amendment is passed, sales taxes will go up, property taxes will go up, fees for car registrations and licenses will go up. This will be totally regressive, affecting  low income and middle income people. This amendment will decimate public education, roads, health care and low wealth counties would not keep up with the cost of taking care of their communities and their citizens.

 

  1. Change the process for fulfilling judicial vacancies: Right now, Gov. Cooper, who is a Democrat, has the authority to appoint judges. This amendment would give the authority to the legislature and the legislature is presently dominated by Republicans. Even two of our former Republican governors, Jim Martin and Pat McCrory, said this was a bad idea and have come out against it.

 

  1. Establish an eight-member board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement: This amendment will take the authority away from the governor, who is presently a Democrat, to have control over elections in the state and giving it to the legislature. This will make the elections board four Democrats and four Republicans. If this amendment is passed nothing will get resolved with the elections board and major gridlock will occur.  All five former governors, two who are Republican, have come out against this amendment.

 

  1. Require Voter ID:  All of thee above are bad, but this one is really bad. This law will disenfranchise thousands of North Carolinians from voting because they don’t have proper identification. We as voters are suppose to decide on this amendment without knowing what type of ID would be required. The legislature said they would come back in a special session in December and make that decision. But we don’t know what ID the legislature will require citizens must have to vote.

 

Vote against all six constitutional amendments on November 6.  #NixallSix.

 

Poll Greeting

We finally made it.  It’s voting time.  It all comes down to this, the vote.  We have the opportunity to change things for the better in the state.  This is why on many days you’ll find me greeting voters at the poll.  I’m assisting a representative that has a proven public education record.  I’m also talking to voters about public education and the amendments.

Poll greeting can be the ultimate people watching opportunity.  You have those who want to just get in line and those who are dying to connect.  I’ve talked at length to many who just needed to vent and others who were seeking information.  I had the pleasure of watching a poll supervisor named Peggy help a someone in line who was in pain make it to curb side voting.  I actually babysat someone’s dog so their owner could go in and vote.  Rufus and I had a great time.

That’s not say that poll greeting can’t be stressful.  I find it very stressful to listen to others spew misleading information.  I can actually feel my body temperature rise.  I’m thankful for groups out there engaging voters daily, especially those helping pass bonds or working to prevent the passage of the harmful amendments.  I’m impressed by candidates that may not appear on any slate cards out there talking to voters.  I’m humbled by all the candidates willing to put themselves out there.

Poll greeters can help those unsure of their voting districts, but more importantly they can help swing a vote or two.  I had the pleasure of witnessing a voter confused by the amendments decide during a conversation with another SOSNC member to vote against them.  I happened across the voter in an elevator as we walked to our cars.  She bragged about her no votes.  We make a difference.

If you’d like to make a difference, I can guarantee there is room for you to help.  Contact your party.  Contact your favorite pro education candidate.  There is room at the polls.  Your help is needed.

Now since this much social interaction drains me of all energy, it is time for me to say goodnight.    Oh and of course GO VOTE!

This is What Democracy Looks Like

One of my proudest moments as a public education advocate was being on stage for the Rally for Respect on May 16th 2018.  My speech was entitled: A Reason to Rally.  I still can’t believe that I was there.  It was exhilarating and I was honored to speak.  The rally seems like it happened so long ago as we are inundated with political ads, calls to volunteer, and the stress of our everyday lives.  Perhaps now what is needed is a reason to vote.

My reason to vote this year, is our public schools. On May 16th, I marched with our North Carolina teachers and their allies.  There was a power and aura around us even in the hot muggy weather.  The sea of red was endless, and  I remember cheers ringing out every time another bus passed.  I felt a part of something.  I looked at my eight year old, and I knew that all those who marched the streets truly cared about the quality of his education.  I don’t know if he felt loved that day, but as a parent I felt the love.

As I finally wove around the state capital I started getting hugs from those I knew. Even in the amazing crowd, I saw so many familiar faces.  I hugged  a Wake County Commissioner.  Only a week before, I nervously spoke in front of them.  That day we were one.  I looked for my son’s own school, but we quickly realized how difficult that might be.  I got a text that they had made it inside the General Assembly.  I beamed a bit with pride.  My school.

As I finally approached the legislative building, my favorite chant began again, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”  I looked around me at the sea of red and I felt a few tears on my cheek.  It is the first time that I really heard the words and felt the truth of it deep inside me.

So when you step into the voting line.  Picture a sea of red.  Visualize all the signs and marchers headed for our legislature.  They are there with you.  They are cheering on every voter seeking a better North Carolina.   It is a democracy so you never vote alone.  As you fill in your bubbles I hope you hear the chant, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”

 

 

Why I believe in Funding Public Services

I never thought much about other public institutions or why they are important or even how they work in conjunction with our public schools.  That is, until I had to use one.  My story isn’t unique by any means, but it is important.  You see at 18 months, my son didn’t make a sound.  He cried, he laughed, but that was it.  There were no words, there were no other verbal noises.  He was silent.

My pediatrician was concerned, and referred us to a state agency called CDSA.  The CDSA or Child Development Service Agency was amazing.  We got a hearing test, evaluations, speech therapist list, but most of all a case worker to help navigate us through the process.  I consider myself a fairly intelligent white suburban mom, but I wasn’t prepared for a child with a delay.  No one really is.

We got early intervention services.  As we began to navigate the even more intimidating county school system, we had a support system behind us.  Most of all, as difficult as transitioning into Kindergarten was, we weren’t starting from scratch.  We again had a team at our backs, thanks to early intervention.  This helped us and our school.

It’s not just about early intervention services.  By funding other public services we help out our school systems.  So many times, our public schools are the last stronghold of public help for our community.  Public schools across our state hold food drives, coat drives, and drives for other basic school supplies.  Public schools do their best to deal with those left homeless, hungry, and in need of healthcare.

By supporting our county and state services, we help our public schools.  By lifting up basic healthcare providers, affordable housing, and food assistance, we lift up those in our public schools.  We let teachers teach.  We let our schools educate.  When we under-fund public services, our teachers, counselors, and administrators can’t turn a blind eye.  Nor, can they always be the support those kids need.  We need strong community services around our schools.

While PTAs and private foundations are wonderful.  They are not sustainable on the scale to truly help all our community.  Public services provided by county, state, and even federal agencies have long term funding through tax revenue.  They have strict accounting rules and regulations that make sure money is going where it should.  They have no motive to pay those at the top any more than a standard salary.  They work solely for the public good on a scale that charities just can’t match.

So, when thinking about an amendment to cap our state income taxes, think about our public schools.  However, also think about our community as a whole. Think about all children and how many are struggling, and how our schools are struggling to meet their needs. The stronger our public services in healthcare, housing, and food security the stronger we are together.    #InThisTogether