Sitting in his classroom a week before classes begin, fourth-grade teacher, Justin Ashley, foresees a future in the North Carolina education system where teachers are unmotivated and the learning experience is greatly hindered by budget cuts.
Controversy began in early August, when Gov. Pat McCrory announced his new education plan. The $7.9 billion budget for K-12 schools eliminates teacher’s tenure, discontinues the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, and offers no raises to teachers, whose salaries are already one of the lowest in the nation.
The education budget was met with protest. Education leaders have rallied by the busload on an almost weekly basis as part of the “Moral Monday”protests, which began last spring in response to new legislation from the republican-dominated N.C. General Assembly.
Still, McCrory’s office has stood by the education plan.
According to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Republican lawmakers voted to spend 5 percent more (about $360 million) on N.C. schools than last year, the most money on K-12 public education in state history.
However, Ashley noted that legislative leaders like Berger misrepresent the numbers by using dated statistics to comment on the current budget. While the budget is technically larger, it doesn’t take into account increased student enrollment and higher costs of health care and retirement.
“It’s not a 5 percent increase, it’s actually almost a $500 million decrease,” Ashley said of the budget, once adjusted for inflation.
Ashley, who was recently named the 2013 North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year, responded to the new budget by publicly challenging Gov. McCrory to spend one day teaching his fourth grade class. The challenge was proposed in the form of a petition, which totals more than 1,000 signatures.
“In social studies, we teach our students a lot about revolutions. Maybe it’s time we start one. Let’s begin a new conversation about public education with you walking in my shoes,” the petition read.
Ashley is just one teacher in a state with more than 100,000 teachers. Though many of Ashley’s peers share his discontent with the new budget, some are hesitant to be as vocal about it. Nevertheless, Ashley expects the new budget to have a major impact on teacher retention.
“Since releasing this letter and petition out to the public, I’ve heard from several teachers who are already looking for other positions in the private sector. I believe, like [State Superintendent] June Atkinson, that this could be a mass exodus for all of our teachers, who are talented and can find a job elsewhere.”
McCrory’s new education budget will put an end to the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, which provide opportunities and for high school students who are interested in becoming teachers. The 26-year-old program has been called the most ambitious teacher recruitment program in the nation, providing 500 scholarships per year.
Ten years ago, Ashley was the recipient of a Teaching Fellows scholarship. The 28-year-old teacher describes his post-grade school options as few and far between as a high school student residing in a low income, single-parent home. The Teaching Fellows program opened the door for Ashley to a career in education.
So where would Ashley be right now if the Teaching Fellows Program hadn’t existed?
“I wouldn’t have a college degree. I wouldn’t be impacting children every single day. I wouldn’t be a father to kids who don’t have them at home. I might be in the fast food industry; I might be in the military. I would still be serving people, but it wouldn’t be in a classroom. And it wouldn’t be directed with kids.”
Classes began Aug. 26. Ashley fears that the new budget will leave many schools struggling to adjust. He plans to continue to advocate for a budget reform by engaging policy makers and education leaders in the conversation.
“Our students deserve better than what we’re giving them right now.”
This article was originally published on Yahoo! News through the Yahoo Contributor Network which was shut down in July 2014. For more content by this author that was originally published on Yahoo! News, click here.