School Watch

9OYS Special Report: North Carolina's state of education

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) --- For West Craven High School teacher Shelby Ye, an ECU graduate with a family full of educators, her classroom is home.

"That's where God has called me to be,” Ye said.

But the love of her job is becoming outweighed by what she calls a crumbling state education system.

"It's disheartening because there are so many teachers doing wonderful things all the time every day,” Ye said. “Then you go on the news, and you are working  and you're fighting, and you're advocating, and it feels like nothing is coming from it."

Ye describes it as a systematic failure --- classes with more than 30 students, low per-capita allotments and elected leaders Ye said are not listening.

Ye said if she could speak to lawmakers she would “want them to listen to me and listen to what I want. I'm not just asking for higher pay. Higher pay is an issue, and it's a huge issue. The real thing is we are not getting enough funding for our students."

9 On Your Side’s Brandon Truitt spoke to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, asking the governor if he thought the state government was listening to the teachers. 

"I don't think the legislature is, and I am concerned about that,” Cooper responded.

Cooper is the son of a public school teacher.

"Living with a mom who was a public school teacher, you saw how passionate she was about her students,” Cooper said. “…We need to do more with education. “

Cooper released his proposed budget last week.

It shows large investments in the education system.

Aside from a proposed average pay raise of eight percent, the budget would give teachers a stipend to help cover out of pocket expenses, something Ye is familiar with.

"I’m lucky to have a very innovative classroom,” said Ye. “However, I will say I worked for every single thing in this classroom."

Ye picked up a second job last summer to help fund half the cost of new tables in her classroom, along with hundreds of dollars spent each year on additional materials.

Cooper said teachers should not have to buy their own schools supplies; pointing out his budget includes a 150 dollar stipend for teacher's use.

For Ye, it's about getting results, regardless of party

"I think it has become so divisive,” said Ye. “As of now, it's just a blame game. It's almost like they don't want to do something because they don't want to seem too liberal or they don't want to seem too conservative."

Cooper said he thinks results are possible.

"Public education should be bipartisan, and I know that there are a lot of Republicans who believe in public education,” Cooper said. 

Ye is just one of the many teachers who say they are tired of waiting.

On Wednesday, they will take action.

Thousands of teachers are expected in Raleigh to "Rally for Respect."

"I am a huge advocate for my kids and for my profession, and I take great pride in my craft and what I do,” Ye said. “I definitely believe that as citizens of the United States, we need to exercise our rights that we have"

"It is a shame that teachers have to take to the streets to rally for respect," Cooper said. 

Ye said at the center of it all are students and their futures.

"I just want the best for them, and I want people to know what is best for them and listen to us,” said Ye. “And finally say we want our kids to be successful and what do they need. Okay, let's give it to them."

Ye said it's that passion for change she will take with her to Raleigh.  

So how and when could these teachers see some changes?

Cooper said creating a stronger education system is his top priority.

“Public education is not only required in our state constitution, I believe it is in our DNA as North Carolinians,” Cooper said. 

Cooper suggests North Carolina schools were once viewed as a beacon in the South.

"Over the last six or seven years, I think we have fallen back particularly on investments in our public schools,” said Cooper. “We are behind in per student investments since pre-recession levels.”

North Carolina sits at 37th in the country for teacher pay, which Cooper said is unacceptable.

Teachers planning to rally Wednesday are seeking salaries at the national average.

Along with class size limits, funding for supplies and general investment in students.

Cooper said their requests are reasonable.

"I have shown in my budget how we can do it without raising taxes,” he said. “We can do it.”

Cooper is proposing to target a scheduled tax cut to the middle class, stopping it before it goes into effect, and freeze additional tax cuts to corporations and those making more than $200,000 a year.

Cooper said in four years these adjustments would put North Carolina at the national average for teacher pay, which he hopes teachers and parents can get behind.

“These same parents need to come to the legislature and say, “You guys need to put the money in public schools,’” Cooper said. 

He said it comes down to people and voters looking for change. 

"I believe that the future can be bright as long as we prioritize investment in public education,” Cooper said. 

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