“It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need, and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

That phrase was coined in 1979 on a Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) flyer.

Founded in 1915, the WILPF is one of the world’s longest-standing women’s peace organizations. It believes that equality for all will bring world peace.

And that equality begins with education which has been caught up in our highly politicized and divided country and, yes, has become a victim.

Ocracoke School is among the fortunate, since it begins this academic year fully staffed. But teacher shortages are a nationwide problem.  

As of mid-August in North Carolina, there were almost 6,000 job openings. The lack of teachers will negatively impact students many of whose academic progress has already suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without an educated workforce, both our economy and culture will suffer.

We all need to understand why we are in this crisis and those in a position to do so need to take constructive action.

A couple of public-school teachers from the Triangle area camped out on Ocracoke before they were to begin the school year, and they unloaded with a litany of problems and why they dreaded going back. 

One said that 60% of the teachers left the school he worked in last year. These two had relinquished planning time to teach in classes without teachers, had no time for lunch nor even the briefest of breaks.

The list went on: Low pay and lack of affordable housing; more students per class; the lack of administrative support.

But significantly, they said teachers are no longer appreciated and are blamed for the many ills of society that others perceive.

“It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need, and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

NC Policy Watch says, on average, N.C. teachers make $10,000 below the national average.

Teachers can find higher paying and less stressful jobs outside of the classroom where they are appreciated.

In North Carolina, the state is responsible for about 66% of every school district budget with counties paying 23% and the federal government 10%.

Currently, the Hyde County School district is in a struggle for adequate funding.

To wit, the Hyde County Board of Education is holding out for the Hyde County Board of Commissioners to appropriate an additional $75,000 for this school year. (See story pages 13 & 14.)

When talking about multi-million-dollar budgets, this may seem paltry, but probably not for a poor county like Hyde, which already dipped into its waning fund balance.

On Aug. 31, the North Carolina Supreme Court was scheduled to take up the decades old “Leandro” case, first filed in 1994, in which school districts in five low-wealth counties sued the state claiming that children were not receiving the same level of educational opportunities as students in wealthier counties.

Decades later, the state still has not complied.

Dr. Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of Public School Forum of North Carolina, asks who can force the legislature adequately fund education? 

Throughout both Democratic and Republican reigns in Raleigh, North Carolina’s public schools have remained woefully underfunded, with schools in low-wealth counties, such as Halifax, struggling to provide children with the sound basic education guaranteed under the state constitution, said Attorney Larry Armstrong, who filed the original lawsuit, according to the NC Policy Watch website.

“There has never been the kind of political will to spend the kind of money it would take to educate all of the children in North Carolina,” Armstrong said. “What the legislature has always done is allocate a certain amount of money and said this is what you’re going to get and do the best you can.”

The state has a significant budget surplus, $6.5 billion just this year.

Some of that should fund education so that counties and school boards don’t have to go to court for funds.

Why is a state with a strong economy — a state that strives to attract cutting-edge businesses and innovation – not making this obvious investment in our future? Wolf asks.

We have the money to invest in our students.

Equally important is that we need to revive appreciation for teachers, in whose hands our children are placed, and thank them for their dedication and for the sacrifices they make daily.

Giving schools all that they need… What a difference that could make.

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