Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, my family and community emphasized the importance of getting an education. I am the proud product of Moore County Public Schools, a graduate of the UNC System, a former preschool and an elementary educator.
I had the opportunity to teach third and fourth grade in the public school system in the 2010s. However, the turmoil and new laws, including the elimination of master’s pay for teachers, ballooning class sizes and increased work due to unfunded mandates, made the profession of teaching difficult. Sadly, I left the classroom in 2018, just short of five years, a decision I did not make lightly.
I am now a few years from becoming a parent of a public school student and I am worried that the quality education I received will not be there for my child — or children across the state.
North Carolina has the second-highest rural student population in the nation. Unlike urban districts, which typically draw from a wealthier tax base to help fund schools and fill gaps in state funding, rural districts are much more dependent on the state. Schools serve as community hubs and are often the largest employer in rural counties.
When our public schools are suffering from years of neglect and inadequate policies — such as the Parent’s Bill of Rights, school voucher program expansion, and the state budget delay — this produces an environment of undue burdens, a culture of fear, and leaves our local school systems struggling to meet the needs of our children.
The crisis happening in our state impacts not only our children, but our neighbors and family members — across all socioeconomic and racial groups. When the state shrinks its support for public schools, that lack in funding is particularly devastating for rural families.
Many of us are struggling to make ends meet while constantly making difficult life choices. But even through hardship, families dedicated to public schools continue to reaffirm our commitment to the common good. We do not want our educators to leave; we want stability and equal funding and resources across rural and urban school districts.
An investment in North Carolina’s public school system will help with job stability, job growth and other forms of stability that families need for healthy economic development. And there is an urgency to it — before more teachers like me leave.
We need a reckoning for misguided policy-making and the absence of compassion in public school funding and reform. Enough with book bans, limiting the scope of cultural curriculum, failing to address vacancies and manufacturing problems when there are a host of others. We should not sacrifice the quality and accessibility of public education for the promise of choice for some while neglecting the rest.
Our children deserve better from those in power. Investment in our public education is overdue. The current state budget draft invests hundreds of millions of dollars into school vouchers, while giving teachers a measly raise. Where is the dignity in making us beg and plead with our lawmakers to work for us and not against us?
The N.C. General Assembly must return to lawmaking with compassion at its core, giving sufficient grace, goodwill, resources and funding stability to our public schools so that we can thrive as a state. Our lawmakers must provide adequate resources so that teachers and parents do not have to bridge the resource gap and bear the emotional toll of a system in upheaval.
Our children deserve nothing less. They deserve the best without conditions.
Brittany Gregory is a former preschool and elementary educator from Moore County. She currently lives in Raleigh.