North Carolina NAACP and Working Films are teaming up with local groups to bring Moral Movies Series to the state that has become a laboratory for conservative ideas. The aim of this cooperative effort is to bring to seven NC cities -- Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh and Wilmington -- four movies (American Teacher, American Winter, Freedom Summer and Inequality for All) in order to "jumpstart community dialogue on social, economic and environmental issues relevant to the state" according to the press release. The local groups co-sponsoring the event include the NC NAACP, The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), the Tar Heel Alliance of Classroom Teachers (tACT), the NC AFL-CIO, Democracy NC, the NC Justice Center, The Durham People's Alliance, The Mountain People's Assembly, Beloved Community Center, Action NC, Pitt County NAACP, New Hanover County NAACP, and the Black Arts Alliance. The organizers hope to replicate and further the success of Moral Monday protests in awareness raising and "to offer a forum for community members to share their perspectives, identify common ground, and discuss potential solutions to the problems at hand." (For full schedule, click here.)
The transformation of North Carolina has been swift since the Republicans took over the state legislature in 2010 and governor's mansion in 2012. Elected with the help the money from millionaires like Art Pope, whose family has amassed a fortune in discount retail and funds the conservative think tank Civitas Institute, the Republican legislature has repealed the Racial Justice Act of 2009, which allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentence on the basis of racial bias within the legal system; gerrymandered voting districts to heavily favor Republicans; introduced and passed anti-abortion measures; passed strict voter ID laws; relaxed environmental regulations; lowered taxes for the top income earners and corporations while taxes were levied on services and other goods despite the warnings from tax experts that these new tax measures will result in the decrease of state revenue. Also, as other states prepared for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, North Carolina rejected Medicaid leaving countless North Carolinians without affordable health care.
It is not an accident, however, that the Moral Movies Series is set to set to start with American Teacher, a film that follows the lives and careers of four teachers. Nothing has been a bigger target of the Republicans in this political experiment than public education. The state legislature, which sets the pay and raises for the state employees, has so far refused to raise teacher pay. Teachers have had one pay increase of only 1.2 percent in 2010 since the former Democratic governor Bev Perdue froze the salary in 2008 during the recession. North Carolina recently ranked 46th in the nation in teacher pay for the second year in a row and is also dead last in teacher salary growth over the past decade. The Republican legislature also eliminated teacher tenure in favor of a $2,000 bonus over four years only for teachers in the top 25 percent to be determined by each school district. Some schools have voluntarily rejected the bonus stating that this will create unnecessary competition among teachers when cooperation among teachers is the best tool to improve teaching. The state legislature has also eliminated the automatic pay raise for those who earn higher degrees.
At the same time, Governor Pat McCrory has also proposed bumping up the salary for new teachers from $30,778 to $35,000 by 2015, but this proposal did not include teachers with more than 10 years' experience, which means that two-thirds of the teachers will be left out of any pay increase. In March, McCrory announced that 450 teachers, mostly in STEM field, will receive up to $10,000 bonuses with the federal Race to the Top funds while thousands of other teachers across the state are receiving none. Also, many speculate that there will likely be no pay increase in the near future because of the projected decrease in revenue due to tax cuts. And even though the governor's task force on education of 18 members has come up with recommendations, many believe that this has been nothing more than a ploy for the legislators and the governor to appear conciliatory and sympathetic. In fact, many believe that "it's about Republicans being able to say a bipartisan committee of lawmakers and education professionals has issued recommendations that -- surprise -- support just what they've been proposing all along." The 1 percent pay increase that the governor has proposed was soundly defeated by the legislature.
Last week, Wake County, the second most populous county of the state with the biggest school system, released a report that 600 of its 9000 teachers quit mid-year. This is 41 percent increase over last year. According to The News & Observer, "more than 200 teachers said they're leaving because of employment outside of teaching, dissatisfaction with teaching, a career change, to work in another state/government agency, to teach in another state or other reasons." Also, there was a drop in the number of teachers who said they're resigning to teach in another North Carolina system while there was an increase in the number of teachers who said they're leaving to teach in other states. North Carolina is facing a likely teacher shortage because of the number of students enrolling in schools of education is also dropping.
Given the state of the state of North Carolina, the organizers of Moral Movies hope that this initiative will also spread to other states, such as Georgia, just as Moral Monday movements did. The movie series will continue throughout the summer and is offered free of charge to the public. The first movie will be screened during this week and next and will be followed by one move a month.