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Enough is Enough

The ND Legislature didn't listen or lead to solve real problems.
Published: June 2023

As I write this, it’s April 27th at 1:24 PM, the 73rd day of the legislative session.  We are waiting for the House of Representatives to vote on Governor Burgum’s veto of one of two book banning bills and closely monitoring committee actions to make sure Legislative leadership doesn’t slip a school voucher amendment into a budget bill as they near the end.  We are assessing the loss of pensions for new state employees and questioning what more we could have done when both facts and costs were ignored in reaching this conclusion.  We are planning a deep dive into all the impacts of this session very soon; right now, it’s too fresh to think straight. 

And yet, here I am, thinking a lot…. 

This morning, I attended my son’s first elementary musical performance as a Kindergartener at Bismarck Public Schools (shout-out to the great teachers and staff at our little neighborhood school!).  There was a great turnout of support for his classmates, and Evin was fortunate that his parents and both grandmas could attend the performance, which was pretty adorable and perfectly timed (clocking in at just under 10 minutes). 

As we walked out, my mom (a retired teacher and retired NDU member) turned to me and said, “Your uncle (also a retired teacher) called and told me that North Dakota is in his local and state papers every day for the stuff they are doing at the Legislature.” (My Mom, not one to mince words, may have substituted a more colorful word for “stuff”.) I responded with “Yeah… It’s tough,” which is about the extent of energy I can gin up to talk about the legislature these days. 

That brief conversation also got me thinking… For a state whose elected leaders claim that our number one issue is workforce and that we need to attract more people, I can’t help but think this session actually made it worse.  When people look for new places to move, work, raise a family, or retire, they want strong PUBLIC schools and great teachers, public services that keep them healthy and protected, a childcare system that is safe, accessible, and affordable, and communities that will welcome and include them and people of all kinds, even those who might be a little different than them.  North Dakota has great schools, great public services, great communities, and great people, but will that last with debates like the ones this Legislature is leading? 

I can’t help but think about people in other states and across the country reading those headlines in the paper, or how friends and former North Dakotans tell me they would never consider coming back here, or how many current North Dakotans feel like they’re unwanted, unwelcome, or even being forced away from the only place they’ve called home.  Spend all you want on an advertising campaign to encourage people to come here, it won’t change the message they’re choosing to send in less than 80 days of a legislative session.  I love North Dakota, and I love living here, but yeah, it’s tough. 

I admit, I’m tired and frustrated, but I don’t know how you can’t be.  Rather than acknowledging why teachers are leaving the profession at higher rates than ever, our legislators spent time peddling a manufactured conspiracy that librarians are corrupting children.  Rather than determining what our public schools need to support kids and help them succeed in a complicated world, they spent time dictating where certain people can go to the bathroom and trying to give private schools a taxpayer-funded handout.  Rather than figuring out how to truly engage families in their kids’ education, they proposed giving parents total authority to tell public schools what kids should or shouldn’t learn.  And rather than recognizing why good people are not willing to take jobs working for the state, they eliminated a significant benefit for a trusted, secure retirement that past and current state employees have chosen for themselves, even when given other options. 

Together, the members and staff of ND United beat back a lot of destructive bills this session.  We also won a few fights to provide free lunches to more kids, increase K-12 funding, and get raises for state employees.  But even with these successes, it feels like too many of those being elected to our state legislature aren’t listening or leading to solve real problems and tackle actual challenges.  At some point, enough is enough. Not only will they not dissuade new people from coming here, but they’ll lose the good ones working so hard for the kids and state they serve. 

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With more than 11,500 members across the state, NDU supports equal opportunities for success for ALL North Dakota students, and respect and support for all educators. NDU members are teachers, community college professors, speech pathologists, bus drivers, secretaries, retired educators and student teachers.