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From the looks of it, no one has bothered to tell the new Republican leaders of the General Assembly that it’s Teacher Appreciation Week.

We celebrate our teachers because they are the men and women responsible for preparing our future workforce – for ensuring that the people of North Carolina remain competitive, sharp, innovative and smart.

But under the House budget passed this week – a vote taken without bringing educators to the negotiating table – North Carolina’s classrooms, colleges, teachers and children will become the victims of some staggering cuts.

Too many of our school teachers are already buying classroom materials out of pocket, but the General Assembly wants to cut funding for school supplies by 42 percent.

They want to terminate tens of thousands of teacher assistants, K-12 teachers, university faculty, community college instructors, and administrators at every level.

They have taken aim at teachers who educate our gifted students, and our high-needs students – with no regard for the children they serve.

The Republican plan will cut off the potential of the next generation by treating our educators as expendable employees. It’s just plain wrong for North Carolina, and it’s especially frustrating in today’s difficult economy.

Why would they do this now when, more than ever, we need educated workers to attract good companies and good jobs? Why now, when our children are poised to be the skilled, 21st century workers that companies everywhere are searching for?

We shouldn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way. Public and private leaders have understood the essential link between education and a skilled workforce for decades.

Thanks to their vision and commitment, generations of North Carolinians have progressed from early childhood through our public schools, through our community colleges and state universities, into jobs that demand the best training, knowledge and skill.

That’s how North Carolina transformed over time from a low-wage economy centered on agriculture, to a diverse, high-tech economy with advanced agribusiness, pharmaceutical, biotech, IT and finance companies.

Now that it’s our turn to lead, what will our legacy be if our children are not a priority?

What will our children say when they grow up to face a competitive global economy lacking the skills to compete?

To me, it’s as simple as two plus two equals four: good companies will hire North Carolinians as long as North Carolina produces smart workers. But if the new Republican leadership in the General Assembly is allowed to cut too deeply into education, the economic equation collapses along with the foundation of North Carolina’s future.

If you are the parent of a child in public school, or if you are a student in one of our colleges, take some time to thank your teachers – not just this week, but throughout the year. Unfortunately, if the worst ideas of some in our legislature take hold, it could be your last chance.

But before that happens, I will keep fighting – fighting for our educators and our education system at every level. The foundation we build for our future is too important to abandon.

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