Teachers demand higher pay, more school funding

Geneva Stokes
May 17, 2018

The teachers walked from the North Carolina Association of Educators office to the North Carolina State Legislative Building.

Following the march, educators met with lawmakers before taking to Bicentennial Mall for speeches by Gov. Roy Cooper and more. At least 42 school districts, including the state's largest, canceled classes Wednesday. Buoyed by the success of the West Virginia strike, teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona soon followed suit, closing down schools and flooding their state capitals to call for more funding. The resulting pressure led legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding. Several sources said North Carolina is putting the finishing touches on an incentives package for a major Apple investment in the state, including thousands of high-paying jobs in the Triangle. Their pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year - the second-biggest increase in the country - and was estimated to rise an average 1.8 percent this year, the NEA said.

"I think it's important that we all rally together", Wrightsboro Elementary School teacher Brandi Laney said. It's about the children that we work with every day. "I just wish I could live off of what I get for doing it".

"I really feel like this is a part of their education - standing up and being active in a civic way", she said. She works for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg arm of the N.C. Association of Educators, retiring from work in local school districts after 39 years. "I'm here to support my students". But not during school hours. When he heard that the schools were closing for the day he wanted to make sure his students were fed. She says her classroom isn't connected to the school, and 25 years ago she was told it was supposed to be temporary.

Brody, a Monroe Republican, said he was referring to the National Education Association in his Facebook post. Parents like him also are given lists of classroom supplies they're expected to buy, which Irvin considers a hidden tax.

"Our students deserve better", the group said in a statement.

"Education is a profession that needs to be respected and for so long we haven't been respected", Powell said.

Their demands are also political. Per-student public school spending is down about 8 percent over the same period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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The website also stipulates five demands from elected leaders, including an increase in per-pupil spending, a "multi-year professional pay plan" for teachers, an increased number of mental and physical health professionals in schools, and moderated class sizes.

"We have no intention of raising taxes", Berger said ahead of the march.

Since they began cutting taxes in 2013, lawmakers have slashed the corporate income-tax rate to one of the lowest in the country and now collect about a half-billion dollars less annually, according to the legislature's fiscal staff.

An energetic and vocal crowd gathered along South Street near the NCAE headquarters and marched through downtown toward the state legislative building.

Meanwhile, nearly all of the additional $2 billion the state is spending this year compared to six years ago has gone into education, including public universities and community colleges. They've had some salary increases in recent years, but when adjusted for inflation, they've lost 9.4% in pay since 2009.

The state's most powerful politician said legislators will listen to protesting teachers as they do any constituent.

North Carolina the sixth state in which teachers' have publicly protested to bring attention to the state of education in the United States.

Although the Wednesday rally is the only action of its kind now on the slate for North Carolina's teachers, both Wood and Speight said that it's "just the beginning" of the backlash coming to lawmakers when the polls open in November.

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