North Carolina Teachers March on State Capital in Mass School Walkout

Hugh Fox
May 17, 2018

"It's just a sea of teachers, counselors, students and other supporters making their way over to the General Assembly", Boraks said. 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.

Jameel Williams was among the thousands from across the state to march from the NCAE headquarters to the North Carolina State Legislative Building.

The state's main teacher advocacy group, the North Carolina Association of Educators, demands legislators increase per-pupil spending to the national average in four years, increase school construction for a growing state, and approve a multiyear pay raise for teachers and school support staff to bring incomes to the national average.

According to the National Education Association, North Carolina ranks 39th among the 50 states for average teacher salary, well behind the US average of $58,353 in 2016.

Many school districts, including Cabarrus County Schools and Kannapolis City Schools, made the day an optional teacher workday because of the amount of teachers who requested off for the day. The teachers walked from the North Carolina Association of Educators office to the North Carolina State Legislative Building. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which looked at the percent change in K-12 funding from 2008 to 2015, adjusting for inflation, found that total state funding per student in North Carolina fell 12.2 percent since 2008.

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Republicans said they have passed teacher pay hikes for the last five years.

Republican Representative Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), who chairs the House K-12 Education Committee and is an elementary art school teacher, said he and his colleagues continue to be focused on increasing the money spent on education in North Carolina. Many wore a red shirt, some featuring the word "respect" inside an outline of the state.

This year, the average North Carolina teacher made about $50,000, up almost 2 percent from last year but still some $9,600 short of the national average. At least 38 districts, representing more than half the state's 1.5 million public school students, canceled classes because of the protest.

He said Wednesday's rally was one of the largest he's seen in those 30 years.

"We need to keep this energy", he says.

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But not all of them could make it.

"We have no intention of raising taxes", Berger said before the march, complaining that "a million kids are not going to be in school (Wednesday) because a political organization wants to have folks come" to the legislature.

Simmons said that if she gets the chance to speak to state legislators today, she'll tell them how hard teachers work. "We know you are critical for the success of our schools, but we have to be willing to prioritize it and pay for it", he said. 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. Adjusted for inflation, state funding for North Carolina schools has fallen almost 8 percent since the recession hit. "It's the children, and we have to have a heart for our children", he said.

Amy Buchen, a first-grade educator at Brassfield Elementary School in Raleigh, says she was amazed by the huge community that formed in the wake of this morning's protests.

Myers said he thinks schools need emphasis for more nurses, addressing special education needs, or helping students with anxiety attacks related to standardized testing.

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