North Carolina teachers gathered in the thousands Wednesday at the state capital to demand better funding for schools and press legislators to prioritize public education in a funding bill—or be booted from office during the November elections.
The teacher walkout prompted schools across the state to close, affecting more than 1 million students, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. Organizers estimated that about 20,000 teachers and supporters were set to march in Raleigh.
North Carolina ranked 39th of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in 2017 for average teacher salaries. West Virginia teachers, who launched the movement and who secured a 5 percent pay raise after striking for nine days, were ranked 49th. Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Colorado also saw teacher demonstrations, with varying levels of success.
According to the North Carolina Association of Educators, which organized the march, the teachers are asking for the state to bring teacher pay and per-pupil spending to the national average. According to the National Education Association, North Carolina also ranks 39th in the latter category, with $9,329 spent per student in 2017.
“May 16 is the beginning,” NCAE says in a statement on its website. “It’s the beginning of a six-month stretch of time to hold our legislators accountable for prioritizing corporate tax cuts, instead of our classrooms. The ultimate goal is electing more pro-public education leaders in North Carolina to return our state back to a beacon for public schools.”
Republicans in the Legislature have argued that, while teacher pay falls below the national average, it has been climbing rapidly, with successive years of pay raises. According to the News & Observer, the current average pay of about $50,000 is, due to inflation, less in terms of purchasing power than pre-recession teacher salaries. Both parties want to give teachers another raise, but they differ on how much and how they want to apply it. Republicans in the Legislature have said they plan to raise salaries by 6 percent.
But the teachers, who used personal days for the event, are supporting a plan proposed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to raise the salaries and increase school funding by canceling planned tax cuts on the wealthy and on corporations. Republicans in the Legislature were clear that they planned to go ahead with the tax cuts.
The teachers are also asking for a multiyear plan addressing the pay, pension, and insurance issues of teachers, as well as staff and other school employees; an expansion of Medicaid; an increased number of nurses, social workers, and counselors; and the creation of a statewide school construction bond.