North Carolina teach­ers de­mand bet­ter fund­ing in large march

The Maui News - - COUNTY/ IN BRIEF - By EMERY P. DALESIO and GARY D. ROBERT­SON The As­so­ci­ated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Thou­sands of teach­ers filled the main street of North Carolina’s cap­i­tal Wed­nes­day de­mand­ing bet­ter pay and more fund­ing for pub­lic schools, hop­ing to achieve what other ed­u­ca­tors around the coun­try ac­com­plished by pres­sur­ing law­mak­ers for change.

City blocks turned red, the color of shirts worn by marchers chant­ing “We care! We vote!” and “This is What Democ­racy Looks Like!” An es­ti­mated 19,000 peo­ple joined the march, ac­cord­ing to the Down­town Raleigh Al­liance, which based its num­ber in part on aerial pho­tos.

“I feel the cur­rent politi­cians in charge of the state are an­tipub­lic ed­u­ca­tion,” Raleigh high school teacher Bill No­tar­ni­cola said as he pre­pared a time-lapse photo of the march. “The funds are not keep­ing up with the growth. We are see­ing cut­back, af­ter cut­back, af­ter cut­back.”

Many teach­ers en­tered the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing, con­tin­u­ing to chant as the Repub­li­can­con­trolled leg­is­la­ture held short floor meet­ings to start its an­nual work ses­sion. Most teach­ers qui­eted down when asked, but a woman who yelled, “Ed­u­ca­tion is a Right: That is why we have to fight,” was among four es­corted from the Se­nate gallery. No ar­rests were made.

Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper spoke at a rally across the street, pro­mot­ing his pro­posal to pay for higher salar­ies by block­ing tax cuts that Re­pub­li­cans de­cided to give cor­po­ra­tions and high-in­come house­holds next Jan­uary. GOP lead­ers have flatly re­jected his idea.

Cooper, who is work­ing to elim­i­nate the GOP’s ve­to­proof ma­jori­ties in fall elec­tions, urged teach­ers to ask law­mak­ers, “are you go­ing to sup­port even more tax cuts for cor­po­ra­tions and the very wealthy, or are you go­ing to sup­port much bet­ter teacher pay and in­vest­ment in our pub­lic schools?”

Pre­vi­ous strikes, walk­outs and protests in West Virginia, Ari­zona, Ken­tucky, Colorado and Ok­la­homa led leg­is­la­tors in each state to im­prove pay, ben­e­fits or over­all school fund­ing. Wed­nes­day’s march in North Carolina prompted more than three-dozen school districts that ed­u­cate more than two-thirds of the state’s 1.5 mil­lion pub­lic school stu­dents to can­cel class.

But th­ese Repub­li­can lead­ers ap­pear de­ter­mined not to change course un­der pres­sure, and North Carolina ed­u­ca­tors aren’t union­ized, so they have fewer op­tions for or­ga­nized protest than teach­ers in some of th­ese other states. Some, in fact, had to seek per­sonal days off Wed­nes­day and pay $50 for a sub­sti­tute be­fore districts can­celed class.

The de­mands of their main ad­vo­cacy group, the North Carolina As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors, in­clude rais­ing per-pupil spend­ing and pay for teach­ers and sup­port staff to the na­tional aver­age, and in­creas­ing school con­struc­tion to match the state’s pop­u­la­tion growth.

North Carolina teach­ers earn about $50,000 on aver­age, rank­ing 39th in the coun­try last year, the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion re­ported last month. 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, but that still rep­re­sents a 9.4 per­cent slide in real in­come since 2009 due to in­fla­tion, the NEA said.

State Se­nate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Re­pub­li­cans, have made clear they have no plans to fun­nel more money to class­rooms by post­pon­ing Jan­uary’s planned tax cuts, as Cooper has pro­posed.

And Repub­li­can Sen. Bill Cook said he thinks Wed­nes­day’s march was mostly about sup­port­ing the Demo­cratic Party in a po­lit­i­cal sea­son.

Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors have fo­cused on in­creas­ing pay based on merit, rather than treat­ing all teach­ers as if they were equally pro­duc­tive, he said.

“A lot of peo­ple want to throw money at a prob­lem, and that’s help­ful some times. But you’ve got to be smart about what you’re do­ing with your money. What we’ve tried to do is put it into play in such a way that we re­ward peo­ple for do­ing a good job,” Cook said.

But Rachel Holdridge, a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teacher at Wilmington’s Al­der­man El­e­men­tary School, said law­mak­ers have let teach­ers down by fail­ing to equip them prop­erly to do their jobs. De­spite 22 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, she said she drives for Uber to make ends meet.

“They keep giv­ing tiny raises and tak­ing so much away from the kids,” Holdridge said out­side the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing. She takes a sober view of how much the march will ac­com­plish, but said: “You’ve got to start some­where.”

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