N.C. teachers want more funding, but legislative leaders are balking
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.
Many teachers entered the Legislative Building, continuing to chant as the Republican-controlled 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 in January.
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. 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 the other states.
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 tax cuts, as Cooper has proposed. And Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, said he thinks Wednesday’s march was mostly about supporting the Democratic Party in a political season.
The demands of the teachers’ 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.
North Carolina teachers earn about $50,000 a year on average, ranking them 39th in the country last year.