Ral­ly­ing for more money for schools

State is lat­est to see ed­u­ca­tors protest fund­ing short­age

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MO­RIAH BALINGIT mo­riah.balingit@wash­post.com

Ed­u­ca­tors and their sup­port­ers from across North Carolina gather in Raleigh on Wed­nes­day to protest fund­ing short­ages. Of­fi­cials in about 40 dis­tricts de­cided to close schools be­cause of the demon­stra­tion, leav­ing an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion chil­dren — most of the state’s pub­lic school stu­dents — out of class.

Thou­sands of North Carolina teach­ers de­scended Wed­nes­day on the state­house in Raleigh to protest a grow­ing fund­ing cri­sis that has left schools with dwin­dling sup­plies of text­books, bal­loon­ing class sizes, a dearth of qual­i­fied teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tor pay that lags far be­hind the na­tional av­er­age.

The ex­o­dus of teach­ers from their class­rooms meant that of­fi­cials in about 40 North Carolina school dis­tricts — in­clud­ing some of the state’s largest — de­cided to close schools. An es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion chil­dren — most of the state’s pub­lic school stu­dents — were out of class Wed­nes­day.

The state is the lat­est to see teach­ers leave schools en masse to con­front state law­mak­ers, hop­ing to re­verse years of bud­get cuts. Teach­ers in five other states have ral­lied at their capi­tols to press for school fund­ing, be­gin­ning in West Vir­ginia, where teach­ers shut­tered schools statewide for nine days be­fore get­ting a raise.

The North Carolina As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors, a union, es­ti­mated that more than 20,000 teach­ers marched at the state’s capi­tol, some streaming in­side. Many wore red, the color that has be­come ubiq­ui­tous at teach­ers’ marches.

They car­ried signs from the se­ri­ous — “Put pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion first” — to the hu­mor­ous — “There’s al­most as many peo­ple here as in my class­room.”

Le­gions of teach­ers then gath­ered out­side on the lawn, and state law­mak­ers who sup­ported their cause held im­promptu meet­ings. Teach­ers were sched­uled to hold a “Rally for Re­spect” in the af­ter­noon, where Gov. Roy Cooper (D) was ex­pected to speak.

“It’s an epic day in North Carolina,” said Mark Jewell, pres­i­dent of the North Carolina As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors.

North Carolina spent $9,948 per stu­dent in 2017, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, putting it 38th among states. The av­er­age teacher salary this year is esti- mated at $50,861, nearly $10,000 lower than the na­tional av­er­age. The state has given raises but cut pay for long­time teach­ers and for teach­ers who re­ceive mas­ter’s de­grees.

As with other states in which teach­ers are battling shrink­ing school bud­gets, North Carolina’s GOP-led leg­is­la­ture has cut in­come and cor­po­rate taxes in re­cent years, moves that put pres­sure on state rev­enue. Ac­count­ing for in­fla­tion, state per­stu­dent spend­ing in North Carolina has fallen 8 per­cent over the past decade, ac­cord­ing to the left-lean­ing Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties.

Jewell said the state is poised to cut taxes again this year and will lose an es­ti­mated $3.6 bil­lion in rev­enue, mean­ing schools are likely to see more cuts.

The move­ment, he said, “is the cul­mi­na­tion of years of starv­ing our pub­lic school sys­tem,” he said Tues­day.

The rally is in­tended to be a kick­off for a cam­paign to get more can­di­dates who sup­port pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion elected to the state­house in Novem­ber, when ev­ery seat in the House and Se­nate is up for grabs. The GOP holds enough seats that law­mak­ers can over­ride a veto from the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor.

But the state re­cently re­drew leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, mean­ing some seats that were safely in the hands of Repub­li­cans are com­pet­i­tive.

GOP law­mak­ers dis­puted that they have not in­vested suf­fi­ciently in pub­lic schools, high­light­ing raises they have given to teach­ers. In a news re­lease, Rep. Tim Moore (R), speaker of the House, and Sen. Phil Berger (R), pres­i­dent pro-tem of the Se­nate, said teach­ers will re­ceive their fifth con­sec­u­tive pay raise in the com­ing year.

“The num­bers speak for them­selves — and we’re glad to have the op­por­tu­nity to share North Carolina’s suc­cess story and set the record straight,” they said.

The av­er­age teacher salary in 2018-2019 will rise to $53,600, mean­ing teach­ers will get an av­er­age of about $3,000 more in their pay­checks.

Jasmine Lauer, who teaches lan­guage arts and so­cial stud­ies at a Raleigh mid­dle school, said she was ral­ly­ing on be­half of her stu­dents, who she says have suf­fered be­cause of cuts to class­rooms.

She has seen class sizes rise and text­books fall apart. Once, while teach­ing a high school class of refugees who strug­gled with English, she de­cided to pur­chase 35 text­books for English-lan­guage learn­ers. She found some used but some­times paid up to $100 for each book, pur­chas­ing one a month for nearly three years.

“We’re be­ing asked ev­ery day to do way more with way less re­sources,” Lauer said.

An es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion chil­dren — most of the state’s pub­lic school stu­dents — were out of class Wed­nes­day.

LO­GAN CYRUS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

GERRY BROOME/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The view from in­side the capi­tol in Raleigh as ed­u­ca­tors and their sup­port­ers protest a lack of fund­ing for schools. The state’s av­er­age teacher salary this year is about $10,000 less than the na­tional av­er­age.

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