Thousands of North Carolina teachers marched to the state capitol on Wednesday in a call for higher pay and increased education spending after similar protests from teachers in other states seeking more money for schools.
Carrying signs that said “Our teachers are worth it,” educators in red T-shirts chanting “Red for Ed” streamed through a downtown Raleigh street heading for a rally at the capitol.
Organizers expected up to 20,000 teachers and supporters to press the Republican-dominated legislature for more spending as the legislative session started. At least 38 districts, representing more than half the state’s 1.5 million public school students, canceled classes because of the protest.
“I’m here to make sure our students have what they need to have a bright future,” said Tami Brantley, 51, a teacher of 26 years from Cabarrus County, on the outskirts of Charlotte.
She said she had been personally affected by changes to seniority pay that made her no longer eligible for annual raises.
The protest was the latest in a wave of actions and strikes this year by teachers in states including West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado who feel lawmakers have failed to adequately pay teachers and provide for schools.
Luke Miles, a 31-year-old middle school social studies teacher from Wake Forest, said he came because his students deserved better than crumbling school buildings and constant teacher turnover.
“It’s hard to learn in that environment,” Miles said. “We need to get behind our students now or accept that the way things are is how they’ll stay.”
The North Carolina Association of Educators is calling for per-student spending and teacher pay to be raised to at least the national average. It also wants lawmakers to restore funding for public schools to pre-recession levels and approve a $1.9 billion school construction bond.
Republican legislative leaders have said this year’s planned salary increase of 6 percent would mark the fifth consecutive annual increase.
While the state ranks 39th among states for average teacher salary in the most recent report by the National Education Association, it has seen some of the highest percent increases in recent years, they said.
“According to the NEA, North Carolina Ranked #2 in the US for fastest rising teacher pay in 2017,” Republican Senator Phil Berger, president pro tempore, said on Twitter during the march.
Reporting by Marti Maguire; writing by Ian Simpson; editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown