RALEIGH, N.C. (WAVY/AP/WNCN) — North Carolina teachers took to the streets Wednesday for the second year in a row with hopes that a more politically balanced legislature will be more willing to meet their demands.
Teachers, auxiliary staff and supporters will march in Raleigh. Speakers will include Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Hertford and Bertie counties are closing schools for the day because of the rally. Other districts like Camden, Currituck, and Dare County Schools told 10 On Your Side they will operate on a normal schedule.
When an estimated 20,000 people marched for teachers last year, Republicans held a veto-proof majority in the state House and Senate. The results of November’s election changed that, and now Cooper’s vetoes can stand if Democrats remain united.
The North Carolina Association of Educators has four main goals for Wednesday’s rally:
- Increased funding for support staff such as counselors
- Increased pay for employees
- Expand Medicaid
- Restore previously cut benefits like retiree health and pay for employees with advanced degrees.
The House budget released Tuesday includes some of the teachers’ demands: higher pay for veteran teachers and restoration of a salary bump for teachers with masters’ degrees.
Teachers would receive an average raise of 4.8% next year under the House plan, which Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and other senior legislators announced Tuesday. The raise for assistant principals would average 6.3%. For principals, it would be 10%.
Most state employees will see raises of either 1% or $500, whichever is greater, said Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth).
Teachers in neighboring South Carolina also plan to rally Wednesday and Oregon teachers plan to gather next week as walkouts that began in West Virginia last spring continue across the country , with many proving successful.
In Raleigh, teachers were going to meeting spots Wednesday morning ahead of the march and rally. One group of teachers donning red shirts with the North Carolina state outline walked up to the state legislative building Wednesday morning. Among them was a student.
Students are concerned about issues in school as well. Seventh grade student Aaron Painter said he decided to come because he wants to see more mental health services in his school, which he said has one full time counselor.
“I know mental health is low in our school. We need more help because there are kids that are thinking about suicide and they’re only in seventh grade,” Painter said.
He knows a few of them personally.
Painter marched alongside his mother, Tonya Painter, who is a 3rd grade teacher at McGee’s Crossroads Elementary school in Johnson County. She said she has been teaching for 18 years, and every year, her students are seeing more and more tests.
“These students are 8 years old and they’re taking BOGs, COGATs, MCLASS testing, MAP testing, NCCHECK tests, and EOGs,” she said, rattling off a list of acronyms for various statewide tests. “That’s a large amount of tests.”
While lots of funding goes toward these tests, Tonya Painter doesn’t believe that enough funding goes toward holistic teaching and services for the students. She said she wants her students to be prepared for more than just tests. Like her son, one of her biggest concerns is mental health, especially given the uptick in school shootings over the past two decades.
“Every mind matters,” she said. “I feel like the school shootings all started years before, with probably bullying or anxiety and depression — things that students are dealing with that they need help working through.”
To address this concern, she would like to see funding for more guidance counselors, school psychiatrists, and nurses.
Another big demand in Wednesday’s rally involves raising wages for teachers and implementing a $15 minimum wage for school support staff.
Middle school special education teacher Lizzie Hourigan teaches at Noble Middle School in New Hanover County and said it’s “a constant struggle” to make ends meet. She taught for 10 years in New York and Connecticut before moving down to North Carolina in 2013 to teach, and she said she noticed a big difference in the level of pay and support she received as a teacher in North Carolina versus the other states she’s taught in.
She invited those who have been critical of the rally to come into her classroom or other classrooms in her school, where she said overcrowding is another big issue.
“See what we work with every day,” she said. “In New Hanover, they’re building more and more housing but there aren’t the schools to support the kids moving in.”
“Teachers are coming out of our pockets for everything. Just basic supplies for the students,” said teacher Nikki Campbell.
Outdated textbooks are another problem.
“Our science books are the same when I started 13 years ago, and they were old then,” said teacher Mary Haith.
Another teacher told the rally how she has worked for her school for 26 years, yet makes $13 an hour.
Hundreds of thousands of Carolina students did not have classes, including Bertie and Hertford County Schools in our area.
N.C. Governor Roy Cooper (D) says teachers deserve more because they fill several roles in their students’ lives.
“That means significantly better pay for all teachers and principals, including our veteran teachers and support staff.”
In a show of support, The Virginia Education Association sent WAVY a statement of support:
“The VEA stands proudly with North Carolina educators…They want what is best for North Carolina students. They are fed up with underfunded schools and low pay that drives teachers out of the classroom. They want the types of schools found in the wealthiest communities, with rich curriculum and up-to-date textbooks, labs, and facilities. They are right to fight on behalf of public schools and their students.”
House lawmakers are looking to approve their version of the North Carolina budget by Friday. It would include an allowance for teachers of $145 each school year, so they wouldn’t have to spend out of pocket for classroom supplies.