NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Thousands of teachers hit the streets of North Carolina's capital, bidding to force a political showdown over wages and funding for public school classrooms in this conservative, tax-cutting state.
Teachers in Pender County woke up early to board buses heading to Raleigh for the Rally for Respect event.
"Last night was similar to a young child on Christmas Eve," said Pender County teacher Leann Hall. "The excitement is building of what is to come the next day. We're excited to be part of this movement, part of history to make some changes in education for our children."
Clusters of teachers were gathering ahead of the march Wednesday morning at meeting spots to carpool downtown for the start of the march at 10:30 a.m. Marchers were traveling to the capital city from around the state.
A wave of red moved through the streets of Raleigh as teachers marched to lobby conservative lawmakers for more resources. Many teachers wearing red were carrying signs chanting "We care! We vote!" and "This is what Democracy looks like!"
Four teachers from Brunswick County who have been named teacher of the year are looking at the rally as an opportunity to meet with lawmakers.
They met with representatives Frank Iler (R-Brunswick) and Deb Butler (D-New Hanover County) to discuss the conditions inside the schools where each one teaches, hearing about the need for more school resources, specially trained school resources officers, and increased staffing to assistant with mental health issues.
Both lawmakers came away impressed with the meeting, and the effort teachers made to raise their concerns with elected leaders.
Butler had a sign outside her door welcoming teachers.
The gavels went down on the House and Senate shortly after noon Wednesday, amid galleries full of teachers clad in red shirts.
Just outside the galleries, hundreds more teachers in the building chanted "Remember, remember, we vote in November." They quieted down after a warning by General Assembly police.
North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell was in the House gallery. He said he was thrilled that thousands attended the march, but that work must continue until November elections.
Many teachers say an increase in salary would be nice, but having classroom materials provided to them would be a huge help.
Nearly all public school teachers report digging into their pockets to pay for school supplies, spending nearly $480 a year, far more than the federal $250 tax deduction available to teachers, according to a study by the National Center of Education Statistics.
Ninety-four percent of public school teachers say they spent their own money on notebooks, pens and other supplies in the 2014-15 school year without reimbursement, according to the study.
More than three dozen school districts that educate more than two-thirds of the state's 1.5 million public school students closed classrooms, including school districts in the Cape Fear region.
North Carolina's main teachers' advocacy group favors Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's proposal to raise salaries by delaying planned tax cuts. Republican legislative leaders say that's not going to happen.
Cooper spoke during Tuesday's rally, touting his proposed budget that he said will provide an 8 percent average raise for teachers and at least 5 percent for all teachers.
"We can do this by freezing tax cuts for corporations and people making more than $200,000 a year," Cooper said. "It is tax fairness for teacher pay, plain and simple.
"Go ask your legislators that question: Are you going to support even more tax cuts or support better teacher pay and investment in our public schools?" Cooper asked the crowd. "Support those who truly support public education and vote that way."
The governor didn't just talk about money during his speech. After mentioning that his mother was a public school teacher, Cooper said the rally was about respect.
"It's personal. It's about real investment in our schools," Cooper said. "If I've learned anything, teacher don't teach for incomes. Teachers teach for outcomes, outcomes that include better educated and successful students. That's what we all want."
The North Carolina Association of Educators says educators are asking for five things from elected leaders:
- Significant investment in per-pupil spending so our students have the resources to be successful.
- A multi-year professional pay plan for educators, education support professionals, administrators, and all other school personnel. This plan must include restoration of compensation for advanced degrees and longevity. The plan must also stop the flat-lining of experienced educators’ pay.
- Investing in the health and well-being of our students and making schools safer through increased school nurses, counselors, social workers, and other support personnel, and expansion of Medicaid to improve the health of our communities.
- Fix our crumbling schools and large class sizes with a Statewide School Construction Bond.
- Prioritize classrooms and not corporate boardrooms.
During her speech, Aminah Jenkins, a junior at Jordan High School in Durham, lamented losing good teachers and wanted legislators to know classroom funding and better pay for teachers is imperative for a brighter future.
"Some of the best teachers I've had end up moving out of state or into private education, not cause they want to but because they have to," Jenkins said. "My education deserves more than a 39th national ranking. They wanna call this movement selfish, but they're the ones depriving my generation of a good education.
"These are real kids who are really hurting and for us it's personal."