RALEIGH, NC (WBTV/AP) - Thousands of North Carolina educators are marching together in Raleigh to rally for better pay, improved working conditions, and better school funding in the largest act of organized teacher political action in state history.
The march follows months of teacher unrest around the country. Since February, strikes, walkouts and protest rallies have swept through West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma - pushing legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding.
The March for Students got underway around 10 a.m. Teachers wearing red and holding signs were seen flooding the streets of Raleigh. Around 15,000 teachers were expected to participate in the march. By noon, the number of participants reached 25,000.
Teachers started boarding buses in Charlotte around 6 a.m. to make their way to the state capitol. According to the president of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, seven buses were paid for by a private donation and through CMAE budget.
The NCGA Senate convened for the start of the 2018 short session, with a gallery full of teachers
"I think they've pretty much filled every corner of the chamber, " Lt. Gov Dan Forest said.
Around 1 p.m., the Senate adjourned due to the chanting coming from the teachers. They will reconvene on Thursday, May 17 at 10 a.m.
Teachers in North Carolina earn an average salary of around $50,000, ranking them 37th in the country last year, the National Education Association reported last month.
The pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year — the second-biggest increase in the country — and was estimated to rise an average 1.8 percent this year, the NEA said. But the union points out that that still represents a 9.4 percent slide in real income since 2009 due to inflation.
Sen. Phil Berger tweeted a short time after the rally began: According to the General Assembly's nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division, the average teacher salary for the 2018-19 school year will be $53,600.
Berger says the difference is an average of $8,600 – or a 19-percent increase – compared to the 2013-14 school year.
According to CMS, North Carolina spends $8,940 on each student, the national average for per pupil expenditure is nearly $12,000. Teachers believe more money spent on students would make a difference.
"What does that mean - that means more nurses, psychologists, more teacher assistants. More textbooks, more desks, more everything," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators President Erlene Lyde said.
With the large number of teacher absences Wednesday, 12 school districts in the WBTV viewing area designated May 16 an optional teacher workday.
The rally was intended to call for increasing teacher pay and investment in public education, lowering staff ratios in schools and decreasing class sizes. May 16 is the day the General Assembly returned to Raleigh.
Below are districts that canceled class Wednesday:
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
- Caldwell County Schools
- Mooresville Graded School District
- Iredell-Statesville Schools
- Cabarrus County Schools
- Hickory City Schools
- Rowan-Salisbury Schools
- Kannapolis City Schools
- Union County Public Schools
- Gaston County Schools
- Stanly County Schools
- Alexander County Schools
Avery County Schools, Burke County Schools, Lincoln County Schools and Anson County Schools still had class Wednesday. Watauga County Schools, Ashe County Schools, Catawba County Schools and Cleveland County Schools did not respond to WBTV's question on whether classes would be in session.
Durham and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts also told students not to report to school Wednesday because too many teachers would be absent, the Charlotte Observer reports.
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 the National Center of Education Statistics.
The findings were released Tuesday. Helping teachers pay for class supplies was a key demand during the Arizona teachers' strike.
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.
Around 3:30 p.m. thousands of teachers set up outside the N.C. General Assembly requesting state lawmakers to increase the state's per pupil expenditure. They want the state to reach that national average for per pupil spending with the next four years.
The legislative session—known as the short session—started Wednesday; the march was planned to coincide with lawmakers being back in town.
Ahead of Wednesday's event, Republican lawmakers said they have provided teachers with salary increases over each of the past four years and wrote a pay increase for 2018-2019 into the biennial budget passed last year.
But NCAE and Democrats, including those in the legislature and Governor Roy Cooper, countered with claims that education remains underfunded.
The governor shared his remarks Wednesday amid the rally expressing his support for the NCAE March for Students & Rally for Respect.
"We need to get to at least the national average- 37th in the country is totally unacceptable," Cooper said. "Better pay is just one of the ways we can show our respect for you. But we must do more for our schools. We have to invest in textbooks and digital learning materials! We have to improve the physical condition of our schools! We have to hire more nurses, more counselors, more school resource officers!"
Students will not likely be required to make up the day, school officials said.
Teachers gathered around 9:45 a.m. at North Carolina Association of Education headquarters in Raleigh and headed to the North Carolina General Assembly Headquarters to bring their demands for better pay and school resources to legislators' doorstep.
Those who were unable to join their counterparts in Raleigh gathered in Charlotte with a large and enthusiastic crowd.
Like their counterparts in Raleigh, the overwhelming majority of those attending this rally were dressed in red.
An estimated 1,200 people attended the rally that was held from approximately 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.
The NCGA sessions convened at noon. The rally is expected to wrap up around 4 p.m.