RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Thousands of teachers in North Carolina made their way to downtown Raleigh to march to the state legislature and demand teacher pay increases and better educational spending, among other things.
It is the largest act of organized teacher political action in state history. The North Carolina Association of Educations (NCAE), who organized the event, said they hoped bringing thousands of educators from around the state would help get the attention of lawmakers and bring attention to education issues ahead of the legislative session and November's elections.
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.
In making its case for a greater need for teacher pay raises, the NCAE pointed to the fact that North Carolina still ranks 37 in the county in teacher pay and even lower in per-pupil education.
Chad Beasley, a democratic representative of the NC House of Representatives, said he came to work on Wednesday ready to listen to teachers.
"Doing more is not the same as doing enough and clearly our teachers are telling us we are not doing enough," Beasley said. "I think we need to listen to them. I think rather than being defensive about the fact that they are here, we need to be on the offense and doing everything we can for our kids and teachers."
Republican Representative Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), who chairs the House K-12 Education Committee and is an elementary art school teacher, said he and his colleagues continue to be focused on increasing the money spent on education in North Carolina.
"You are coming off 2008 with the biggest recession since the great depression and as you know the government revenues lag a year behind with the economic growth and we do have ground to gain and we do have goals and we are working towards those goals," Elmore said.
Elmore says it may not be moving as fast as some would like but at least it is moving in the right direction; pointing out that he had firsthand knowledge of the pay struggles teachers have faced.
"I'll be going into my 18th year teaching next year and I've experienced five, six years of salary freezes," Elmore said. "I was stuck in the mid 30's and we were hoping during that time period we might get a percent we might get two percent; that's how it would function because there was not a plan in place dealing with retention or recruitment it was basically we would throw money at the problem and eventually the money ran out."
Lawmakers did not commit to any additional education funding on the first day of the session of House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) indicated legislative leaders were open to additional spending for education at a press conference held Tuesday afternoon.
WBTV Intern Kara McNamee contributed to this report.