About 40 school districts across North Carolina—including the state’s largest—will close Wednesday as thousands of teachers are set to rally for a nearly $10,000 pay raise over four years and more school funding.
Teachers across the state will head to Raleigh, the state capital, to attend the “March for Students and Rally for Respect,” which coincides with the state legislature’s first day back in session. Droves of teachers had requested personal leave for the day, forcing school districts to cancel classes. North Carolina is the fifth state this spring to see such widespread teacher activism.
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The state teachers’ union, the North Carolina Association of Educators, released its legislative priorities earlier this week. Those include bringing North Carolina’s per-pupil spending and average teacher pay to the national average in four years, as well as adding 500 additional school nurses, social workers, and counselors to public schools. The union is advocating for no corporate tax cuts until per-pupil spending and teacher pay reach the national average.
In North Carolina, the average teacher salary is $49,970, according to the National Education Association. The national average is $59,660. The NCAE estimates that the state’s per-pupil spending is about $2,400 behind the national average.
Teachers in the state have already been met with some resistance: State Superintendent Mark Johnson has said he does not condone the protest, as closing schools “affects not only students, but also parents, hourly workers who work at our schools, and also other teachers who might not be taking part in that day.”
And one Republican state lawmaker had some harsh words for teachers participating in the protest, saying teachers’ union “thugs” are behind it.
“The hypocrisy is that they say they are supporting the students. One less day of instruction does not help students,” Rep. Mark Brody wrote on his Facebook page. “Teaching our children that it is OK to not show up for work does not set a good example.”
Legislative leaders have said public education spending has already increased by nearly $2 billion since 2011, and that the state budget includes a fifth consecutive raise for teachers next school year.
Teachers in other states who walked out of their classrooms this spring did see some legislative victories: The state legislatures in Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arizona all passed teacher pay raises, and teachers in Colorado and Kentucky saw some concessions on controversial changes to their pensions.
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Meanwhile, teachers in a Colorado town just concluded a five-day strike—the state’s first official strike in nearly 25 years. (Teachers across the state had forced school closures earlier in the year by protesting at the state Capitol, but they weren’t striking against a school board.) The Pueblo teachers’ union voted to accept a deal that includes a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for this school year, retroactive from January, and a 2.5 percent raise next school year. The union had originally been seeking a 2 percent raise for the full 2017-18 school year.
Image: People gather outside the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh during a protest in 2014. Protesters called for a host of repeals on Republican-written laws, including teacher pay and unemployment insurance. —Gerry Broome/AP-File
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.