In Oregon and North Carolina, teachers are planning to walk out of their classrooms in protest in May.
These statewide protests are the latest to be scheduled in a year full of teacher activism that’s largely been centered around wages and conditions for students. Last spring, there were a half-dozen large-scale strikes and protests, including a one-day walkout in North Carolina. This school year, teacher strikes have largely been focused in big cities, like Los Angeles, Denver, and Oakland, Calif.—but a few thousand teachers in Virginia protested in the state capital in January, and teachers across Kentucky have staged “sickouts” several times, forcing schools to close.
Now, almost a year later, North Carolina teachers are preparing for round two. Union delegates voted to hold a “day of action” on May 1, when teachers will march in Raleigh to call for a 5 percent pay raise, more support staff in schools, extra pay for advanced degrees, and an expansion of Medicaid to improve student health.
The N.C. Association of Educators is asking teachers to request off for that day. Last year, at least 40 school districts were forced to close due to the high number of teacher absences, including the largest districts in the state. That summer, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a 6.5 percent average teacher pay raise.
The state teachers’ union president Mark Jewell told the Raleigh News & Observer that he expects turnout this year to be similar to the last protest, and that school districts will likely close again.
“This is the will of the educators across the state of North Carolina,” he told the paper.
The average teacher salary in North Carolina this school year is nearly $54,000—still below the national average of about $60,000, according to the National Education Association. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed raising teacher pay by 9.1 percent over two years.
According to the News & Observer, Republican state legislators have condemned the union’s focus on Medicaid expansion, saying that it’s part of an “unrelated political agenda.” In recent months, teachers’ demands in various parts of the country have become broader and more focused on social-justice initatives. For example, the Los Angeles teachers’ union fought for legal support for immigrant students and families and to end random searches of students. And the Chicago teachers’ union, which is bargaining with the district now, is pushing for investments in affordable housing.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, the state teachers’ union is also planning a day of action on May 8 and urging teachers to walk out of their classrooms in protest of a proposed state budget for schools.
“The choice to truly invest in our schools has been in front of us before and we have not met the challenge. But this year is different because we will make it different,” said Oregon Education Association President John Larson in a press conference in March. “Thirty years of disinvestment have put our schools into crisis, and today is the breaking point for me and for educators around the state.”
The proposed legislative budget increases K-12 funding—but it still doesn’t fully fund schools, according to the union. Larson has said he thinks the proposed budget will result in 900 educators across the state being laid off, along with shorter school years and larger class sizes.
State legislators have until June 30 to pass a final budget.
According to the local news channel KGW8, an OEA spokesperson said it was “unfortunate” that teachers might have to resort to a work stoppage to get lawmakers’ attention, but the union has noticed how that tactic has been successful for teachers in other states.
Image: North Carolina protesters make their way toward the Legislative Building during a teachers rally in Raleigh, N.C., on May 16, 2018. Thousands of teachers rallied the state capital seeking a political showdown over wages and funding for public school classrooms. —Gerry Broome/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.