(CNN) — Thousands of North Carolina teachers skipped school Wednesday to rally at the state Capitol in Raleigh, calling for better pay, benefits and more state spending per student.
The teachers — many wearing shirts of red, a color adopted by protesting educators in other states — marched from the state educators’ association building to the Capitol in the morning. They intended to pack the third-floor galleries before noon when the Legislature reconvenes.
With so many educators using a personal day for their one-day rally, hundreds of schools in the state were closed to students Wednesday. Wake County Public School System — the largest in the state — is among those canceling classes.
In their march to the Capitol, demonstrators held signs such as “Fund our future” and “Superheroes should not need 3 jobs,” and chanted refrains such as “We vote in November.”
Among them was Lisa Godwin, the state’s 2017 teacher of the year. Salary increases are needed, she said, in part to make up for freezes during the recession and mitigate what teachers spend on classroom supplies.
“I hope (lawmakers) take away the understanding that students deserve more, and teachers can’t give more unless we’re paid adequately,” said Godwin, a kindergarten teacher in coastal Onslow County.
After watching the Legislature reconvene and meeting with lawmakers in the afternoon, the teachers plan to hold a Rally for Respect around 3:30 p.m. in a plaza across from the Capitol.
Though North Carolina teachers are skipping just one day of classes, the long-term plan is to pressure lawmakers through November’s elections.
“It’s the beginning of a six-month stretch of time to hold our legislators accountable for prioritizing corporate tax cuts instead of our classrooms,” according to the North Carolina Association of Educators.
What do teachers want?
The state teachers group said it wants lawmakers to:
— Invest more in spending per student.
— Create a multiyear pay plan for teachers, support staff, administrators and all other school personnel.
“This plan must include restoration of compensation for advanced degrees and longevity,” the state teachers group said. “The plan must also stop the flat-lining of experienced educators’ pay.”
— Increase the number of school nurses, counselors, social workers and other support personnel and expand Medicaid to improve community health.
— Create a statewide school construction board to fix crumbling schools and reduce large class sizes.
What state is offering
In an apparent pre-emptive strike, House Speaker Tim Moore said budget leaders in the House and Senate on Tuesday officially committed to at least a 6.2% increase in teacher salaries for the upcoming fiscal year.
He called the proposed increase “a major step” and told reporters the raise represents the fifth recent year that teacher pay has increased in North Carolina. That increase will bring the average teacher pay to more than $53,000, not accounting for local supplements, benefits or bonuses, he said.
According to the National Education Association, North Carolina teachers ranked 39th in average teacher pay last year, with an average salary of $49,970. They’ve had some salary increases in recent years, but when adjusted for inflation, they’ve lost 9.4% in pay since 2009.
The same report says North Carolina also ranks 39th in per-student spending — about $2,313 less per student than the national average of $11,642.
“The lackluster rankings come at the same time that the North Carolina General Assembly has passed massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy,” the North Carolina Association of Educators said.