NC teachers demand more money for schools, better pay
A striking teacher displays a sign with a message alluding to the subpar wage she earns. | AP

RALEIGH, N.C.—At least 20,000 North Carolina teachers, decked out in the now-familiar #RedforEd T-shirts, descended on the state capital building in Raleigh on May 16. They demanded more funding for the schools so they can teach their kids, better pay for themselves and support staffers, and an end to the corporate tax cuts that robbed Tar Heel state schools of money for at least the past decade.

So many North Carolina teachers walked out, went to Raleigh, or both, that half the schools in the state, covering two-thirds of the students, had to close. Other unions, led by the state AFL-CIO, supported the walkout – which really was the lobby day of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), a National Education Association affiliate.

“What they’ve been doing to our public schools is not right,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said of the state legislature.

Carolina teachers thus became the latest in a lengthening line of teachers who have taken matters into their own hands and taken to the streets in red states, demanding more funding for schools, better pay for themselves and staff, and guaranteed funding streams for education – including an end to state corporate tax cuts that robbed schools of needed cash.

West Virginia’s teachers started the parade when they were forced to strike for nine days after the GOP-run legislature refused to raise their pay and planned to cut their pensions. They were followed by teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona – plus another massive lobby day by Colorado teachers in the state capital, Denver. All had similar demands, and, except in Oklahoma, won most of them.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D), greeted the North Carolina teachers by proposing an 8 percent raise and more funds for books, repairs and buying materials. One teacher tweeted a photo of a textbook for elementary schoolers about the presidents. It’s so old kids had to draw in likenesses of every president after Reagan.

But the heavily gerrymandered GOP-run state legislature is another matter. The state House speaker declared Carolina’s teachers got larger raises than any others nationwide during the last two years, and said they should go back to the classroom.

And GOP State Rep. Mike Broady ranted about “teacher union thugs” on a radio call-in show and a long blog. Other Republicans muttered that state law bans public worker strikes. North Carolina is a right to work state, the legislature has a veto-proof GOP majority and its public worker labor law is so bad that a decade ago the national AFL-CIO filed a formal complaint with the International Labour Organization against the state.

The NCAE cited tax cuts which left the state with a 3 percent corporate tax rate while teacher pay is 37th in the U.S., and per pupil spending is lower than that. The state has the biggest say in that, too, as it provides 60 percent of funds for the schools, the National Education Association reports.

“Our students deserve better,” the NCAE said in a statement before the mass demonstration in Raleig

“They deserve resources to help make them successful. They deserve professionally paid educators. They deserve safe schools and schools that are not crumbling and in disrepair.”

“MARCH FOR STUDENTS, RALLY FOR RESPECT” the NCAE headlined its website.

“#GetReady for our March for Students and Rally for Respect on May 16th. So far, the response has been outstanding for our Advocacy Day when the General Assembly goes back into session. We are bookending the day with two very powerful events to show our support for public school students, educators, and public education overall,” the site added.

“North Carolina is one of the worst in the country in the amount our elected leaders spend per student, about $2,400 behind the national average. Imagine what $2,400 per child could mean for our students and their future. However, we have the lowest corporate tax rate in the country for states that have one—and it’s set to go lower again,” an NCAE fact sheet said.

One demand, the pay hike, would bring North Carolina teachers up to the national average in four years. Right now, they’re $9,600 per teacher behind. The NCAE also wants “a multi-year professional pay plan” for teachers, support staffers and administrators, “significant improvement in per pupil spending so our students have the resources to be successful, and more school nurses, counselors and social workers to help the kids.

The teachers also want state lawmakers to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income Carolinian kids, as the Obama-era Affordable Care Act allows, with the feds picking up the tab. North Carolina is one of the anti-Obama states whose ruling Republicans have refused to enact Medicaid expansion. Cooper also wants to expand Medicaid.

“Our students deserve better. They deserve resources to help make them successful. They deserve professionally paid educators. They deserve safe schools and schools that are not crumbling and in disrepair. We love our public schools and we deserve better!”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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