RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – Thousands of North Carolina teachers swarmed the state legislature on Wednesday to call for pay raises and more spending on schools, making the state the country’s sixth to be roiled by educators demanding better funding.
Hundreds of teachers in red T-shirts filled a spectators gallery and chanted “remember, remember, we vote in November” as the Republican-controlled General Assembly started its session.
Teachers filled a plaza outside the legislative building amid chants of “Red for Ed” backed by drums and a trombone. The protest prompted at least 38 districts, representing more than half the state’s 1.5 million public school students, to cancel classes.
The protest continues a wave of walkouts this year by teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado who said lawmakers have failed to adequately pay teachers and provide for schools.
Carolynn Phillips, a middle school arts teacher from coastal Brunswick County who was named the county’s Teacher of the Year for 2018, called the protest a cry for respect from teachers whose pay ranks toward the bottom of U.S. states.
“We want to talk not just about compensation, but giving more resources to teachers who are asked to do so much more than teach,” Phillips said after meeting lawmakers.
The North Carolina Association of Educators is calling for per-student spending and teacher pay to be raised to at least the national average, and it wants lawmakers to restore funding for public schools to pre-recession levels.
After hearing teachers say they were working second jobs to make ends meet, Democratic Representative Deb Butler said children would suffer if the state could not keep good teachers.
“That just tells me all I need to know,” Butler said.
But Republican legislative leaders have said this year’s planned salary increase of 6 percent would mark the fifth consecutive annual increase.
“According to the NEA, North Carolina Ranked #2 in the US for fastest rising teacher pay in 2017,” Republican Senator Phil Berger, president pro tempore, said in a comment on Twitter posted during the march.
According to the National Education Association, North Carolina ranks 39th among the 50 states for average teacher salary, well behind the U.S. average of $58,353 in 2016.
Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s proposed budget calls for an 8 percent average pay hike and putting a $2 billion bond issue for school construction on the ballot.
Lawmakers have boosted education spending following the protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado. Kentucky’s governor approved a pension change that teachers had roundly rejected.
Reporting by Marti Maguire and Kirk Bado; writing by Ian Simpson; editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown