Now, North Carolina teachers take to the streets

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In the latest instance of educators striking for better wages and facilities, over 20,000 marched to the State capitol

By Abhijan Choudhury / The Dawn News / May 18, 2018

The wave of teachers’ strikes in the United States reached North Carolina this week as nearly 20,000 teachers took to the streets demanding better pay and amenities, The impact of the strike was felt in at least 42 school districts in the State.

The teachers, clad in red,  filled the streets of North Carolina’s capital city Raleigh with loud chants, including “We Care! We Vote!”, “This is what democracy looks like!”, “I believe we will win!” and “hey hey hey ho ho, the attack on schools has got to go!” Placards bearing slogans such as “NC teachers are superheroes,” “My 2nd job paid for this sign,” and “#BROKEBUTWOKE” were also seen.

The March for Students and Rally for Respect, the largest act of organized political action by teachers in the State’s history, was spearheaded by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). The teachers marched up to the State capitol to substantial support from business establishments on the way. Once at the legislature, many teachers waited in long lines to enter the legislative building and fill the gallery. As the North Carolina General Assembly session began, 3,000 teachers were allowed to enter the building to lobby for funding.

The NCAE demanded that the legislators increase per-pupil spending in the State to match the national average in four years, increase school construction, and approve a multi-year pay raise for educators and support staff that would raise incomes to the national average.

NCAE President Mark Jewell said the rally was about pushing for a shift in mentality and making public education a top priority. “We’re going to change the trajectory of public education in North Carolina,” Jewel told WRAL.

The National Education Association vice-president, Becky Pringle, an educator with 31 years of experience, told the crowd, “You are in the fight of your lives, in the fight of your lives to ensure that your students have the kind of education that inspires their imagination and prepares them to live into their brilliance.”

North Carolina ranks 37th in teacher pay and 39th in per-pupil spending nationally. The State  will have to spend 25% more per pupil just to reach the national average. Teachers’ wages have fallen by 9.4% in real terms due to inflation over the last decade. Over the same period, spending on public schools has dropped by 8%.

Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s Democratic governor, who was among the attendees, told the crowd that low teacher pay was “unacceptable”. He then laid out a plan to raise taxes on corporations and those making above $200,000 a year, giving teachers an 8% average pay increase, with some receiving raises as high as 14%.

“It is tax fairness for teacher pay,” Cooper said. “Corporations and people making above $200,000 a year have had big [tax] cuts over the last few years from both the State of North Carolina and the federal government … Let’s use that money to raise teacher pay instead.” His plan also involves $25 million for textbooks and digital learning, and a $150 stipend for teachers who shell out money for classroom supplies.

However, State Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, have made it clear that they have no plans to funnel more money into classrooms by postponing January’s planned tax cuts in a State which already has one of the country’s lowest corporate income tax rates.

The call to freeze planned tax cuts was echoed by Cooper during the rally, where he said more money was needed to increase spending on the state’s public schools.

Wednesday’s rally in North Carolina follows similar such movements in Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Colorado. All these States rank poorly on teacher pay. The series of strikes in the education sector have won the support of the labour movement and have struck a chord with the public, which has been overwhelmingly on the side of the teachers. Educators have won pay rises in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.

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