North Carolina Teachers to March on Raleigh for the Second Time May 1
The energetic chants echoed off the high-rise buildings of downtown Raleigh as a sea of educators in red T-shirts made their way through the streets: “This is what Democracy looks like!” The protest drew national attention, but for North Carolina’s educators, the intended audience was sitting inside the Capitol building.
On May 16, 2018, 19,000 North Carolina teachers gathered at the March for Students and Rally for Respect to advocate for their profession and send a message to the General Assembly. The North Carolina Association of Educators organized the event, calling on lawmakers to raise teacher pay and education spending in North Carolina up to par with the national average. Additionally, they pushed for a ballot referendum for a $1.9 billion school construction bond to be voted on in the 2018 election. Although the referendum never came to fruition, their voices were heard at the polls that November. Voters broke the Republican supermajority in our state government, with significant gains for Democrats in Wake and Mecklenburg counties. Last year’s rally successfully showed lawmakers that teachers are active participants in politics with enough community influence to help shape elections. This year, they will march again to build on these accomplishments and make new demands for continuous school improvement.
Teacher pay in North Carolina has consistently risen over the past five years, with the most recent 6.2 percent increase in 2018. Due to these increases, North Carolina rose from 45th to 29th in the nation for average teacher pay. Critics of the march and its message raise these points, claiming the protests are unnecessary and conditions are steadily improving. However, these salary gains do not equally benefit the most experienced teachers, who believe their pay should reflect their years in the field. Additionally, high rates of inflation after the 2009 recession offset the pay raises, putting teachers in a less favorable position than ten years ago. Therefore, educators continue to advocate for higher salaries, showing their support for Governor Cooper’s proposal for an average raise of 9.1 percent.
The NCAE also hopes to make more progress in winning funds for schools. In 2013, Republican lawmakers led efforts to make major state tax cuts. Personal income tax and corporate tax rates were reduced, and the estate tax was ended altogether. The revenue generated from these taxes help fund teacher salaries, but the cuts hinder pay raises. Furthermore, the cuts prevent additional funding from going toward supplies, building maintenance, and other necessities. Lack of adequate infrastructure and educational tools puts educators at a disadvantage in helping their students, and the march draws attention to this plight.
This year, the NCAE has compiled a new list of demands for the General Assembly, focusing on holistic school improvement and benefits for both current and retired teachers. The full list includes the following goals: protecting and improving Medicaid to promote student health, paying all school employees a $15 minimum wage, and making it possible to hire more school nurses, social workers, and psychologists. The list also calls for bonuses for teachers with advanced degrees and additional health benefits for retired teachers.
The first two demands drew intense criticism from opponents, but the NCAE and the marchers refuse to back down. Mass school closures are anticipated across the state on May 1, and organizers expect to see the same red wave descend on Raleigh. After last year’s elections, teachers rightfully expect their voices to be heard and their politicians held accountable, which is why they will say once again: “Remember, remember, we vote in November.”