May 16, 2018, 12:57 PM ET

Demanding respect, thousands of teachers and students swarm North Carolina capital

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Tens of thousands of public school teachers and students wearing #RedForEd T-shirts marched in the streets of North Carolina's capital today, surrounding the state General Assembly building in a powerful show of solidarity for increased education funding.

Educators across the state walked out of schools and gathered for a rally in Raleigh in hopes that lawmakers will hear their calls for higher pay and funding for classroom resources they say have been diminished by a decade of cuts while major corporations have gotten tax breaks.

PHOTO: People watch from inside the Legislative Building as participants gather during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., on May 16, 2018.Gerry Broome/AP
People watch from inside the Legislative Building as participants gather during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., on May 16, 2018.

The one-day labor action caused numerous school districts across the state to cancel classes for more than 1 million students.

"It's become a struggle every day when you don't have what you need to be able to equip these young folks with what they need," William Powell, a middle school teacher in Raleigh, told ABC station WTVD-TV as he and scores of other educators marched down Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.

Powell said he is about to retire after working 32 years as a teacher in Raleigh.

PHOTO: Participants make their way towards the Legislative Building during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., on May 16, 2018.Gerry Broome/AP
Participants make their way towards the Legislative Building during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., on May 16, 2018.

"Education is a profession that needs to be respected and for so long we haven't been respected," Powell said. "I mean we're treated like a stepchild and we are the professionals that make the professionals."

The rally in Raleigh is just the latest in a wave of teacher uprisings this year. The revolt started with striking teachers in West Virginia, who inspired their counterparts in Oklahoma and Arizona to form picket lines of their own.

Teachers in Kentucky and Colorado have also staged walkouts and sickouts, calling for raises and protesting changes in their pension plan.

In Puerto Rico, thousands of teachers walked out of classes in March to protest the cash-strapped government's plan to shut down more than 300 schools this year as the unincorporated U.S. territory struggles to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September.

PHOTO: Teachers gather outside the Senate and House chambers during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., on May 16, 2018.Gerry Broome/AP
Teachers gather outside the Senate and House chambers during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., on May 16, 2018.

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said up to 15,000 teachers and thousands of more students and their parents are joining in the all-day rally at the state Capitol in Raleigh.

The North Carolina educators say their top goal is to get legislators to increase annual per-pupil funding, which is currently about $9,329, according to a 2018 report by the National Education Association.

"We are currently about $2,400 below the national average in how we fund our public school children," Jewell said at a news conference in Raleigh earlier this week.

North Carolina teachers are calling for higher pay. The average salary for teachers in the state is $49,970, or about $9,000 below the national average, Jewell said.

The educators also want their lawmakers to fork over money to fix crumbling schools and fund 500 school counselors, social workers and psychologists.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has proposed boosting teacher pay 8 percent and up to 14.8 percent for educators with at least 25 years of experience. The state's Republican-dominated General Assembly is calling for raises of 5 to 6 percent.

"It's hard to teach when we don't have the supplies that we need, when we don't have the curriculum in place in time," Ann Simmons, an elementary school teacher in Raleigh, told WTVD-TV. "Our classrooms are falling apart, the building doesn't get cleaned on a regular basis because we don't have funds to clean it."

Simmons said that if she gets the chance to speak to state legislators today, she'll tell them how hard teachers work.

"I'm one of the last teachers out of the building on a regular basis, and we work really hard for the kids and we're passionate," Simmons said.

She added that younger teachers quit every year to take jobs in other higher paying professions.

"We need those young, passionate teachers to stay in the profession," Simmons said.

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  • Lee Thompson

    If we have billions for billionaires, we should have money for education. Teachers shouldn't have to purchase supplies out of their own pocket, and teachers should be paid appropriately for their education.

  • Elizabeth Cline

    Let them stay gone and replace them.. the yr my son was in high school in NC was a nightmare. The teachers were rude crude had no respect. Not for parents or kids. They liked and there were racist problems. They couldn't control the kids that were out of hand and didn't try and so the bullying and such went crazy. The principal and superintendent also did nothing. We pulled my son out and put him in charter and then next year we moved back out of state thank God. Nc needs upheaval but not in pay..they need a new system..

  • Aaron Crook

    A rookie cop with 6 months training makes more than a school teacher with years of experience.
    No one ever said a person needs to be very bright to be a cop.

  • Truthful Opinion

    I wonder how is it that the United States is called the richest country in the world and we can't afford to pay teachers a decent salary, and take care of our veterans.And as the so called richest country in the world why do the US borrow so much money from other countries if we're so rich?

  • Darrell Parks

    A one-day trip to Raleigh, then back to school to do their jobs and educate the children. Sounds like dedicated teachers to me.

  • Peter Carson

    I find it sad that as a nation we cannot afford to provide safe and well maintained classrooms and books for our children, we choose to not compensate teachers competitively with other college educated professionals, and we generally send the message that education is unimportant. We have seem blue collar jobs be moved to other countries where the wage scales are significantly less than those demanded by US workers, and we are lagging behind training our kids to hold white collar jobs. We spend less that other industrialized countries, as a percentage of GDP, for elementary and secondary education, and then we charge more than any other country for post secondary education, making a college education unattainable for many. This does not seem to be a path to sustained future success.

  • sixstrings

    if every state that pays their teachers below the national average increases teacher pay to the national average, then the national average teacher pay will go up and those teachers will again be below the national average pay.

    what happens then?

  • Im_with_the_banned

    Whenever i see these stories the first question i always ask is, "how are the pensions doing?" That is the ticking time bomb in education and government that will blow in the near future and there wont be money for anything.

  • Henry Miller

    All three of my kids did K-12 in North Carolina public schools. Some, a few, of their teachers were excellent, but, for example, in 5th grade, my daughter knew more math than her so-called "teacher." In 6th or 7th grade, one of my sons got grade-retaliated for writing a defence of the 2nd Amendment. The schools wasted endless time covering the history of Africa but never got around to any history of the US and very little of Europe. No mention was ever made of the US Constitution or anything that might fall into the category of "civics."

    The highest level of math taught in their high school was differential calculus--something that I had as a second-year when I was in high school--and even that course tried to cram trigonometry, analytic geometry, and calculus into a single year. No English literature* and "American" lit somehow managed to miss Twain, though it somehow managed to cover the lament of, I think, some kid in some Chicago slum.

    If teachers want "respect," then they need to learn respect for not just their students but for the parents and the country of those students. And if they want better pay, they need to teach better and get the US up from where it currently sits in the PISA rankings, at 41st in math and about 25th in reading and science.

    I went to elementary school, in the early 60s, in dirt-poor Rockbridge County, Virginia, and I got a vastly better education there and then than my kids got from their North Carolina schools. My teachers taught, not coddled.

    * Well, in 5th grade, one of my sons was treated harshly for doing a report on one of Kipling's "Just So" stories--the teacher was from India and still resented the era of the British Raj.

  • 1980Gardener

    I worry about the welfare of many NC students if the taxes go up, and parents have less money to save for health care, college, retirement and general quality of life.

  • OldArmy81

    Fire the teachers, expel the students. I'm certain Silicone Valley has plenty of job opening for unemployed teachers and kids who failed to finish high school.

  • sixstrings

    it would help, while protesting that what they get paid isn't enough, they gave us some idea of what (in real numbers) would be enough.

    is it too much to ask for them to provide something regarding what a teacher with X years of experience and with X level of degrees/credentials should be making?

    are they asking that their average pay be raised to meet the national average?