Updated 4:02 p.m.

RALEIGH — Thousands of teachers filled the streets of North Carolina's capital Wednesday demanding better pay and more funding for public schools, continuing the trend of educators around the country rising up to pressure lawmakers for change.

City blocks turned red, the color of shirts worn by the marchers, who carried signs and chanted "We care! We vote!" and "This is What Democracy Looks Like!" An estimated 19,000 people joined the march, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which drew from aerial photos.

"I feel the current politicians in charge of the state are anti-public education," Raleigh high school teacher Bill Notarnicola said as he prepared a time-lapse photo of the march. "The funds are not keeping up with the growth. We are seeing cutback, after cutback, after cutback."

Many teachers entered the Legislative Building, continuing to chant as the Republican-controlled legislature held short floor meetings to start its annual work session. Most teachers quieted down when asked, but a woman who yelled, "Education is a Right: That is why we have to fight," was among four escorted from the Senate gallery. No arrests were made.

The state's Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was scheduled to address an afternoon teacher rally.

Previous strikes, walkouts and protests in West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma have led legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding.

Wednesday's march in North Carolina prompted three-dozen school districts that educate more than two-thirds of the state's 1.5 million public school students to cancel class.

Rachel Holdridge, a special education teacher at Wilmington's Alderman Elementary School with 22 years' experience, said she drives for Uber to make ends meet. She said lawmakers have let teachers down by failing to equip them properly to do their jobs.

"They keep giving tiny raises and taking so much away from the kids," said Holdridge, who came to the Legislative Building ahead of the march to lobby legislators. While she took a sober view of whether the rally would change policy, she said: "You've got to start somewhere."

The state's main teacher advocacy group, the North Carolina Association of Educators, demands legislators increase per-pupil spending to the national average in four years, increase school construction for a growing state, and approve a multiyear pay raise for teachers and school support staff to bring incomes to the national average.

The teachers' group favors a proposal by Cooper to raise salaries by stopping planned tax cuts on corporations and high-income households.

However, state Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, have made clear they have no plans to funnel more money to classrooms by postponing January's planned tax cuts.

"We have no intention of raising taxes," Berger said before the march, complaining that "a million kids are not going to be in school (Wednesday) because a political organization wants to have folks come" to the legislature.

Susan Alton Dailey of Durham brought her elementary-school-aged son and daughter to the march, saying she's not concerned they're missing class.

"I really feel like this is a part of their education — standing up and being active in a civic way," she said.

And with the state's finances stabilized after the Great Recession, teachers say it's time to catch up on deferred school spending. Teachers are photocopying assignments off the internet or from old workbooks because textbooks haven't been replenished in years, North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell said.

North Carolina teachers earn an average salary of about $50,000, ranking them 39th in the country last year, the National Education Association reported last month. Their pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year — the second-biggest increase in the country — and was estimated to rise an average 1.8 percent this year, the NEA said. But that still represents a 9.4 percent slide in real income since 2009 due to inflation, the union said.

Barbara Faulkner, a South Granville High School English teacher who makes $53,000 per year, said a house she owned went into foreclosure because she had planned her spending around a seniority-based raise plan that was stopped a decade ago.

The 38-year-old said her concerns go beyond teacher pay to basic school needs that go unfunded.

"We have a library but no librarian. You can't check out books," she said. "The collection hasn't been updated. The library is for storage and meetings. The books are on the floor."

 


RALEIGH — Thousands of teachers have gathered in front of the North Carolina Legislative Building where the route of their march ends.

Lines to enter the legislature's front and rear entrances wrapped along the building's perimeter. Entry was going at a slow and steady pace as security officers used metal detectors and bag scanners to screen people entering.

Once inside, some teachers were seeking to meet with lawmakers, while others were trying to get seats in the gallery to watch legislative debate. The General Assembly was set to start its yearly work session Wednesday.

An afternoon teacher rally was also planned after the morning's march.

The march and rally were organized to demand better pay for teachers and more resources for public schools.

_______________________________________________________

RALEIGH — Thousands of teachers gathered Wednesday in North Carolina's capital to demand better pay and more resources for public schools in the conservative, tax-cutting state, continuing a nationwide trend of teachers rising up to pressure lawmakers for change.

Wearing red and with messages such as "Respect Public Education" on their shirts and signs, as many as 15,000 teachers from around the state were expected to participate in the march starting at 10:30 a.m. A couple thousand of them came from the Triad, including Guilford and Winston-Salem/Forsyth school systems.

Police were already posted along the route through downtown to the General Assembly, where predominantly Republican lawmakers were beginning their annual session the same day.

Previous strikes, walkouts and protests in West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma have led legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding.

Tracy Brumble, a teacher at Milbrook Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, was with about a dozen fellow teachers at the school waiting for a bus to carry them to the march's starting point. They were all wearing red t-shirts, matching the color of the #RedForEd theme of the day.

"We're here to tell our legislators and our representatives that we need more funds to keep our buildings in good shape, to get more textbooks, more resources for our students, to just have a better environment for public education," she said.

The state's main teacher advocacy group, the North Carolina Association of Educators, demands that legislators increase per-pupil spending to the national average in four years, increase school construction for a growing state, and approve a multiyear pay raise for teachers and school support staff that would raise incomes to the national average.

More than three dozen school districts that together educate more than two-thirds of the state's 1.5 million public school students have decided to close classrooms to allow for the show of strength by the teachers and their advocacy group.

"The fact that a million kids are not going to be in school (Wednesday) because a political organization wants to have folks come there to communicate with us or send a message" should be the day's focus, said state Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden.

The teachers' group favors a proposal by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to raise salaries by stopping planned tax cuts on corporations and high-income households.

Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore made clear they have no plans to funnel more money to classrooms by postponing January's planned tax cuts, including one for what is already one of the country's lowest corporate income taxes.

"We have no intention of raising taxes," Berger said.

But with the Great Recession in the past and the state's financial stability restored, teachers say it's time to catch up on deferred school spending. Teachers are photocopying assignments off the internet or from old workbooks because textbooks haven't been replenished in years, said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators who has taught in Guilford County.

North Carolina teachers earn an average salary of about $50,000, ranking them 39th in the country last year, the National Education Association reported last month. Their pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year — the second-biggest increase in the country — and was estimated to rise an average 1.8 percent this year, the NEA said. But the union points out that that still represents a 9.4 percent slide in real income since 2009 due to inflation.

Their demands are also political. The Republican-led legislature should expand Medicaid coverage so students and their families stay healthy, and cancel corporate tax cuts until school spending is increased, Jewell said.

At the Legislative Building, the site of a planned outdoor rally following the march, some teachers had already come inside to lobby their legislators.

Rachel Holdridge, a special education teacher at Wilmington's Alderman Elementary School, said she drives for Uber to make ends meet despite working in education for 22 years. She said lawmakers and state government have let teachers down by failing to equip them properly to do their job.

"They keep giving tiny raises and taking so much away from the kids," said Holdridge, who took a sober view of whether the rally would make a difference in policy. But, she said, "you've got to start somewhere."

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