Twenty Thousand People Amass in Downtown Raleigh to Demand Better Education Funding | News

Twenty Thousand People Amass in Downtown Raleigh to Demand Better Education Funding


  • Caitlin Penna

A sea of red swept across the streets of Raleigh this morning as thousands of teachers from across the state marched to advocate for pay raises along with more supplies and resources for public schools. According to the North Carolina Association of Educators, which coordinated the march, there were upward of twenty thousand people in attendance.

An energetic and vocal crowd gathered along South Street near the NCAE headquarters and marched through downtown toward the state legislative building. Along the route, onlookers and business owners gawked at the immense size of the crowd, and news helicopters hummed overhead to capture one of the largest education rallies in the state’s history. An NCAE spokesperson said that 42 out of the 115 school districts in North Carolina—representing 75 percent of the state’s student population—closed due to the march.

Rally-goers in their red shirts streamed into the legislative building, where the General Assembly began its short session today, filling chamber galleries and the lobby. As legislators convened, the crowd could be heard chanting, "Remember, remember, we vote in November."

Outside the chamber, capitol police on a few occasions asked protesters to be quiet. One legislator on the House floor asked Speaker Tim Moore to enforce rules of order.

Legislators briefly recognized the teachers present—and one in particular: Peggy Locklear, who worked for the Public Schools of Robeson County for fifty-seven years.

"We would just like to collectively recognize and thank all the teachers from around the state who traveled to be with us,” Moore said.

Republican lawmakers have pushed back against teachers' calls for more school funding, citing teacher pay raises approved in previous years that education advocates say are insufficient. Educators planned to schedule meetings with their representatives after the morning session.

Protesters say that as class sizes rise while materials for students across the state become more limited, their primary concern is ensuring that students have all of the resources they need to be successful. Rachel Polmanteer, an eighth-grade science teacher at Wake Forest Middle School, said she must work a second job to earn money for her students’ lab assignments and other hands-on activities.

“Especially as a science teacher, we’re looking at books that are fourteen years old, and they keep telling us, ‘Oh, well you can go digital.’ Well, you can’t go digital when you’re looking at a four-student-to-one-computer ratio,” she says. “It’s very hard. I write grants all the time. That’s how my students are able to do [projects]. I fund a lot of the projects out of my own pocket.”

  • Nick Gallagher

Although teacher salaries have risen marginally over the past several years, North Carolina ranks thirty-ninth in teacher pay, according to the latest report from the National Education Association. The NCAE says that the amount of money legislators spend per student is over $3,000 below the national average.

Corey Mitchell, a teacher of over twenty years at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, fears that budget cuts and staffing limitations have led to a public school system that is ultimately unsustainable.

“The mantra became, again and again, ‘Do more with less.’ And the problem has become at this point that there’s not much less to do more with,” Mitchell says. “I know certainly at my school, so many young new teachers are only lasting two, three, at the max four years before they go into a new career.”

Advocates at the NCAE called for legislators to invest in school nurses, counselors, and social workers, expand the state's per-pupil spending, and improve school infrastructure and lower student classroom counts, among other demands.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, North Carolina joins seven other states that have recently enacted income tax cuts, costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue every year.

Amy Buchen, a first-grade educator at Brassfield Elementary School in Raleigh, says she was amazed by the immense community that formed in the wake of this morning's protests.

"I think lawmakers, politicians, they underestimate teachers,” she says. “I don't think they ever thought that we would unite like this and get schools closed across the state [to] be here."

After meeting with individual legislators, the crowd gathered again for a Rally for Respect in front of the General Assembly.

The rally culminated with remarks from educators and Governor Roy Cooper, who unveiled a budget proposal last week included an average teacher raise of 8 percent that would be paid for by canceling a planned tax cuts for corporations and people earning more than $200,000.

“Teachers don’t teach for incomes, they teach for outcomes,” he said.

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