Teachers take case to Raleigh
By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Hundreds of Pitt County teachers will be among 15,000 expected to gather in Raleigh today to demonstrate for more funding for public schools as the General Assembly begins its session.
Pitt teachers were expected to climb aboard four charter buses in addition to traveling to the capitol on their own for the “March for Students and Rally for Respect.” They plan to ask the Republican-dominated state legislature to adjust the state’s budget plan to increase teacher pay and per-pupil funding and address other needs such as school security. The day will start with a march at 10 a.m. and conclude with a rally at 3:30 p.m.
More than three dozen school districts — from the 10 largest to many smaller ones in rural areas — that educate more than two-thirds of the state’s 1.5 million public school students have decided to close classrooms as a result, according to the Associated Press. Pitt County Schools announced last week it would cancel classes after 328 teachers requested the day off.
Sen. Don Davis, a Democrat representing District 5, said he is looking forward to meeting with educators from Pitt County to talk about their concerns. He has been a vocal supporter of finding ways to help schools fund improved security measures but will be meeting with local teachers to hear directly from them.
“I’m truly tickled residents are responding this way, to come Raleigh to share their concerns,” Davis said. “When you have residents coming from across the state, voices come with different perspectives. I believe the voices must be heard and will be heard.”
Strikes, walkouts and protest rallies have swept through West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma since February. The resulting pressure led legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding.
Legislative leaders on Tuesday issued a joint statement that focused on recent pay raises and pledged to maintain the 6.2 percent increase already included in the state budget. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in the statement ahead of the rally said the increase will be the fifth consecutive raise for teachers.
“After taking over from Democratic leadership that furloughed teachers and froze their salaries, Republicans in the General Assembly made a promise to dramatically raise teacher pay in North Carolina – and we’ve kept our promise,” the statement said. “Despite the lack of information in the media and the politically-motivated misinformation coming from the local affiliate of the national teachers’ union, the numbers speak for themselves — and we’re glad to have the opportunity to share North Carolina’s success story and set the record straight.”
In the current 2017-19 state budget, teachers are scheduled to receive an average raise of $4,412, the statement said. The average teacher salary for the 2018-19 school year will be roughly $53,600, an average $8,600 — or 19 percent – pay raise compared to the 2013-14 school year.
North Carolina teachers currently earn an average salary of about $50,000, ranking them 39th in the country last year, the National Education Association reported. Their pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year — the second-biggest increase in the country. But the supporters of the rally point out that still represents a 9.4 percent slide in real income since 2009 due to inflation.
N.C. House District 9 Rep Greg Murphy, a Republican, has himself been pleased with teacher pay. He is among legislators that point out that almost all of the additional $2 billion the state is spending this year compared to six years ago has gone into education, including public universities and community colleges. And planned raises for educators this year will make five in a row since state finances rebounded from the shock of a recession a few years ago.
“I think we’ve done a very good job in making a commitment to our teachers to increase their salaries,” he said. “I think areas we do need to improve upon are going to be able to get the tools in the classroom that teachers need. I think it’s absurd that teachers feel they have to pay out of their own pockets for school supplies. I think it’s fine to bring those needs and desires to General Assembly.”
But ultimately Murphy said budgets always prove difficult when it comes to making everyone happy. He cited a need to improve mental health issues, transportation and infrastructure.
“There are many different needs in our state,” Murphy said. “Making a budget out is not always creating everybody as a winner.”
Contact Brian Wudkwych at email@example.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.