At least 20 North Carolina school districts will be closed Wednesday to give teachers in those districts the chance to participate in the March for Students and Rally for Respect in Raleigh.
North Carolina ranks 35th in the country in teacher pay, but Kristin Bellerose, a Wake County teacher and North Carolina Association of Educators board member, said it’s not just about their salary.
“This is not just about teachers. This is not just about school staff. This is about our students. This is about their families. This is about what we want for North Carolina,” Bellerose said. “We’re looking at how all of our colleagues in these other states are making some real material wins for their students as well.”
More than 700,000 students will be impacted by Wednesday’s closures, but many teacher groups and parent organizations are making arrangements to make sure children who depend on school meals are taken care of. Arizona and West Virginia teachers recently went on strike and succeeded in getting some of their demands met.
Yevonne Brannon, chair of Public Schools First North Carolina, said beyond direct investment in schools, lawmakers need to look at the whole picture.
“We have 25 percent of children in our schools living in poverty,” Brannon said. “We have kids who come to school every day, who are in need of health care, dental care, mental health services, who don’t have a secure place to live.”
North Carolina’s starting teacher salary was increased in recent years, but Bellerose said when other funding cuts and things like longevity pay are considered, the state has taken a major step backwards.
“I would really challenge any lawmaker to argue the fact that at this point, after so many cuts over so many years, that they could really make any kind of claim that they’re helping public education,” she said.
Last year the State Assembly approved $2.5 million in cuts, including layoffs and the elimination of vacant positions in low-income and low-performing school districts.