Teacher Protests North Carolina

Participants make their way towards the Legislative Building during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh in 2018. Thousands of teachers rallied the state capital seeking a political showdown over wages and funding for public school classrooms.

For the second year in a row, educators from throughout the state will spend a full day — on Wednesday — in Raleigh marching, seeking to plead their own case to lawmakers.

Last year’s march drew about 19,000 participants. With more time to prepare and more responsive school systems, this year’s may attract just as many, if not more. Facing a likely shortage of teachers in the classroom, Guilford County Schools, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Thomasville City Schools rightly decided to close for the day, as have at least 28 more of the state’s 115 districts and four charter schools.

But this won’t be a picnic for teachers. They will have serious work to do — convincing recalcitrant lawmakers to increase their support for education — to give teachers and schools the resources they need. This year the marchers intend to press five priorities:

Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and other health professionals to meet national standards for professional-to-student ratios.

Provide a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all school personnel, a 5 percent raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers and administrators, and a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees.

Expand Medicaid.

Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017.

Restore advanced-degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013.

Some of these issues are practical matters that would allow students to learn more effectively. Some would show signs of respect for an essential profession that is sometimes denigrated, even by elected officials. All are worthy of support.

Of course, there has been pushback. Some will point to a lost day of classes as if this one day is indispensable and teachers are neglecting their duties by spending it outside of the classroom. In a Republican-backed maneuver obviously aimed at the rally, the state House’s education budget would change the law to forbid teachers from taking personal leave on a school day unless a substitute is available. Rather than hear teachers’ concerns, some lawmakers would prefer to silence them.

Actually our educators will be teaching Wednesday, only in a bigger classroom than usual, offering a civics lesson to the entire state by taking a longer view — not one day, but the decades that are required to teach our children — and by exercising their constitutional right to petition their government.

State Senate leader Phil Berger has tried instead to portray the march as a teacher “strike” provoked by “partisan activists.” But this shouldn’t be a partisan game.

“We’re talking about the future of our children,” Angela Coffman, a Durham elementary school teacher, registered Republican and Southern Baptist, told N.C. Policy Watch. “I’m not sitting here thinking it’s a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. I’m thinking, why can’t they (state Republicans) understand what is happening to our kids, and how as a state we are failing our children.”

Even if they have reservations, we hope our legislators will at least be willing to listen. That’s part of the job.

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