North Carolina teachers took to the streets Wednesday for the second year in a row with hopes that a more politically balanced legislature will be more willing to meet their demands.
Teachers, auxiliary staff and supporters will march in Raleigh. Speakers will include Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
When an estimated 20,000 people marched for teachers last year, Republicans held a veto-proof majority in the state House and Senate. The results of November’s election changed that, and now Cooper’s vetoes can stand if Democrats remain united.
The House budget released Tuesday includes some of the teachers’ demands: higher pay for veteran teachers and restoration of a salary bump for teachers with masters’ degrees.
Teachers in neighboring South Carolina also plan to rally Wednesday and Oregon teachers plan to gather next week as walkouts that began in West Virginia last spring continue across the country , with many proving successful.
In Raleigh, teachers were going to meeting spots Wednesday morning ahead of the march and rally. One group of teachers donning red shirts with the North Carolina state outline walked up to the state legislative building Wednesday morning. Among them was a student.
Students are concerned about issues in school as well. Seventh grade student Aaron Painter said he decided to come because he wants to see more mental health services in his school, which he said has one full time counselor.
“I know mental health is low in our school. We need more help because there are kids that are thinking about suicide and they’re only in seventh grade,” Painter said.
He knows a few of them personally.
Painter marched alongside his mother, Tonya Painter, who is a 3rd grade teacher at McGee’s Crossroads Elementary school in Johnson County. She said she has been teaching for 18 years, and every year, her students are seeing more and more tests.
“These students are 8 years old and they’re taking BOGs, COGATs, MCLASS testing, MAP testing, NCCHECK tests, and EOGs,” she said, rattling off a list of acronyms for various statewide tests. “That’s a large amount of tests.”
While lots of funding goes toward these tests, Tonya Painter doesn’t believe that enough funding goes toward holistic teaching and services for the students. She said she wants her students to be prepared for more than just tests. Like her son, one of her biggest concerns is mental health, especially given the uptick in school shootings over the past two decades.
“Every mind matters,” she said. “I feel like the school shootings all started years before, with probably bullying or anxiety and depression — things that students are dealing with that they need help working through.”
To address this concern, she would like to see funding for more guidance counselors, school psychiatrists, and nurses.
Another big demand in Wednesday’s rally involves raising wages for teachers and implementing a $15 minimum wage for school support staff.
Middle school special education teacher Lizzie Hourigan teaches at Noble Middle School in New Hanover County and said it’s “a constant struggle” to make ends meet. She taught for 10 years in New York and Connecticut before moving down to North Carolina in 2013 to teach, and she said she noticed a big difference in the level of pay and support she received as a teacher in North Carolina versus the other states she’s taught in.
She invited those who have been critical of the rally to come into her classroom or other classrooms in her school, where she said overcrowding is another big issue.
“See what we work with every day,” she said. “In New Hanover, they’re building more and more housing but there aren’t the schools to support the kids moving in.”