RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – North Carolina teachers marched through the state capital on Wednesday to press lawmakers for, among other demands, better resource funding and higher wages for school support staff.
The demonstration came the day after House members rolled out a new state budget proposal for the next two years, beginning in July.
Thousands of teachers, school staff and other education advocates took to Raleigh’s streets on Wednesday, donned in red t-shirts during the second annual Day of Action rally organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).
Nearly 20,000 people marched during the rally last year, the Associated Press reported.
Myra Johansen, a foods and nutrition teacher in the Newton-Conover school system, attended both.
She said this year’s demands are different and that the march seemed to be more organized this time around. However, she said the lack of availability of her representatives in the Legislature remained the same.
For the demonstration, the NCAE outlined five demands, including the restoration of some retirement benefits that teachers in the state once had. Two of the demands in particular seemed to inspire many of Wednesday’s participants— that the Legislature budget a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all non-certified school personnel and enough health professionals to meet national professional-to-student standards.
During a Tuesday press conference in the state Legislature, some House members touted teacher perks that were proposed on Monday night in North Carolina’s first budget draft.
It includes a 6.3% pay raise for assistant principals, 4.8% for teachers on average and 10% for principals. It also includes a proposal to restore a program that afforded educators extra pay for having advanced degrees, one of the NCAE’s priorities.
Many educators who took action Wednesday focused on larger raises for non-instructional school staff.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the teaching assistants and the bus drivers and the cafeteria workers and the secretaries,” Johansen said.
The teacher of 21 years said there is a public misconception that teachers who are rallying around the country are just asking for more money.
“That is not what this is about,” she added.
Rather, Johansen said, the rallies address issues such as the mental health of students and the livelihoods of valuable non-instructional school staff, who she says were left behind in the new state budget which allots only a 1% pay raise to these employees.
Cammie Adams, a music teacher in Catawba County, said she has seen a growing need for mental health resources over the years.
“People think we just go into the classroom and teach. No. We take care of kids who are suicidal, or have pregnancies. We have kids that are beaten up at home or not eating or living on the street,” Adams said.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper told the Raleigh protesters around noon Wednesday that teachers “are often the first line of defense in crises big and small.”
“We do the best we can and pray that we say the right thing, but it is hard when you only have one counselor for an entire school,” Adams said. “They’ve cut counselors, and we don’t have what we need to save those kids lives, and for some of them, it is life or death.”
Katie Haynes, a 6th grade science teacher who marched through Raleigh on Wednesday also came to show support for non-instructional staff.
“I think our teacher’s assistants and secretaries deserve better, and deserve more respect,” she said. “When our schools need to cut funding, those are the areas they cut first, even though they are critical to our students.”