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story.lead_photo.caption Tim Moore, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, poses with teachers Wednesday during a teachers rally at the Capitol in Raleigh.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Thousands of teachers filled the streets of North Carolina's capital Wednesday demanding better pay and more funding for public schools, continuing the trend of educators across the country rising up to pressure lawmakers for change.

City blocks turned red, the color of shirts worn by the marchers, who carried signs and chanted "We care! We vote!" and "This is What Democracy Looks Like!" An estimated 19,000 people joined the march, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which drew from aerial photos.

"I feel the current politicians in charge of the state are anti-public education," Raleigh high school teacher Bill Notarnicola said as he prepared a time-lapse photo of the march. "The funds are not keeping up with the growth. We are seeing cutback, after cutback, after cutback."

Many teachers entered the Legislative Building, continuing to chant as the Republican-controlled Legislature held short floor meetings to start its annual work session. Most teachers quieted down when asked, but a woman who yelled, "Education is a right: That is why we have to fight," was among four escorted from the Senate gallery. No arrests were made.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, spoke at a rally across the street, promoting his proposal to pay for higher salaries by blocking tax cuts that Republicans decided to give corporations and high-income households next January. GOP leaders have flatly rejected his idea.

Cooper, who is working to eliminate the GOP's veto-proof majorities in fall elections, urged teachers to ask lawmakers, "are you going to support even more tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy, or are you going to support much better teacher pay and investment in our public schools?"

Previous strikes, walkouts and protests in West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma have led legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding.

Wednesday's march in North Carolina prompted three-dozen school districts that educate more than two-thirds of the state's 1.5 million public school students to cancel classes.

Rachel Holdridge, a special-education teacher at Wilmington's Alderman Elementary School with 22 years' experience, said she drives for Uber to make ends meet. She said lawmakers have let teachers down by failing to equip them properly to do their jobs.

"They keep giving tiny raises and taking so much away from the kids," said Holdridge, who went to the Legislative Building ahead of the march to lobby legislators. While she took a sober view of whether the rally would change policy, she said, "You've got to start somewhere."

The state's main teacher advocacy group, the North Carolina Association of Educators, demands that legislators increase per-pupil spending to the national average in four years, increase school construction for a growing state, and approve a multiyear pay raise for teachers and school support staff members to raise incomes to the national average.

The teachers' group favors Cooper's proposal to raise salaries by stopping planned tax cuts on corporations and high-income households.

However, state Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, have made clear they have no plans to funnel more money to classrooms by postponing January's planned tax cuts.

"We have no intention of raising taxes," Berger said before the march, complaining that "a million kids are not going to be in school [Wednesday] because a political organization wants to have folks come" to the Legislature.

And with the state's finances stabilized after the most recent recession, teachers say it's time to catch up on deferred school spending. Teachers are photocopying assignments off the Internet or from old workbooks because textbooks haven't been replenished in years, North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell said.

North Carolina teachers earn an average salary of about $50,000, ranking them 39th in the country last year, the National Education Association reported last month.

Information for this article was contributed by Allen G. Breed and Jonathan Drew of The Associated Press.

Photo by AP/GERRY BROOME
Thousands of teachers fill a plaza outside North Carolina’s Legislative Building in Raleigh on Wednesday to demand better pay and more money for the state’s public schools. The action, following a trend in other states, was held as the Republican-controlled Legislature met in short floor meetings to start its annual work session.

A Section on 05/17/2018

Print Headline: N.C. teachers take pay plea to Legislature

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