It was a sea of red Wednesday as teachers and school workers flooded the streets of downtown Raleigh, calling for more support and funding of the public school system.
The March for Students and Rally for Respect, as protesters have called the event, was organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators. A spokesman for the state capitol police reported that the crowds were "well in excess of 10,000." The Downtown Raleigh Alliance estimated approximately 19,000 protesters.
WFAE’s David Boraks covered the rally live and said protestors walked toward the legislative building from the NCAE office building, chanting “Red for Ed.” Boraks also said he saw signs reading, “Teacher pay: Grade F,” and “I just want to make a living.”
Mark Jewell, the president of the NCAE, ran off a list of teachers’ demands in his speech. He said teachers are calling for across-the-board pay raises, increases in per-pupil spending to meet the national average and more funding for school buildings and facilities, among other things.
Charlotte Ranson Middle School teacher Jennifer Tyler said North Carolina schools need funding in order to teach students technical skills that they need to be competitive in the 21st century.
“The conditions that are our kids are sitting in at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is not acceptable,” Tyler said. “And we are working to get money to be able to correct that and be able to do our jobs appropriately to help our future growth.”
Gov. Roy Cooper spoke at the rally. Protesters chanted “Cooper! Cooper!” and met the governor with resounding applause as he explained what he saw as the heart of the protest: respect for teachers.
“We all know that this is far more than just about teacher pay,” Cooper said. “It’s about respect. It’s personal, folks. It’s personal.”
Cooper highlighted his proposed budget, which includes increased funding for schools and a universal boost in teacher pay, and denounced the legislatures’ planned corporate tax cut for next year.
“[Corporations are] scheduled to get another [tax cut] next year – about $110 million worth,” Cooper said. “I say let’s use that $110 million to raise teacher pay instead.”
Some Republican lawmakers have held press conferences characterizing the protest as union activity and denouncing teachers for taking the day off and forcing the closure of more than three dozen school districts across the state. The school districts include Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Iredell-Statesville Schools, among others.
State Senator Jeff Tarte, who represents District 41 in Cornelius, said strides have already been made to increase teacher pay.
“Since I've been in the Senate for the last six years we've raised teacher pay every year,” Tarte said. “And the big announcement today is reaffirming and confirming that we will see over 6 percent pay increase next year on average for all teachers in the state of North Carolina.”
Boraks said he didn’t hear of any talk for another rally, but witnessed teachers encouraging their colleagues to vote. He said teachers are expected to raise their voices again come the general election in November.