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Last year, on the first day of the short session of the General Assembly, teachers from around the state gathered in Raleigh. At least 40 of the 125 school districts in the state canceled classes as teachers dressed in red shirts and carried signs to demand better pay and resources from lawmakers. 

Now, the North Carolina Association of Educators is urging another such gathering on May 1 of this year. 

Many credit last year’s rally with spurring the Democrats on to victory in the polls in November. Democrats managed to win enough seats in both the House and Senate to overcome the Republicans veto-proof majority, giving Governor Roy Cooper the power to effectively wield his veto this long session. 

The call for another rally has been met with resistance in some quarters and stalwart support in others. 

While stating his support for teachers, Superintendent Mark Johnson urged educators not to interrupt a school day to rally. 

“We support teachers and are championing the changes our education system needs, but I cannot support protests that force schools to close.

“The protest organizers should choose a non-school day. The legislature will be in session in Raleigh for at least another three months, a time period that spans dozens of days students are not scheduled to be in school, including spring break and summer break.

“Protesting is a right that can be just as effective during non-school hours. Closing schools affects not only students’ learning and nutrition, but also parents, other school employees, and other teachers.

“We have more work to do, but we listen to educators’ concerns and have been responding with efforts to raise teacher pay, provide state funding for school construction needs, reduce high-stakes testing, improve school safety efforts, and more.”

NCAE President Mark Jewell pushed back against the Superintendent’s request. 

“Superintendent Johnson underestimates the critical needs that face our public schools today. Time is of the essence so that we do not lose a generation of students with underfunded, starving, under-resourced public schools. The state legislature sets the schedule for the budget process, and our rally is meant to impact the budget discussions as early as possible. Educators from all over North Carolina are requesting personal days in order to advocate for our students and public education. Last year, 30,000 public education supporters lifted their voices up in support of our legislative priorities. Our advocacy for our students must continue. We look forward to our friends and allies joining us again this year.”

Mystery education announcement

President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, is holding a press conference today to “announce education legislation.” That’s about as vague as you can get, but what is more illuminating is the cast of characters gathered for the announcement. 

Superintendent Mark Johnson will be there as will Democratic State Board of Education member J.B. Buxton, a former state Department of Public Instruction administrator who served as education advisor to former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and legislative director to the State Board of Education. Buxton’s nomination by the governor to join the State Board was stymied by House and Senate Republicans last year. They have oversight when it comes to new nominations to the State Board. But Cooper eventually took advantage of a loophole that allows him to appoint members to unfinished terms on the Board without General Assembly interference to get Buxton on the education body. Finally, there is N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teachers Executive Director Brock Womble. The Center’s vision, according to their website: NCCAT helps North Carolina teachers grow in knowledge, skills, compassion, and professionalism so that students become engaged, self-motivated, and successful.

So, I can almost definitely tell you that the announcement will have something to do with teachers. Helpful, huh? 

Legislative day at the General Assembly

The State Board of Community Colleges will be hosting a legislative day at the General Assembly Wednesday. This is an opportunity for leadership, staff, presidents, and others to gather at the legislature to talk with their lawmakers about the issues concerning these institutions. The Board is following up the legislative day with its meeting on Thursday. 

Also this week, the State Board of Education will be meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. 

And all of that is in addition to the usual slew of bills, committees, and gatherings that you can expect in any given week. 

Stay tuned. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.