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Teachers march and rally for increased pay and funding on first day of session

Thousands of teachers from the mountains to the coast descended on Raleigh yesterday to call for higher pay and increased financial support for schools. The march and rally, organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators, took place on the first day of the North Carolina legislature’s short session. Dressed in red shirts and carrying signs, educators demanded a list of changes from lawmakers.

Watch this video for a recap:

Updated 6:20 p.m. EST

2017 Teacher of the Year Lisa Godwin and 2016 Teacher of the Year Bobbie Cavnar address protesters outside the legislature. Laura Lee/EducationNC

The rain ceased, and the rally on Bicentennial Plaza concluded with remarks and calls for action from teachers, parents, and other staff from across the state.

Jennifer Copeland, president of the North Carolina Council of Churches, announced an initiative to connect faith leaders with school children in the state.

2017 North Carolina Teacher of the Year Lisa Godwin addressed the crowd. Godwin said she heard from teachers across the state who said they felt invisible. “Today you are not invisible anymore. Look at you. I see you,” she said.

2016 North Carolina Teacher of the Year Bobbie Cavnar said he came to Raleigh today to teach legislators. He scoffed at statements by Republican leadership on their improvements in teacher pay. “When you crawl out of the gutter but end up in the sewer, you shouldn’t brag about how fast you got there,” Cavnar said.

Sen. Paul Lowe, Jr., D-Forsyth, told protesters to show up at the polls in the fall.

Several speakers said lawmakers who do not move towards higher teacher pay and increased funding should be voted out of office. Rally attendees responded to speakers’ calls for chants, repeating “Remember in November,” throughout the event.

Randy Daniels and Tonia McFadden

Randy Daniels, teacher at Irwin Academic Center, and Tonia McFadden, from Nathaniel Alexander Elementary School, headed back to Charlotte after a day of marching and protesting they think made a difference.

Updated 4:46 p.m. EST

The heaviest rain of the day came down as educators, students, politicians, and advocates spoke to thousands gathered outside of the General Assembly.

“These are real kids who are really hurting and for us it is personal,” said Amina Jenkins, a junior at Jordan High School in Durham.

North Carolina is not the first state to see large-scale protests from educators. Dale Lee, President of the West Virginia Education Association, joined protesters in the House chamber earlier in the day and addressed the crowd outside. Lee said he was happy to see the teacher strikes in West Virginia sparking similar movements elsewhere.

“After today, there are going to be signs around the nation that say, ‘Don’t make us go North Carolina on you,'” Lee said.

Mark Jewell started the outdoor part of the rally. He is the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which organized today’s event.

“Today we tell all of our legislators that North Carolina public school educators, parents, and communities demand better for our students,” Jewell said. “And we must ensure that North Carolina guarantees every child no matter who you are, where you’re from, equal access and opportunity…”

Updated 4:04 p.m. EST

“We need to prioritize North Carolina’s future,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell to a crowd of red shirts. As rain came and went, protesters moved outside of the legislative building to hear from speakers and continue to rally for more education resources and higher teacher salaries.

Gov. Roy Cooper

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper showed his support for educators who do not feel the Republican-led General Assembly has done enough for schools in recent years.

“Teachers don’t teach for incomes,” Cooper said. “Teachers teach for outcomes.” Cooper outlined the education components of his budget proposal announced last week, which includes an average eight percent pay raise for teachers.

Governor Roy Cooper speaks at educator rally outside of the General Assembly. Laura Lee/EducationNC

The crowd continued with chants between speakers like, “Remember, remember. We vote in November,” and “Forward together, not one step back,” and, “Whatever it takes.”

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said he has been meeting with teachers throughout the day to ask them for advice and what they think could be done differently at the state level.

Updated 3:15 p.m. EST

Following the opening of the short session, some protesters met with individual lawmakers. Others returned to Bicentennial Plaza to get lunch and gather for the rally.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Durham, Orange talked with students and teachers in a lobby of the General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon.

Henry Foust

Henry Foust has taught for more than three decades. He believes the size of the protest is empowering for educators.

Updated 2:00 p.m. EST

Just after protesters flooded the House and Senate galleries as the legislature came into session, House Health Committee members met and approved legislation aimed at filling school psychologist vacancies across the state.

House Bill 933 was recommended last week by the House committee that has been studying school safety measures since the February mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. If approved, the legislation would allow out-of-state psychologists with nationally-recognized credentials to skip the in-state licensure process.

Rep. Josh Dobson, R-Avery, McDowell, Mitchell — the bill’s primary sponsor — said the quick movement around the measure is indicative of what can happen when politics are put aside.

“It’s symbolic that we can work together. Many of the comments that you saw were bipartisan, seeing this common sense approach to add school personnel to keep our schools safer without any additional appropriations because the positions have already been appropriated,” Dobson said. “This just allows school psychologists that meet the same standards from out-of-state to come in state and practice. So it’s (an) exciting start, I think it’s … very symbolic of what we can do together.”

The bill will be considered by the full House.

Updated 1:32 p.m. EST

The short session of the North Carolina legislature has officially started. Protesters calling for higher teacher salaries and more funding for schools filled the House and Senate galleries during the opening proceedings. Chants from outside the chambers could be heard inside.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, recognized the teachers in the chamber. “Regardless of our differences, I think one thing is very evident and clear…and that is, that our constitution says that a basic education in North Carolina is something every child is entitled to.”

Blue said he understands that some people are upset that teachers are not in school today. “They teach by example. As I saw all those young people walking down Fayetteville Street. They are learning today about democracy, about how you express who you are and what is important,” he said.

“I hope that since they are still teaching, those of us on the Senate floor will be willing students,” Blue said. “And that we will act accordingly in this session.”

Protesters in the gallery then chanted, “Education is a right. That is why we have to fight.”

Both chambers adjourned, and some protesters made their way out of the building. “It’s a joke. They gave five birthday shout-outs and went home,” one said.

Others remained for meetings with individual representatives.

Updated 12:24 p.m. EST

As teachers file into the General Assembly, the line to get inside has wrapped around the building. Teachers are filling the chambers with cheers and chants as they wait for the legislative session to formally begin.

Members of the General Assembly are still filing in.

Updated 12:15 p.m. EST

Governor Cooper will address the March for Students and Rally for Respect at 3:30 p.m.

In a press release, Cooper’s office said: “Today’s teacher rally is evidence of the incredible passion North Carolina educators have for their profession and the need to do more to give them the support they need. While legislative leaders continue to tout plans that don’t meaningfully move the needle, Governor Cooper stands with North Carolina’s teachers and has released a plan to invest in our public schools and get teacher pay to the national average.”

Mark Jewell

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, says that the May 16th rally is just the beginning of a six-month stretch leading up to the November elections.

Updated 11:40 a.m. EST

Protesters waited in the lobby of the General Assembly before filing into the galleries where capacity is less than 300.

“I’ve been in a lot of classrooms. I know so many teachers and they all have this shared misery about the lack of education funding,” said Andrew Ainsworth, an education student at UNC-Greensboro. “I want to go into this field empowered with a good career ahead of me.”

Updated 11:06 a.m. EST

Thousands of educators arrived in Raleigh and gathered on the lawn of the North Carolina Association of Educators building. A sea of red shirts made their way through downtown Raleigh to the legislature where they are filing into the building. New security procedures require everyone entering the building to pass through a metal detector.

Many are making their way to the House and Senate galleries where the session is set to begin at noon.

NCAE President Mark Jewell stood on the upper terrace of the building overlooking the crowd. “This is a six month stretch. This is just the beginning on May 16th. This is about November 6th and making sure we put pro-public education policy first, regardless of your political party.”

Surrounding the General Assembly, thousands of teachers chanted: “Whose voice? Our voice. Can they take it away? No!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”

Updated 10:41 a.m. EST

Johni Cruse Craig

Dr. Johni Cruse Craig, a former Cary teacher, came to Raleigh from Washington D.C. to stand with her “home team.”

June Blackwell

June Blackwell has been teaching in Wake County for 31 years. Despite her pay grade stopping at 25 years, she is at the rally because she “believes in the future of our children.”

Updated 9:43 a.m. EST

Sara Weishampel

Sara Weishampel, a teacher at Moyock Elementary in Currituck County Schools, is in Raleigh today to “stand up for what’s right and have support for our profession.

Updated 8:35 a.m. EST

In Chapel Hill, protesters used a commuter bus from Chapel Hill to Raleigh to attend the rally.

Andrea Perrone

Andrea Perrone, a teacher at New Hope Elementary School in Orange County, rode the bus from Chapel Hill to Raleigh this morning and brought along a handmade sign.

David Gould

David Gould, a K-5 art teacher at Parker Elementary in Jacksonville, woke up at 2:30 this morning to make it to Raleigh.

Updated 7:53 a.m. EST

Route of May 16 March. Google Maps.

Thousands of teachers are traveling from across the state to Raleigh today to protest at the first day of session. Organizers of the protest and rally project more than 15,000 educators will march from the North Carolina Association of Educators headquarters to the General Assembly.

Participants plan to enter the General Assembly before the session begins at noon.

Dahlresma Marks-Evans

The first protestor outside the legislative building this morning was exceptional children (EC) teacher Dahlresma Marks-Evans from Durham Public Schools.

Republican leadership outlined their education budget yesterday at a press conference. The plan promises an average teacher salary increase to more than $53,000 next year.

Laura Lee

Laura Lee is the former content director and managing editor for EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

Born and raised in Union County, North Carolina, Laura attended Benton Heights Elementary School, Unionville Elementary School, Charlotte Latin Middle School, and Piedmont High School. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies. After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked as an educator with a civic education organization and then as a program administrator for two Fulbright grant programs.

She received her J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2007. In law school, she served as president of the Student Bar Association and was a Davis Society inductee. She also holds a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Laura briefly strayed from her Tar Heel allegiance in 2011 to obtain a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland where she was an Eleanor Merrill Fellow. She then worked at NPR producing content for the Washington desk, All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation

From 2013 to 2017, Laura oversaw daily production of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC’s The State of Things, first as assistant news director for talk programming and then as managing editor. 


Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.

Analisa Sorrells

Analisa Sorrells is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and previously worked as chief of staff and associate director of policy for EducationNC.

Robert Kinlaw

Robert was director of multimedia for EducationNC. He is a journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker in the Triangle. Robert attended both public and private grade schools in North Carolina and graduated from the Media and Journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has produced video content for The News & Observer, ABC11-WTVD, UNC-Chapel Hill, The News Reporter and more. His short documentary Princess Warrior received an Excellence in Filmmaking award at the 2017 Carrboro Film Festival. Visit his website at