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Teachers and students rally for school funding

Fifty teachers, students and advocates walked about 20 miles in two days, finishing at the doors of the General Assembly with a rally Wednesday.

They had three main demands for Gov. Pat McCrory and the state legislature — spend the legislature’s surplus on public schools, expand Medicaid, and repeal HB2.

The Governor responded to their request for a meeting by offering to have his deputy chief of staff and senior education advisor meet with the protestors.

The marchers started at two locations — one in Wake County and one in Durham County. Once they arrived at the state legislature building, teachers and assistant teachers from across the state, N.C. Association of Educators vice president Mark Jewell, and N.C. NAACP president Reverend William Barber spoke to an enthusiastic crowd.

“We are in a struggle. A struggle for the very heart and soul of this state,” he said, adding later: “Every child has a right, a constitutional right, to a high-quality, constitutional, well-funded, diverse, public education. And anything less is a violation of our deepest moral values and our deepest constitutional values.”

Erica Johnson, a teacher assistant at Grove Park Elementary School in Burlington, described how her role impacts students’ learning in the classroom through one-on-one encouragement.

“I see where a student is struggling and pull him or her aside for individual needs,” Johnson said. “With there being fewer teacher assistants in the last year, it’s made it harder.”

Johnson said she spends her $19,000 salary, in addition to supporting three children of her own, on books for specific children in her classroom. And recently, she bought mirrors for two girls from a family of seven in her class.

“I tell them they’re beautiful,” Johnson said. “I invest and deposit into their confidence and their self-esteem.”

Todd Warren, a Spanish teacher at Guilford Elementary School in Greensboro, walked 18 miles, starting at Wakefield High School. Warren said he’s been disappointed with education funding since 2010.

“And then with the 2012 budget, and every year after that, funding and conditions for public school is just getting worse,” Warren said. He later added, “There’s a lot of talk this year about teacher raises because it’s an election year, but what they’re not doing is increasing the general education fund, which includes our teacher assistants, our textbooks, technology.”

Later in the evening, the group blocked off an intersection in downtown Raleigh. Fourteen protestors sat down and linked arms in the street. Police arrested them, some of whom were teachers, with charges for impeding the flow of traffic and resisting, delaying, or obstructing law enforcement officers.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.