North Carolina's Democratic governor is telling the thousands of teachers who came to Raleigh demanding higher pay and more education funding that if Republican lawmakers won't support them, they should be voted out of office.
Gov. Roy Cooper spoke at Wednesday's "Rally for Respect," put on by the North Carolina Association of Educators. He promoted his budget proposal, which works toward bringing teacher pay up to the national average in four years by blocking tax cuts that GOP lawmakers already approved for corporations and high wage-earners.
Cooper is working to overturn Republican super-majorities in the state legislature. He says voters have to decide to back incumbents or candidates "who truly support public education."
Republican lawmakers say they're raising teacher pay for the fifth straight year, raising average salaries by thousands of dollars since the Great Recession.
But teachers say that with inflation, they're still making 9 percent less than they did nine years ago.
Some North Carolina legislators say they're listening to teachers crammed by the thousands into the state capital, but they're not giving in to demands to sharply increase public school spending.
Republican Sen. Bill Cook said after Wednesday's 30-minute opening of the state legislature's annual session he isn't swayed by the activism. Cook says he thinks the teachers are caught up in a national movement after demonstrations in West Virginia, Arizona and elsewhere. No school districts in Cook's eight-county Outer Banks region canceled classes for the rally.
Cook says he thinks the rally is more about supporting the Democratic Party in a political season than economic upset. He says he thinks teachers know the legislature is on the right track with five years of salary raises and merit-based bonuses.
The North Carolina General Assembly has opened its annual session with thousands of teachers and their allies inside and outside the Legislative Building.
The gavels went down on the House and Senate shortly after noon Wednesday, amid galleries full of teacher support clad in red shirts. Just outside the galleries, hundreds more teachers in the building chanted "Remember, remember, we vote in November." They quieted down after a warning by General Assembly police.
The floor meetings lasted less than an hour. Four women in the Senate gallery were led out by police because they were chanting. One yelled: "Education is a Right: That is why we have to fight." No arrests were made.
North Carolina Association of Educators President Mark Jewell was in the House gallery. He said he was thrilled that thousands attended the march, but that work must continue until November elections.
Thousands of teachers have gathered in front of the North Carolina Legislative Building where the route of their march ends.
Lines to enter the legislature's front and rear entrances wrapped along the building's perimeter. Entry was going at a slow and steady pace as security officers use metal detectors and bag scanners to screen people entering.
Once inside, some teachers were seeking to meet with lawmakers, while others were trying to get seats in the gallery to watch legislative debate. The General Assembly was set to start its yearly work session Wednesday.
An afternoon teacher rally was also planned after the morning's march.
The march and rally were organized to demand better pay for teachers and more resources for public schools.
A wave of red is moving through North Carolina's capital city as teachers march to lobby conservative lawmakers for more resources.
The march kicked off Wednesday morning in Raleigh with scores of teachers setting out on foot, many carrying signs and most wearing red t-shirts.
Their chants included "We care! We vote!" and "This is What Democracy Looks Like!"
As many as 15,000 educators from around the state were expected to participate.
Bill Notarnicola teaches television and video production at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh. He set up a camera along the route near the Old Capitol to make a time lapse photo of the march. After the group passes, he plans to join the crowd for the end of the march and a rally planned for the afternoon.
He said: "As we're growing, the funds are not keeping up with the growth."
North Carolina teachers gathering for a rally to demand better resources from lawmakers say they're stretched thin.
Ahead of the march on Wednesday, downtown blocks filled with teachers wearing red, and chants could be heard.
At the Legislative Building, where an afternoon rally was scheduled following the march, some teachers had already come inside to lobby their legislators.
Rachel Holdridge is a special education teacher at Wilmington's Alderman Elementary School. She says she drives for Uber to make ends meet despite working in education for 22 years. She said lawmakers and state government have let teachers down by failing to equip them properly to do their job.
Holdridge said: "They keep giving tiny raises and taking so much away from the kids."
Tiffany Pfouts, an arts teacher at Mills Park Middle School in Cary, said simple needs such as building repairs at her school have been neglected.
Thousands of teachers wearing red are gathering ahead of a march through downtown Raleigh to demand more resources from North Carolina lawmakers.
Clusters of teachers were gathering ahead of the march Wednesday morning at meeting spots to carpool downtown for the start of the march at 10:30 a.m. Marchers were traveling to the capital city from around the state.
Tracy Brumble, a teacher at Milbrook Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, was with about a dozen fellow teachers at the school waiting for a bus to carry them to the march's starting point Wednesday. They were all wearing red t-shirts, matching the color of the #RedForEd theme of the day.
Brumble said the group wants lawmakers to know they need more funds for building upkeep, textbooks and student resources. She says the goal is "a better environment for public education."
Thousands of teachers are set to hit the streets of North Carolina's capital, bidding to force a political showdown over wages and funding for public school classrooms in this conservative, tax-cutting state.
As many as 15,000 teachers are expected to gather Wednesday morning in Raleigh as the Republican-dominated state legislature begins its annual session. More than three dozen school districts that educate more than two-thirds of the state's 1.5 million public school students will close classrooms.
North Carolina's main teachers' advocacy group favors Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's proposal to raise salaries by delaying planned tax cuts. Republican legislative leaders say that's not going to happen.
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.
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