Thousands of North Carolina teachers poured into downtown Raleigh and marched to the state’s General Assembly on Wednesday morning in the latest in a series of red-state public school teacher uprisings across the country.
The demonstration was believed to be the largest teacher protest in North Carolina’s history, with educators creating a sea of red on Fayetteville Street and inside the assembly galleries as they demanded more public school funding and better salaries for school staffers.
Many of the largest school districts in the state announced closures once it became clear that too many teachers would be taking personal days to keep classes in session for the day. Roughly a million students were out of school as a result, according to the News & Observer, a Raleigh-based paper.
The North Carolina Association of Educators, the group coordinating the protest, said teachers were marching because the state has cut taxes while public school per-student spending and teacher salaries lag national averages.
“Our students deserve better,” the group said in a statement. “They deserve resources to help make them successful. They deserve professionally paid educators. They deserve safe schools and schools that are not crumbling and in disrepair.”
The group laid out a list of demands before the protest, calling on the state to meet the national averages in per-student spending and teacher pay within four years. It also wants the state to institute higher pay for teachers with advanced degrees and long tenures and to hire an additional 500 school nurses and counselors for the current school year.
Echoing the frustration of teachers who have walked out in other states, the group has also called for a moratorium on new corporate tax cuts until teachers are earning the national average.
The teacher walkouts began in late February in West Virginia, where teachers shut down schools for nine days, leading to 5 percent raises for school staffers and state workers. Buoyed by the success of the West Virginia strike, teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona soon followed suit, closing down schools and flooding their state capitals to call for more funding.
What all these states have in common is flat or falling investment in schools paired with tax cuts that have primarily benefited businesses and the wealthy. The walkouts have largely been a revolt against the austerity of Republican-led statehouses, which has left the states with little money to devote to salaries and textbooks.
North Carolina slashed its corporate income tax rate in 2013, reducing it from 6.9 percent to its current 3.0 percent.
According to the National Education Association, North Carolina ranks 39th in public school teacher pay in the U.S. Teachers received a 4.2 percent pay bump last year, but they still earn less than what they were making a decade ago when adjusted for inflation. Per-student public school spending is down about 8 percent over the same period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
This story has been updated to note that teachers used personal days to join the protest.