Next Stop for Widespread Teacher Activism? North Carolina
Teachers across the state of North Carolina are planning to take leave on May 16 for a protest in the state capital, leaving many school districts considering shuttering their doors.
North Carolina would be the sixth state to experience mass teacher activism this spring—a phenomenon experts say is unprecedented. Arizona teachers just concluded a weeklong strike, following in the footsteps of Oklahoma and West Virginia teachers who walked out of their classrooms. Colorado and Kentucky teachers have also forced schools to close because of large-scale protests at the state capitols. Higher pay and more money for public schools are the common demands in most of these states.
In North Carolina, May 16 is the start of the 2018 legislative session. Teachers will march downtown to the state capitol and then try to meet with legislators to advocate for higher pay and more education funding. The day will conclude with a rally outside the capitol.
"We need to show a unified front as we join together and say that North Carolina public school students deserve better than what they're currently getting from our elected politicians," said Mark Jewell, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, in a video message.
He's made clear that this is not a strike or an extended walkout—but several school districts have already announced plans to close that day, because they will not be able to find enough substitutes to staff classes. For example, the board of education for the Durham school district has already voted to close schools, since about 1,000 teachers—more than 40 percent of the district's workforce—have requested leave.
But the Charlotte Observer reported that the two largest school districts in the state are currently not planning on closing. Officials in the Wake County district, which covers Raleigh, have said that so far, they have enough substitute teachers to cover the school day. And officials for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district are trying to cover teacher absences with both substitutes and by asking administrators to step in and teach.
"I would be willing to sub in a classroom myself if need be," said Mary McCray, the school board chairwoman, according to the Observer. (Update: Late Friday, the Charlotte district announced it would indeed cancel classes on May 16, saying that about 2,000 teachers had planned to take leave.)
North Carolina teachers make an average of $49,970 a year. The national average is $59,660, according to the National Education Association's 2016-17 salary data.
The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution had previously identified North Carolina as being high-risk for a teacher strike. That analysis said North Carolina has seen a 12.2 percent reduction in per-pupil state spending since the 2008 recession, and a 5 percent reduction in inflation-adjusted salaries since the economic downturn.
Image: Rex Bishop of Greensboro, N.C., holds a sign during a protest in May 2014 near the legislative building in Raleigh. —Gerry Broome/AP