By T. Keung Hui
The group organizing Wednesday's mass teacher rally in Raleigh says it wants state lawmakers to sharply raise education spending _ including pay raises for all school employees _ and to reverse many of the education changes made in the past seven years.
More than 15,000 teachers have signed up to attend the "March for Students and Rally for Respect," an event that's causing at least 38 school districts, including Wake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Durham and Johnston counties and Chapel Hill-Carrboro, to cancel classes Wednesday.
On Monday, the North Carolina Association of Educators released its priorities for the march, which coincides with the opening day of this year's state legislative session. The list includes raising both teacher pay and per-pupil spending to the national average over the next four years. The group also wants "significant and livable raises for all public school employees."
The National Education Association estimates that North Carolina's average teacher salary is $9,622 below the national average and per-pupil spending is $2,406 below the national average. The NCAE says lawmakers should not cut corporate taxes until both teacher pay and per-pupil spending reach the national average.
"North Carolina public school educators, parents, and our communities demand better for our students," NCAE President Mark Jewell said in a statement. "These specific public education priorities will give every student an opportunity to succeed and help recruit and retain educators as we face a critical shortage in our classrooms and school buildings."
Senate Leader Phil Berger's office responded Monday by pointing to how the Republican-led state legislature has increased public education spending by nearly $2 billion since 2011. Berger's office also noted that lawmakers have promised a fifth consecutive teacher pay raise that will lead to an average 6.2 percent raise next year.
"Over 44,000 teachers in North Carolina _ half the state's workforce _ are receiving at least a $10,000 raise since 2014 under the General Assembly's budgets," added Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore. "That's why North Carolina has ranked No. 1 and No. 2 the last two years for teacher pay growth by the NEA."
Other big-ticket items for the NCAE, which is the state affiliate of the NEA, include adding at least 500 school nurses, social workers and counselors this year and expanding Medicaid to improve health options for students. The group also wants lawmakers to put a $1.9 billion statewide school construction bond referendum on the ballot "to fix our crumbling schools and large class sizes."
In the face of rising health insurance premiums, the NCAE also wants legislators to provide school employees with "enhanced and protected health insurance and pension."
Some of the NCAE's "expectations" for legislators would require reversing changes made since Republicans gained the majority in 2011, including:
_ Restoring extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees.
_ Restoring longevity pay for school employees based on their years of service.
_ Restoring career status, colloquially called teacher tenure, that gives due process rights to teachers before they're fired or demoted.
_ Ending pay for performance based on student test scores for teachers and administrators.
"There isn't a vision here for increasing student achievement," said Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the conservative John Locke Foundation. "There's a vision for increasing the amount of money we spend on public schools but with very little sense on how that money would be used."
(c)2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)