Raleigh is preparing for a swarm of teachers, students and supporters to bring their demands for better pay and school resources to the steps of its legislative buildings downtown.
Around 20,000 people from across the state are expected to march on the capital city on May 16 in the March for Students and Rally for Respect event organized by members of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
The march is an effort to speak to legislators and hold them accountable for the next six months, and to make teachers and students their first priority, said Tim Crowley, communications manager for NCAE.
The list of demands by educators consists of an increase for per-pupil spending, investing in more mental health counselors and a commitment of more money towards building upgrades, Crowley said. Some infrastructures in the state are upwards of a century old.
As many as 80 schools will be closed on Wednesday from at least 37 school districts, including some of the state's largest like Wake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Guilford County. Close to 1 million students in the state of North Carolina will have Wednesday off, the NCAE reported.
There are at least 300 educators heading to Raleigh from Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools for the advocacy day, said Paula Dinga, an educator and member of the Buncombe County Association of Educators.
Administrators from Asheville City Schools and Bunbombe County Schools made the decision last week to close all schools on May 16, after a surge of time-off requests led to safety concerns and left administrators scrambling to find enough substitute teachers to fill vacated positions.
Buncombe is the state's 13th-largest school district, with nearly 25,000 students enrolled in 45 schools.
"We respect and value our teachers' commitment to advocating for education," Superintendent Tony Baldwin said in a statement.
The rally in Raleigh comes after days-long strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, where teachers in those states took to striking last month for better pay and more education funding, known as the 'Red for Ed' movement, that has now taken hold in North Carolina.
North Carolina teachers earn an average salary of about $50,000, making them 39th in the country last year, the National Education Association reported last month. Teachers did see a pay raise of 4.2 percent over the last year - the second-largest increase in the country - and salaries are estimated to rise an average 1.8 percent this year, according to the NEA. But the union points out that that still represents a 9.4 percent slide in real income since 2009 due to inflation.
The advocacy day consists of a morning march from the NCAE headquarters to the legislative buildings downtown. Ralliers will attempt to attend the legislation session before meeting with leaders during lunchtime.
The day ends with the Rally for Respect on Bicentennial Plaza Mall at 3 p.m.
But not everyone is in support of the event. A number of opposition events have been planned before or during the teacher's rally, hosted by the North Carolina Republican Party.
An event on Wednesday morning in downtown Raleigh, blocks from the legislative buildings, will be held for parents and students who are against the march to share their thoughts.
For those in the Western North Carolina who are unable to attend the events in Raleigh, there is a local satellite march in Asheville starting at 10 a.m. at the BLOCK off Biltmore. Attendees will walk to Vance Monument downtown and speakers will host a rally.
"North Carolina public school educators, parents and our communities demand better for our students," said NCAE president Mark Jewell 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."
State Senate leader Phil Berger said Tuesday legislators will listen to protesting teachers as they do any constituent, but wouldn't say whether increasing teacher pay and per-pupil education spending to the national average was a goal for GOP legislators, who hold veto-proof majorities.
"I think our goal is to continue to make progress in improving the salary scale for teachers. I think we've done that over the past years. I think we will continue to do that,' said Berger. "The other thing that we will do is work to make sure that teachers are rewarded for student outcomes.'
Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Alexandria Bordas on Twitter @CrossingBordas
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