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Participants make their way towards the Legislative Building during a teachers rally at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., May 16, 2018. Thousands of teachers rallied the state capital seeking a political showdown over wages and funding for public school classrooms.
Gerry Broome/AP
Education

Why North Carolina Teachers Are Walking Out of Classrooms Today

Citing low teacher pay, funding cuts for basic educational programs, and high health care costs, North Carolina teachers walked out of class this morning to call on their state to invest in public education. 

The statewide protest is expected to draw as many as 15,000 teachers — and will suspend the day’s classes for an estimated 1 million students, ABC News reports

“What do we want?” a group of educators, calling themselves May 16 Coalition, asked. “We want a legislature that provides the schools our students and communities deserve. We want a legislature that invests in public education instead of giving away billions of dollars in tax breaks to big corporations run by the rich and powerful.” 

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The state’s teacher walkout comes on the heels of teacher protests and strikes across the country, including in West Virginia, where teachers were on strike for nearly two weeks before securing a 5% raise, as well as Oklahoma and Arizona. 

North Carolina is ranked No. 41 out of 50 states in spending per student, and No. 39 in teacher pay, according to statistics from the National Association of Educators (NEA)

Since 2008, spending on “formula funding” — state funding that ensures equity across different school districts — has decreased by nearly 8% per student, even as the state has halved its corporate income tax rate. 

Organizers also say the state has cut more than 7,000 teaching assistant positions in the past decade. 

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"We have not had a textbook adoption in 15 years. We have school districts deciding whether or not to pay the light bill or buy toilet paper,” Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, told ABC News. “This is not normal. This is not the North Carolina way."

In addition to higher spending per student and teacher salaries, North Carolina teachers are calling for more school counselors, social workers, and psychologists, in a state where more than 1 in 5 students live below the federal poverty line. 

Read More: This Is Why Oklahoma Teachers Are Ditching Their Classrooms Today

Taking into account these demands could make a big difference for students and teachers alike. Studies have shown that increasing teacher pay can reduce dropout rates, and that increasing per student spending can lead to a drop in adult poverty.  

“I just feel like there’s no equity across the board with public schools, which is really important to me because I want my kids to have the same opportunities that kids in other places have,” Mahra Whitelock, a first-grade teacher in North Carolina, told Teen Vogue. “I think they’re entitled to that.”  

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