A sea of teachers decked out in red descended upon Raleigh, North Carolina, on Wednesday for a rally for higher wages and increases to state education funding. Chants included "We care!"
"Education is a profession that needs to be respected and for so long we haven't been respected", Powell said. They held up signs advocating for their cause, some of which played on memes or popular culture. "I am concerned about the small districts like Wilson because we can't compete with the larger districts in terms of a supplement, so it is really hard for us to recruit talented young or experienced teachers to our county because we are smaller and can't offer them as much".
"When you take away funding for all of this other stuff you're shortchanging the kids", he said.
An estimated 20,000 teachers and supporters, nearly all wearing red T-shirts, flooded downtown Raleigh and filled the Legislative Building to press for more education funding.
"I'd be making $17,000 more a year right now if I was teaching in Tennessee", shouted another.
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Being in Raleigh, she said, was important not just for her, but for her students as well - and she wants legislators to listen.
Teachers marching on the Capitol said they were there for many reasons and highlighted the impact low wages were having on their own lives and their ability to teach their students. "It was great to see all of us make an impact, we hope, on our General Assembly".
Thousands of teachers from around the state marched through downtown to the Legislative Building, where the Republican-controlled legislature was starting its annual work session. No arrests were made.
The teachers' group favors a proposal by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to raise salaries by stopping planned tax cuts on corporations and high-income households. Republican leaders have flatly rejected his idea but an incensed crowd sided with Cooper as they chanted his name and pushed through crowds of people to shake his hand. "Everyone seems like we all came together just like one big school family, even though we don't know them, like Charlotte and Wake County and Pitt County, all these other counties coming together, we're talking like we are all at the same school".
Cooper said the event also touched a personal note for him. "I'm here to support my students".
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Cooper said his mother was a public school teacher and added, "if she were still here, she would have put her red dress on and have been standing with you fighting for her students". Teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Colorado have all won pay raises, benefits or overall school funding. There was definitely some grumbling that about a third of the state's school districts, including the ones in Guilford and Forsyth counties, were closed Wednesday because so many teachers took time off to be seen and heard in Raleigh.
North Carolina is now ranked 37th in teacher pay and 39th in per-pupil spending, according to a report released by the National Education Association in April.
Their message, he said, is clear: raise teacher pay and per pupil spending to the national average.
Although the Wednesday rally is the only action of its kind now on the slate for North Carolina's teachers, both Wood and Speight said that it's "just the beginning" of the backlash coming to lawmakers when the polls open in November. They've had some salary increases in recent years, but when adjusted for inflation, they've lost 9.4% in pay since 2009.
On Tuesday, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said that budget leaders in the House and Senate are ready to approve at least a 6.2 percent increase in teacher salaries for the next year.
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Teachers who spoke to World Socialist Web Site reporters expressed widespread support for a united struggle in opposition to the unions' isolation of teacher strikes on a state-by-state basis.