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'Largest Act of Organized Teacher Political Action in State History' as North Carolina Joins National Wave

The statewide teachers' association said marchers hope to elect "more pro-public education leaders in North Carolina to return our state back to a beacon for public schools."

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An estimated 20,000 teachers marched in Raleigh, North Carolina on Wednesday to demand that state lawmakers invest more in public education. (Photo: Chuck Liddy/News & Observer)

Drawing inspiration from a wave of public education protests that have swept across several states in recent months, nearly 20,000 North Carolina teachers descended on Raleigh, the state capital, on Wednesday to "march for students and rally for respect."

Wednesday's event is "the beginning of a six-month stretch of time to hold our legislators accountable for prioritizing corporate tax cuts, instead of our classrooms," and work toward the ultimate goal of "electing more pro-public education leaders in North Carolina to return our state back to a beacon for public schools," the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) said in a statement that laid out a list of expectations for lawmakers.

"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," asserted NCAE president Mark Jewell. "North Carolina public school educators, parents, and our communities demand better for our students."

North Carolina, according to the NCAE, spends $2,400 less per student than the national average, and pays educators about $9,600 less. "When accounting for inflation," the statement noted, "our students and educators lag even further behind."

Local television news crews captured videos of teachers marching and chanting, "What do we want? Funding! When do we want it? Now!"

"We saw Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, of course, and that momentum that has been building in these 'right-to-work states' is inspiring," Kristin Beller, a teachers' union leader in Wake County, North Carolina, told the Guardian, which noted that Wednesday's mass action is "a bold move for North Carolina as teachers in in the state lack collective bargaining rights—something they hope helps launch a political movement."

While Wednesday's one-day demonstration was motivated by the same issues that have spurred recent strikes and walkouts in ArizonaColoradoKentucky, Oklahoma, and West Viriginia, as the News & Observer explained, most participants in North Carolina used personal days to take part in "the largest act of organized teacher political action in state history."

To work around vacation day rules, the newspaper reports, "organizers of Wednesday's march encouraged teachers to use a provision in state law that allows them to take personal leave with at least five days' advance notice—as long as a substitute is available and the teacher pays a $50 'required substitute deduction.'" Dozens of districts canceled classes, meaning those educators won't be forced to pay the sub fee.

Teachers and reporters posted photos, videos, and updates from Raleigh with the hashtags #RedforEd, #RedforEdNC, and #NCTeacherRally.

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