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20,000 North Carolina Teachers Walk Out, Demanding More Resources and Better Pay

Arizona teachers at a demonstration earlier this year. (Gage Skidmore for the Arizona Education Association / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Twenty thousand teachers staged a school walkout in North Carolina on Wednesday, demanding better salaries and more money for education. Forty school districts canceled classes in what The New York Times reports is the first walkout for teachers in that state.

North Carolina, as The Guardian reports, “stood 39th nationwide in terms of public school teacher pay in 2017 and teachers’ wages have fallen by 9.4% in real terms over the last decade. Over the same period, spending on public schools here has dropped by 8%.”

Both the low pay and the lack of resources have taken a toll on teachers’ morale. “I have to work other jobs,” Kaitlyn Davis, 26, a fourth-grade teacher, told The Guardian. “And it’s not fair because it takes away from the energy that I have to put into teaching.”

North Carolina is the sixth state where teachers have staged walkouts, if not full-fledged strikes, in 2018. Starting with West Virginia, the strikes have been concentrated in red and purple states, particularly states with years of both state budget reductions and tax cuts that have decimated funding for education, not to mention teachers’ pay, their health care and their retirement benefits.

As in the other striking states, teachers swarmed both the state capital and their own towns, wearing red (#redfored is a common Twitter hashtag and rallying cry) and attempting to grab the attention of state legislators.

North Carolina teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation since the 2008 recession, falling, according to the National Education Association, by an average of 4 percent. The drop in salaries in other states that have seen walkouts is even steeper.

Previous teacher protests have helped galvanize the labor movement in the states involved, even in those that have adopted anti-union right-to-work laws. Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona won pay raises. Even if North Carolina teachers don’t win similar gains immediately, it gives both North Carolina unions and its Democrats a popular issue to organize around for the upcoming statewide midterm elections.

As The Guardian notes, “The Democratic party in North Carolina hopes that running on raising teacher pay will help take back the North Carolina general assembly in November.”

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