Rosa Ramirez, a student at Durham School of the Arts, has long dreamed of being a teacher. But in light of recent changes to the state’s education policy, the ninth-grader is reconsidering.
“Thanks for crushing my dream,” she told a crowd of demonstrators on a cold morning outside Weaver Auditorium at Durham School of the Arts.
Public school teachers, supporters and students throughout North Carolina, including the Triangle, demonstrated against legislation passed this year that cut funding, eliminated tenure, removed the cap on class sizes and dropped bonus pay for instructors with master’s degrees. Meanwhile, the Republican-led legislature increased incentives for parents to enroll their children in public charter and private schools, taking the funding with them.
Since teachers are not allowed to strike in North Carolina, they held a “walk-in” instead of a walk-out. At Jordan, Hillside and Riverside high schools, Rogers-Herr Middle School and E.K. Powe Elementary, on Monday teachers wore red to show solidarity and entered the school en masse at 8:30 a.m. to start the classroom day.
At Durham School of the Arts, the top-ranked high school in North Carolina, state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a Democrat, railed against the Republican policies that he said “abandoned the commitment to public education.”
“We don’t need to pack kids in a class like sardines in a can,” McKissick said, adding that without tenure and higher salaries for teachers holding master’s degrees, North Carolina is “moving toward the bottom.
“Why would we destroy incentives? It’s the wrong message to send.”
North Carolina ranks 46th in teacher pay and 48th in student funding.
Meanwhile, in Raleigh, more than 200 people gathered in an auditorium at Lacy Elementary School in Raleigh to show support for North Carolina teachers.
Several teachers said they had to work one or more part-time jobs to get by. Wake County school board member Christine Kushner said teachers’ salaries in North Carolina have shrunk more than 16 percent since 2001.
“That’s a very real thing for these teachers to live with every day,” Kushner said.
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, thanked teachers for their work and said “it is imperative that we treat them with the respect of the importance of the work they perform,” adding, “A number of the changes that the General Assembly enacted this summer does precisely the opposite.”
In a joint statement with Republican Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, released this statement addressing the teacher protests: “We are deeply disturbed that the N.C. Association of Educators is encouraging teachers to turn their backs on their classrooms and leave their students in the care of strangers who may lack formal training and background checks.”
This is a stunning statement: Senate Bill 337, passed this session, removed oversight of many charter school operations, including the requirement that at least half the school’s staff be state-certified. It does requires charter schools to conduct criminal background checks but only if its local school district also requires it.
In addition, teachers went to their classrooms after the walk-in to attend to their students.
Hunt was invited to the walk-in at Lacy this morning but did not attend.
Lacy teacher and parent Suzette Acree teared up as she talked about her daughter, an education major in college.
“I asked her why she wanted to be a teacher,” Acree said. “She said, “you made it seem like it wasn’t work, and what could be more fun than spending the day working alongside children as they discover and uncover a growth from the inside out.”
A second demonstration is scheduled in Durham for Friday, Nov. 8. Protesters will gather at Durham School of the Arts, 400 N. Duke St., at 4 p.m., and then march to CCB Plaza downtown for a rally.