Tens of thousands of public school teachers and students wearing #RedForEd T-shirts marched in the streets of North Carolina's capital today, surrounding the state General Assembly building in a powerful show of solidarity for increased education funding.
Educators across the state walked out of schools and gathered for a rally in Raleigh in hopes that lawmakers will hear their calls for higher pay and funding for classroom resources they say have been diminished by a decade of cuts while major corporations have gotten tax breaks.
The one-day labor action caused numerous school districts across the state to cancel classes for more than 1 million students.
"It's become a struggle every day when you don't have what you need to be able to equip these young folks with what they need," William Powell, a middle school teacher in Raleigh, told ABC station WTVD-TV as he and scores of other educators marched down Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.
Powell said he is about to retire after working 32 years as a teacher in Raleigh.
"Education is a profession that needs to be respected and for so long we haven't been respected," Powell said. "I mean we're treated like a stepchild and we are the professionals that make the professionals."
The rally in Raleigh is just the latest in a wave of teacher uprisings this year. The revolt started with striking teachers in West Virginia, who inspired their counterparts in Oklahoma and Arizona to form picket lines of their own.
Teachers in Kentucky and Colorado have also staged walkouts and sickouts, calling for raises and protesting changes in their pension plan.
In Puerto Rico, thousands of teachers walked out of classes in March to protest the cash-strapped government's plan to shut down more than 300 schools this year as the unincorporated U.S. territory struggles to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September.
Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said up to 15,000 teachers and thousands of more students and their parents are joining in the all-day rally at the state Capitol in Raleigh.
The North Carolina educators say their top goal is to get legislators to increase annual per-pupil funding, which is currently about $9,329, according to a 2018 report by the National Education Association.
"We are currently about $2,400 below the national average in how we fund our public school children," Jewell said at a news conference in Raleigh earlier this week.
North Carolina teachers are calling for higher pay. The average salary for teachers in the state is $49,970, or about $9,000 below the national average, Jewell said.
The educators also want their lawmakers to fork over money to fix crumbling schools and fund 500 school counselors, social workers and psychologists.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has proposed boosting teacher pay 8 percent and up to 14.8 percent for educators with at least 25 years of experience. The state's Republican-dominated General Assembly is calling for raises of 5 to 6 percent.
"It's hard to teach when we don't have the supplies that we need, when we don't have the curriculum in place in time," Ann Simmons, an elementary school teacher in Raleigh, told WTVD-TV. "Our classrooms are falling apart, the building doesn't get cleaned on a regular basis because we don't have funds to clean it."
Simmons said that if she gets the chance to speak to state legislators today, she'll tell them how hard teachers work.
"I'm one of the last teachers out of the building on a regular basis, and we work really hard for the kids and we're passionate," Simmons said.
She added that younger teachers quit every year to take jobs in other higher paying professions.
"We need those young, passionate teachers to stay in the profession," Simmons said.