RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Three of North Carolina’s largest school districts are closed Wednesday as thousands of teachers are expected to rally for better working conditions and education funding.
The Wake County Public School System said it will close on May 16 after about a quarter of the 10,000 teachers employed in and around the state’s capital city asked for the day off to participate in the rally. The 160,000 students in the state’s largest school district won’t have to make up the class time.
Guilford County Schools announced its classrooms will be closed for 72,000 students after nearly 2,000 teachers planned absences, twice the number of available substitutes.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the second-largest district with 150,000 students, announced it would cancel classes because of the rally. Durham County, with 33,000 students, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, with 12,000, also will close.
List of school districts closing:
- Cabarrus County Schools
- Caldwell County Schools
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
- Gaston County Schools
- Hickory Public Schools
- Iredell-Statesville Schools
- Kannapolis City Schools
- Mooresville Graded School District
- Rowan-Salisbury Schools
- Union County Public Schools
The rally is scheduled for the same day that state lawmakers assemble in Raleigh for their annual legislative session. It is being organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators, whose members are unhappy with the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s decisions on teacher salaries and school funding.
“We are extremely aware that disrupting family routines puts a burden on parents,” Wake County school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said in a statement. “At the same time, the voices of our teachers need to be heard. Year after year our teachers are asked to do more with less. I ask that you support them in their decision to highlight the needs of their profession and your children.”
The rally is part of a national protest movement by teachers in conservative states demanding lawmakers increase pay and funding. The movement started in West Virginia, where striking teachers won pay raises, then spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and Colorado.
The $49,970 average salary of North Carolina teachers ranked 39th in the country last year, but their pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year — the 2nd biggest increase in the country, the National Education Association reported last month. Teacher pay was estimated to rise another 1.8 percent on average this year, the NEA said, but that still represented a 9.4 percent slide in real income due to inflation since 2009.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, last year proposed raising teacher pay until it meets the national average in the 2021-22 school year, but that was rejected by legislators.
Other states where teacher protests have occurred “have not been as generous” as North Carolina Republicans in recent years, House Speaker Tim Moore said Monday.
The Cleveland County Republican noted that teacher pay raises were included in a state budget that Cooper that vetoed last year. Republicans overrode his veto.
“If they want to come protest, they ought to go protest Gov. Cooper,” Moore said.
The rally seems to be “part of a national thing that’s been orchestrated by the Democrats all over the place,” Moore said. The state teachers association has been a close ally of Cooper and previous Democratic governors.
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.