Wearing 'red for public ed,' teachers crowd legislative protest

Posted July 29, 2013 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2013 8:58 a.m. EDT

— Thousands of North Carolina teachers and other protesters on Monday staged one of the largest of the almost-weekly demonstrations opposing Republican policy decisions.

The North Carolina Association of Educators brought busloads of teachers to Raleigh on Monday as the so-called "Moral Monday" protests reached the three-month mark. Thousands of red-shirt-wearing educators listened to speakers on a lawn inside the state government complex, then marched several blocks for another rally outside the antebellum state Capitol building.

"Educators are sick and tired of being demoralized," NCAE President Rodney Ellis said at a news conference preceding the rally. "We're sick and tired of being unappreciated. We're sick and tired of being disrespected. Public educators and public schools are not failing our students, politicians are."

Crowds grew so large that police shut down a portion of Lane Street.

Many said they were outraged and angry that the state budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory last week doesn't include raises for North Carolina's teachers – among the lowest paid in the country – and sets aside $20 million for "opportunity scholarships," which opponents have compared to a school voucher system.

Julie Grice, who has been teaching in Hickory for 20 years, said future teachers will have to deal with the challenges of the legislature not supporting them.

"They are going to have to pay out of their pocket. They are going to have to work many hours for little pay," she said.

Eric Guckian, McCrory's senior education advisor, however, said the budget increases public education spending.

"We did fund education in our state," Guckian said. "Unfortunately we couldn't fund it to the extent that perhaps was needed as it pertains to the needs of the teachers."

Earlier in the day, a smaller group of protesters gathered at the State Capitol to demand a meeting with Gov. Pat McCrory. Police kept the demonstration outside the building but said they would deliver the protesters' letter to the governor.

With lawmakers gone, the protest featured none of the civil disobedience that led to about 925 demonstrators being arrested outside the legislative chambers in previous weeks.

North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber said the weekly protests will continue, but move to different locations around the state. The next will be in Asheville next Monday and there are plans to hold demonstrations in all 13 of North Carolina's congressional districts, Barber said.

"We are not ending Moral Monday," he said. "We are suspending it here and taking it on the road."

Republican lawmakers have repeatedly said they're not going to be swayed by protests. Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said he and his colleagues are focused on jobs, education, health care and public safety and that the protesters simply want to keep the status quo.

"We can no longer have a state with high unemployment, no longer have a state with low expectations for our students," he said. "Republicans simply will not accept that. We believe the economy can grow. We believe our students can achieve. We believe we must be responsible for taxpayer dollars, the same way families have to be responsible for their budgets."