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N.C. Teachers Rally To Ask Lawmakers For More Revenue

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina educators want statelegislators to come up with more money and they do not care if itcomes from gamblers, smokers or corporations.

They suggest that lawmakers close corporate loopholes, taxcigarettes and alcohol or even push through a lottery, saying thatwithout more revenue, their pay and benefits will fall behind andthe state's children will suffer for it.

"If you're against our agenda, then you're against motherhood,you're against apple pie and you're against education," Rep. LarryWomble, D-Forsyth, a former educator, told about 1,500 members ofthe North Carolina Association of Educators who rallied downtownWednesday.

They met on the lawn outside the building where legislators fromboth the House and the Senate are negotiating a final budget and attimes were encouraged to chant "Raise revenue now" and otherslogans loud enough for the lawmakers to hear.

The proposals from each chamber call for average raises of nomore than 1.8 percent this year and beginning in 2004-05 wouldeliminate bonuses for teachers whose students excel on standardizedtests.

The 70,000-member NCAE also wants lawmakers to approve a budgetby June 30 after learning that teachers may be charged as much as$88 a month for health insurance unless a new state plan goes intoplace to make up the difference, said NCAE President CarolynMcKinney. Teachers pay nothing now for their health coverage.

Senate president Marc Basnight, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue andother elected officials spent a few minutes offering the NCAE theirsupport. However, Marc Basnight was booed when he tried to explain the shortfall.

"The budget doesn't allow for much increase in any areas of deepest concern to all of us," he said.

The House has rejected the Senate proposals for increasingtobacco and alcohol taxes and isn't likely to approve a lottery.

Basnight encouraged teachers to work harder at home to electrepresentatives who support those initiatives.

"I want you to have more money, but that's not going to make ithappen," Basnight said after some members of the audience began toshout "State lottery" while he spoke.

The rising revenue shortfall this year has resulted in a budgetshortfall of at least $200 million in the spending plans passed bythe two chambers. The budget gaps means that legislators will haveto make additional spending cuts or enact additional tax increasesto balance the roughly $15.1 billion proposals.

Susan Overby, a teacher at East Surry High School in PilotMountain, said she worried that legislators would continue to chipaway at her health benefits as she recovers from two bouts withcancer in the past five years.

"I still see doctors frequently," she said.

Paige Searcy, who teaches at the same school, said dwindlingbudgets mean fewer books, less paper and insufficient supplies.Some schools buy one set of books that remain in the classroomsinstead of giving each child their own book, she said.

"That sort of negates any kind of homework," she said.

Many of those who attended the rally spent a few minutes inlegislators' office letting them know they wanted the state todevote more money to education.

"If NCAE is not going to stand up for increasing revenue forpublic education, who is?" McKinney asked.

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