Tens of thousands of educators across North Carolina marched on the general assembly building in Raleigh today, in one of the largest teacher walkouts of 2018. At least 38 school districts closed ahead of the march, as too many teachers called in sick in order to join the walkout.
Crowd estimates are coming in for the Teachers March in Raleigh, North Carolina at 20,000.
— Red T Raccoon (@RedTRaccoon) May 16, 2018
— Amanda Stinchcomb (@aestinch) May 16, 2018
— NC Education (@nceducation) May 14, 2018
North Carolina is the ninth-most populous state in the United States, but its K-12 public education funding is one of the lowest in the country, when looking at funding at a per-student basis. 2016 figures from the National Education Association show that the Tar Heel State ranks 40 out of 50 in per-student funding, with roughly $3,000 fewer dollars allocated than the national average.
Teacher salaries are also lacking in North Carolina, as teachers there make an average of $47,941 per year, compared to the national average of $60,205. Teachers argue that North Carolina’s legislature could easily find the funding to increase teacher salaries to a more competitive figure, while also bringing up per-student funding to a more adequate figure, through reversing some of the generous tax breaks passed since 2011 that overwhelmingly benefit the rich.
Today, #NorthCarolina teachers will walk out to call for more adequate investments in public schools. As @leachma2 notes, tax cuts are a big factor that led to this moment https://t.co/Vzetzsz0D4 #Red4Ed #ncpol
— Jon Whiten (@WhitenJon) May 16, 2018
— Keung Hui (@nckhui) May 16, 2018
According to the Washington Post, cuts the Republican-controlled legislature have made to corporate tax rates and personal income tax rates amount to roughly $3.5 billion per year in lost revenue, with that number climbing to $4.4 billion in lost revenue in 2019, when new tax cuts go into effect. In a 2017 article, Ned Barnett of the Raleigh News & Observer listed some of the tax cuts for the wealthy passed in recent history:
[North Carolina Republicans have] eliminated the estate tax, chopped the corporate income tax from 6.9 percent to 3 percent – the lowest in the nation – and converted the progressive personal income tax to a flat tax that heaped disproportionate savings on the state’s wealthiest earners… Taxes are being reduced when the economy is growing and not in need of stimulation. And the savings are going mostly to people and corporations who are already benefiting greatly from the national recovery.
Economics professor Steve DeLoach of Elon University told the Asheville Citizen-Times that the economic justification for the tax cuts isn’t there when taking a closer look at the actual growth that came after the tax cuts. He added the cuts to the education budget in the wake of revenue lost to tax cuts could actually make North Carolina less competitive for employers in the long run.
“What I worry about is what’s going to happen 20 years from now. Are the cuts we’re making right now going to lead to a less educated workforce?” DeLoach said.
Local media outlet WRAL reports that teachers are demanding lawmakers bring per-pupil spending up to the national average over a four-year period, a pay raise for all educators along with a new package of benefits like cost-of-living increases, ending performance-based pay dependent on test scores, an enhanced pension package, and dedicated time for planning and lunches.
Teachers are also calling for 500 more school support staff like cafeteria workers, school nurses, bus drivers, and custodians, and a $1.9 billion statewide bond package that will provide capital improvements to crumbling facilities. Additonally, educators are demanding legislators suspend corporate tax breaks until their stated demands have been met.
“We have not had a textbook adoption in 15 years. We have school districts deciding whether or not to pay the light bill or buy toilet paper,” North Carolina Association of Educators president Mark Jewell said. “We have classrooms … that are 35 students and higher in some instances. This is not normal. This is not the North Carolina way.”
Fortune is reporting that Mississippi could potentially be the next state to see a massive demonstration of teachers.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.