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On National Teacher Appreciation Day, educators and lawmakers call for raises, big reforms in NC

EducationN.C. Sen. Dan Blue, the Democratic leader in the Senate, remembers Dorothy Washington, his high school English teacher and an educator in his former home in Robeson County for a half-century.

Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County, still keeps an aging, brass school bell on his legislative desk to remind him of one of his most beloved teachers.

And Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat who represents eight counties in the northeast corner of the state, doesn’t have to look far for her inspiration when it comes to education. Smith-Ingram is a former high school math and science teacher.

All shared their personal stories on Tuesday, National Teacher Appreciation Day, during a press conference geared to push the public school agenda with lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly back in session and expected to consider some of Gov. Pat McCrory’s school budget proposals as early as this week.

Read more analysis of McCrory’s K-12 budget proposal from the N.C. Justice Center here. And, also, here.

Tuesday’s press conference, organized by the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), the state’s largest teacher advocacy organization, included a laundry list of demands for legislators that largely echoed the sentiments of the group’s full legislative agenda.

Among its requests, the group notably called for lawmakers to increase teacher pay and per-pupil spending to the national average (N.C. ranked a dismal 42nd and 46th, respectively, at last count), restore master’s and longevity pay bonus checks and overhaul the state’s controversial, A-F school performance grading system to place a greater emphasis on student growth, rather than student performance.

“Let us stand for the schools that we deserve,” said Rodney Ellis, NCAE president.

Blue called teaching the “cornerstone of every profession” in the state. “We present them with unattainable goals and provide them with inadequate resources to achieve those goals,” Blue said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ellis told reporters that he was skeptical about the “lofty ideals” presented in the governor’s proposed budget, which McCrory said would give teachers an average raise of about 5 percent, bringing the state’s average teacher pay up to about $50,000 a year. The national average exceeds $56,000.

“It’s an election year, so you can anticipate some numbers out there that may or may not come true,” said Ellis.

Legislators in the powerful House appropriations committee for K-12 education are expected to discuss the governor’s budget in detail later this week, although most political observers expect the state’s final budget to undergo major changes before its approval by both chambers.

Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Hall, the Democratic leader in the state House, on Tuesday called for more of a long-term plan for K-12 spending while taking pointed jabs at Gov. McCrory’s budget.

“Folks are going to have to do more than put out a proposed budget that’s dead on arrival and say, ‘I’ve done my part,'” said Hall.

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