“This group here and that man there need somewhere else to live.”
When he said it, Donald Dunn, former president of the N.C. Parent Teacher Association, pointed at the legislature and in the direction of the governor’s mansion, respectively, setting off cheers all around.
Dunn was one of just a handful of educators and civil rights leaders who gathered on the front steps of North Carolina’s legislative building Wednesday afternoon to protest the public education policies of the GOP-led legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory, urging voters to show up at the polls this November to cast both parties out.
The heat from the crowd of about 100 or so nearly matched the blazing heat of the afternoon, as a group of pro-public education protesters, calling itself Organize 2020, completed their 23-mile march from schools in Durham and Raleigh to the legislative building.
Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, joined the protest Wednesday, lashing out at McCrory and Republican leaders in the legislature as “extremists.” Barber said competing education budget plans being negotiated in the General Assembly are partially restoring old GOP-led school cuts and calling them increases.
“I may be a preacher, but I wasn’t always a preacher,” said Barber. “We call that Three-card Monte. You’re just playing games.”
Multiple protesters who spoke Wednesday as the legislature convened inside blasted policymakers, accusing them of approving limited funding and lackluster teacher pay for public schools while ramping up privatization efforts.
“North Carolina should be moving forward in public education and not backwards,” said Mark Jewell, president-elect of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), a teacher lobbying group in Raleigh.
The protest continued on to the State Capitol building where, as The News & Observer‘s Colin Campbell reported, 14 were arrested when they blocked the intersection of Morgan and Fayetteville streets.
According to the paper, McCrory declined to meet with the protesters, although his office later offered to have the group sit down with a pair of top aides at the State Capitol. When the group found the doors of the Capitol locked Wednesday afternoon, they began protesting in the streets.
From the N&O:
McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said the group initially didn’t respond to an offer to meet with the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Jimmy Broughton, and senior education adviser Catherine Truitt. The group arrived after the Capitol building closed at 5 p.m., Ellis said, and Broughton and Truitt later went outside to meet the protesters.
“We found them with locked arms in the middle of a rush-hour intersection,” Ellis said. “We usually prefer not to hold meetings in the intersection of a main road.”
One of those protesters, Jessica Benton, a special education teacher in Wake County, slammed McCrory for not sitting down to meet with the Organize 2020 group during Wednesday’s gathering. “He’s a coward!” someone shouted from the crowd.
“I don’t know about you, but I am done being ignored,” Benton added.
Protesters on Wednesday also took aim at the legislature’s consideration of a constitutional amendment setting a 5.5-percent cap on personal income taxes, one part of an ALEC-backed, conservative set of reforms typically known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
Here’s a fact sheet from the Budget & Tax Center at the progressive N.C. Justice Center on the proposal in Senate Bill 817, which calls for a referendum this fall on the tax limit (Disclosure: The N.C. Justice Center is the parent nonprofit of N.C. Policy Watch). The BTC’s Alexandra Forter Sirota also wrote this week on Policy Watch about the impacts on North Carolina communities.
Additionally, here’s an examination of how a similar tax limit in Colorado, the only U.S. state to approve TABOR thus far, has affected public education.
Jewell said Wednesday that the tax cap would “inflict damage” to the state’s public schools, pointing out North Carolina is already ranked a lowly 41st nationally in teacher pay and 43rd in per-pupil spending.
“We are better than 41st in teacher pay,” said Jewell.
The legislature is currently considering multiple teacher pay proposals included in the state budget. McCrory’s plan would focus more on beginning teachers, while different plans lobbed by the House and Senate would tailor the pay boosts to teachers with more experience.
Meanwhile, Kimberly Manning, a high school science teacher in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the dearth of funding has only exacerbated achievement gaps between low-income and wealthy students, even in districts recognized for their academics like Chapel Hill-Carrboro.
“Our legislators do not care about our students,” said Manning.