Around 15,000 North Carolina educators will march together in Raleigh Wednesday to rally for better pay, improved working conditions, and better school funding.
The march follows months of teacher unrest around the country. Since February, strikes, walkouts and protest rallies have swept through West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma - pushing legislators in each state to improve pay, benefits or overall school funding.
With a large number of projected teacher absences Wednesday, 12 school districts in the WBTV viewing area are designating May 16 an optional teacher workday.
Teachers started boarding buses in Charlotte around 6 a.m. to make their way to the state capitol. According to the president of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, seven buses were paid for by a private donation and through CMAE budget.
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Teachers in North Carolina earn an average salary of around $50,000, ranking them 39th in the country last year, the National Education Association reported last month.
The pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year — the second-biggest increase in the country — and was estimated to rise an average 1.8 percent this year, the NEA said. But the union points out that that still represents a 9.4 percent slide in real income since 2009 due to inflation.
The rally is intended to call for increasing teacher pay and investment in public education, lowering staff ratios in schools and decreasing class sizes. May 16 is the day the General Assembly returns to Raleigh.
Below are districts that have canceled class Wednesday:
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
- Caldwell County Schools
- Mooresville Graded School District
- Iredell-Statesville Schools
- Cabarrus County Schools
- Hickory City Schools
- Rowan-Salisbury Schools
- Kannapolis City Schools
- Union County Public Schools
- Gaston County Schools
- Stanly County Schools
- Alexander County Schools
Avery County Schools, Burke County Schools, Lincoln County Schools and Anson County Schools will still have class Wednesday. Watauga County Schools, Ashe County Schools, Catawba County Schools and Cleveland County Schools have not yet responded to WBTV's question on whether class will be in session Wednesday.
Durham and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts have also told students not to report to school Wednesday because too many teachers will be absent, the Charlotte Observer reports.
Nearly all public school teachers report digging into their pockets to pay for school supplies, spending nearly $480 a year, far more than the federal $250 tax deduction available to teachers, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.
The findings were released Tuesday. Helping teachers pay for class supplies was a key demand during the Arizona teachers' strike.
Ninety-four percent of public school teachers say they spent their own money on notebooks, pens and other supplies in the 2014-15 school year without reimbursement, according to the study.
Students will not likely be required to make up the day, school officials said.
Teachers plan to gather around 9:45 a.m. at North Carolina Association of Education headquarters in Raleigh and arrive at the North Carolina General Assembly Headquarters by 10:45 a.m. to bring their demands for better pay and school resources to legislators' doorstep.
The march for students will begin at 10 a.m.
The NCGA sessions are set to convene at noon.
The rally is expected to wrap up around 4 p.m.
Copyright 2018 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this story. All rights reserved.