Tens of thousands of public school teachers and students wearing #RedForEd T-shirts marched in the streets of North Carolina's capital today, surrounding the state General Assembly building in a powerful show of solidarity for increased education funding.
The exodus of teachers from their classrooms meant that officials in about 40 North Carolina school districts - including some of the state's largest - chose to close schools.
"I hope (lawmakers) take away the understanding that students deserve more, and teachers can't give more unless we're paid adequately", said Godwin, a kindergarten teacher in coastal Onslow County.
Wood echoed the sentiment and said that in his district, students had gone so far as to organize voter registration rallies for seniors turning 18 this year so that they could help in the efforts to vote out incumbent politicians who vote against teachers' interests.
While Wednesday's one-day demonstration was motivated by the same issues that have spurred recent strikes and walkouts in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Viriginia, as the News & Observer explained, most participants in North Carolina used personal days to take part in "the largest act of organized teacher political action in state history". The sessions were put into recess until 10 a.m. today, after the vast majority of teachers have returned to their classrooms.
Legions of teachers then gathered outside on the lawn, and state lawmakers who supported their cause held impromptu meetings.
Republican lawmakers have pushed back against teachers' calls for more school funding, citing teacher pay raises approved in previous years that education advocates say are insufficient.
Even as state GOP leaders were praising themselves for supporting teachers, they couldn't resist talking out of turn. "North Carolina public school educators, parents, and our communities demand better for our students".
"A couple of teachers from my school went to rally but I have a two month old baby and we're not in daycare yet and my husband works".
It would raise teacher salaries by putting a stop to planned tax cuts for corporations and high income households. When adjusted to inflation, teachers in the state make less than they did a decade ago. Some of the teachers said they could not go because they work extra jobs or they have new family members they need to care for.
Dahlresma Marks-Evans, a middle school teacher from Durham, said the conversation with Brody led to "a better understanding" about his controversial remarks. Most teachers quieted down when asked, but a woman who yelled, "Education is a Right: That is why we have to fight", was among four escorted from the Senate gallery. Republicans overrode his veto. That ranks 39th in the nation out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"According to the NEA, North Carolina Ranked #2 in the United States for fastest rising teacher pay in 2017", Republican Senator Phil Berger, president pro tempore, said in a comment on Twitter posted during the march.
The average teacher salary in 2018-2019 will rise to $53,600, meaning teachers will get an average of about $3,000 more in their paychecks. The gathering in uptown was a way for those teachers to still have their voices heard, she said. Once, while teaching a high school class of refugees who struggled with English, she made a decision to purchase 35 textbooks for English-language learners.
Amy Buchen, a first-grade educator at Brassfield Elementary School in Raleigh, says she was amazed by the enormous community that formed in the wake of this morning's protests.
"They have hard jobs and they deserve our respect and support" that he said goes beyond what the legislature can provide in funding to community and employer resources.