The Wake County Public School System and Guilford County Schools are closing their doors May 16 so thousands of teachers can rally at the start of the short session for higher pay and more school resources.
More than 2,500 Wake County teachers and 2,000 Guilford County teachers have requested next Wednesday off to attend the March for Students and Rally for Respect in downtown Raleigh. The North Carolina Association of Educators is sponsoring the event.
Teachers are walking out or going on strike in several states including Arizona and Colorado to advocate raises and more education funding. The RedForEd movement has garnered significant national attention.
Now all eyes are on North Carolina.
North Carolina bans collective bargaining by public employees, so teachers can’t legally strike. Teachers are allowed to take a personal day as long as they give prior notice, but they must pay $50 for a substitute if one is available. With thousands of teachers requesting the day off, school districts are struggling to find enough substitutes to fill the absences.
“We are extremely aware that disrupting family routines puts a burden on parents. At the same time, the voices of our teachers need to be heard,” Monika Johnson-Hostler, the chair of the Wake County Board of Education, said in a news release. “Year after year our teachers are asked to do more with less.”
WCPSS and GCS join Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, Durham public schools, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems in closing schools May 16. Around 350,000 students, or about 23 percent of all North Carolina students, will be out of school.
“Despite our efforts throughout the weekend to find enough substitutes, including redeploying central office personnel, we’ve reached a tipping point where we won’t have enough teachers in place to operate schools safely or to ensure a high-quality instructional day for students,” said Guilford Superintendent Sharon L. Contreras.
Select schools in WCPSS will stay open so students can get meals. Buses will also run for students who need to take Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams.
Other school systems like DPS and GCS will reschedule AP exams to May 23 and work with the local community to ensure IB students can still take their mandatory exams May 16.
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, co-chairman of the House K-12 Education Committee, said he believes every teacher has a right to lobby for higher compensation, but he also said there is a more productive way of doing that than closing schools for the rally.
“They should be inviting legislators into their schools to meet with teachers and into their classrooms to gain a better understanding of what teachers face each and every day,” Horn said.
The lawmaker has talked with teachers about school funding, but said many are unaware about recent boosts to benefits and salary. He said NCAE isn’t being honest with teachers.
“None of them knew that they had received, on average, a pay raise every year since 2013. None of them knew that their benefit package was fully funded, unlike most other states in our nation,” Horn said. “And very few knew that their benefit package was valued at approximately $16,000 or more.”
Monday afternoon, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, announced they will include a fifth consecutive teacher pay raise in the 2018-19 state budget.
While Horn agreed the General Assembly must continue to raise teacher pay to attract and retain high quality teachers, he doesn’t think closing schools when students need to prepare for End of Course and End of Year exams is the right choice.