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'We vote!' North Carolina teachers walk out for higher pay

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) - Thousands of North Carolina teachers marched on the state Capitol on Wednesday calling for higher pay, greater spending on education and better working conditions.

They filled the legislative gallery chanting, “Remember, remember, we vote in November” as the Republican-controlled General Assembly session got underway.

North Carolina the sixth state in which teachers’ have publicly protested to bring attention to the state of education in the United States.

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper praised teachers for their roles with children and spoke about his budget plan, which includes ending tax cuts for businesses and wealthy families so the state would have more money for teachers’ salaries and school repairs.

“We trust you as teachers. Now we need to put our money where our trust is,” Cooper told cheering protesters in red T-shirts who filled a plaza outside the legislature.

At least 38 school districts, representing more than half of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students, were closed due to the protests.

Teacher walkouts this year have already occurred in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado. All have said that lawmakers have failed to adequately pay teachers and provide necessities for education.

Carolynn Phillips, a middle school arts teacher from coastal Brunswick County who was named the county’s Teacher of the Year for 2018, called Wednesday’s protest a cry for respect from teachers whose pay ranks toward the bottom of the teacher pay scales in the 50 U.S. states.

“We want to talk not just about compensation, but giving more resources to teachers who are asked to do so much more than teach,” Phillips said after meeting with lawmakers.

The North Carolina Association of Educators is calling for per-student spending and teacher pay to be raised to at least the national average, and it wants lawmakers to restore funding for public schools to pre-recession levels.

According to data on the National Education Association website, for 2016-2017 the national average starting teacher salary was $38,617. It was $37,514 in North Carolina. The lowest starting teacher salary for that period was $30,036 in Montana, and the highest $51.359 in the District of Columbia, according to the data.

Republicans defended their education record, with state Senator Phil Berger, president pro tempore, saying they had increased funding every year that Republicans held the majority in the legislature.

“We are on track to spend over $2 billion more on K-12 in 2018-19 than was spent in 2010-2011,” he said in a Twitter post.

Cooper’s proposed budget calls for an 8 percent average pay rise for teachers and for a $2 billion bond issue for school construction to be put on the ballot.

Reporting by Marti Maguire and Kirk Bado; writing by Ian Simpson; editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown