LUMBERTON — A march and rally by state educators may have left teachers and lawmakers wondering what, if anything, will happen next, but a senator from Robeson County insists something needs to be done.
Sen. Danny Britt Jr., a Republican from Lumberton, has added his voice to the chorus of lawmakers who say they must find a way to give teachers better salaries and more money for educational resources. But Britt also says progress has been made.
Pay and money for resources were among the demands made Wednesday when an estimated 19,000 universally clad educators descended on Raleigh and created a red tide of chanting humanity that flowed along the city’s streets and washed up upon the North Carolina Legislative Building.
Britt said he “absolutely” supports the teachers. And he has personal knowledge of how hard they work and how great are their needs because his wife is a career educator who has taught in the Public Schools of Robeson County and has a master’s degree in Education. He met Wednesday with educators from Columbus and Robeson counties and spoke with them about their concerns.
“I hope it will open the eyes of some of the legislators who do not understand where we continue to fail veteran educators,” Britt said. “I hear it from my wife on a daily basis and my sister when I see her.”
The senator has no doubt about the Republican Party’s efforts on behalf of teachers and a better public school system.
“What I know is the Republican Party has increased funding for textbooks from $2.5 million to $73 million since 2010,” Britt said. “What I also know is that we have provided five consecutive pay raises.
“What I also know is when I was a state employee and my wife a fourth-grade teacher under (former Gov. Beverly) Perdue and Democrat leadership we were faced with furloughs and pay cuts. We personally felt the devastation of fiscal irresponsibility.”
Lawmakers must do more to increase the pay for veteran teachers who suffered from low starting pay, pay cuts and no pay raises for so many years under Democratic leadership, he said. A lot has been done to recruit teachers, but more must be done to retain qualified teachers, according to Britt.
“We must also look for other ways to increase salaries of other state employees without increasing taxes on the middle class,” Britt said. “Gov. (Roy) Cooper’s budget would propose a tax increase on the middle class that I cannot support.”
State Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram, sees political barriers in place that could halt legislative action during the General Assembly’s short session, which began Wednesday.
“The party in power, it appears that they have made up their minds in what they were going to do on education in the short session,” Pierce said Wednesday.
Now Cooper and legislators are waiting to see what happens after educators from more than three dozen North Carolina school districts marched through the capital city.
One of the teachers’ demands is that the General Assembly, where Republicans hold majorities large enough to override any Cooper veto of their legislation, stop tax cuts on upper-income households and corporations due in January, and to channel more spending into public education. Legislative leaders have promised an average 6 percent pay raise for educators, which would be the fifth in five years.
Cooper has proposed an average 8 percent teacher pay raise this year, $25 million for textbooks and digital learning and a $150 stipend for teachers who shell out for classroom supplies.
The most immediate effect Robeson County’s public schools teachers will see as a result of the rally in Raleigh is a longer academic year. Public Schools of Robeson County’s leadership decided Tuesday to give students a day off and to grant teachers an optional work day so the educators could participate in the rally.
The PSRC Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to make up the lost day of classes on June 8. The makeup day applies only to elementary and middle schools because high schools will be staging graduation ceremonies on June 8.
The PSRC was forced to make up the lost day because of days lost to snow this past winter.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this report.