In their quest to score political points, North Carolina school district leaders putting a lot at risk.

Last week, more than 1,000 teachers in Durham told their principals that they’re planning to take the day off on May 161 to rally in Raleigh for better pay and more spending on facilities.

NCAE stands for the North Carolina Association of Educators, a lobbying organization typically aligned with the Democratic Party.

Instead of trying to minimize the disruption, the Durham school board encouraged the protest. With about 40 percent of their teaching force saying they’d be absent, the school board went against the wishes of the school superintendent and voted 6-1 on Wednesday to cancel school that day2.

That decision seems to be a spark that’s spreading to other urban counties across the state. Districts that at first said they’d hold classes as normal are feeling like they have to earn their liberal bona fides by canceling school.

The next dominoes to fall: The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district voted Thursday to cancel classes as well. About 100 teachers there had said they’d take the day off.

Update: On Friday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools voted to cancel school for the day as well, saying more than 2,000 of their teachers and staff had requested a personal day. Wake County schools followed suit on Monday.

Buncombe County, Guilford County and Winston-Salem/Forsyth will all be affected to some extent as well — but it’s unclear how much.

Are these districts putting partisanship over the well-being of North Carolina’s children?

I won’t litigate in this article whether the teachers are justified in protesting. I’ve covered the state of N.C. education and recent moves in ed policy here. The short answer is that things are not where they need to be, but have taken big strides forward in recent years.

I’ll speak specifically on the form of the protest.

In Durham alone, there are some 20,000 children who are at risk of going hungry that day because they get free breakfast and lunch at school. Some churches are saying they’ll help out with that — but there are certain to be students who fall through the cracks.

In a state where only 33% of eighth-graders are reading proficiently, every day of instruction counts.

Working parents will have to scramble to find childcare, potentially missing out on pay for the day and putting their jobs in jeopardy. Some children will undoubtedly be unsupervised for the day.

Even school employees like bus drivers will lose a day’s pay — and they’re close to the poverty line as it is.

Then there are the mandatory International Baccalaureate exams that must be taken that day3. There is currently no plan for how students who have studied hard all year will be able to take them and earn their college credit.

It’s baffling that the liberal part of the state seems to want a mass teacher strike.

I don’t want to make too much about a single day of action, even if it is on a school day.

But it’s impossible to ignore that this protest in Raleigh comes as teachers have walked out or gone on strike in West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Something like that in North Carolina would be crippling to the entire state. Reasonable people should hope it doesn’t happen here.

Photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr (Creative Commons)

School districts are not held hostage here.

Teachers are not legally allowed to go on strike in North Carolina, and that’s why the N.C. Association of Educators is playing a sort of charade with this action.

The teachers who are going to march on Raleigh are requesting one of the two days of “personal leave” they’re allowed each year. When they do, teachers are required by the state to pay $50 toward the cost of the substitute teacher, so the lobbying group is promising to reimburse them if they’re asked to pay up4.

School districts that are canceling classes aren’t forced to do this. State law does say that teachers are to be “automatically granted” their personal leave if the request is made more than 5 days in advance, but the law goes on to say that it’s only “subject to the availability of a substitute teacher.”

Presumably, school districts could go through the roster of subs, and then say “sorry not sorry” to any more teachers wanting to leave.

School districts are run by elected school boards, though. Most are technically nonpartisan but are dominated by Democrats in urban counties. It’s easy to see why their judgment would be clouded.

What else is at risk?

The state legislature so far has stayed mum on how they plan to react. It’s still unclear if this is going to be a one-day thing — or how many districts will end up canceling school.

In other states facing teacher protests, lawmakers have considered stripping teachers of their licenses or filing lawsuits.

Don’t expect North Carolina to do the same, at least not at first. The General Assembly is still licking its wounds from the House Bill 2 fiasco and seems wary to be so reactive again.

But if they were to take action, I’m not so sure it would be a bad thing in the eyes of the voters. The N.C. Association of Educators is already at risk for alienating voters by pushing for what’s essentially a teacher walk-out.

The reasonable middle part of the electorate could reasonably feel that the teachers are going too far in rallying on a school day5.

It’s perfectly OK to disagree with the direction Republicans have taken education policy. It’s OK to think that teacher pay isn’t where it needs to be.

But walking out on a school day just doesn’t seem worth the risk.


  1. I completely disagree. Teacher pay in real terms has declined over the past decade. The NCGA has shown absolute no desire to rectify those declines (the teacher pay raises they have offered were really just doing the minimum necessary to prevent an exodus of teacher talent to SC and VA). At this point I don’t see any other way for teachers to get the state to take them seriously.

    [I am not a teacher but I am the parent of a CMS student]

  2. I suppose I wasn’t paying attention when the urban districts’ teachers walked out and struck during decades of low pay and stagnant wages under Democrat controlled NCGA. I suppose now they’re protesting their 15% pay increase over par 5 years.

    Or, really, are they protesting because they’re monolithic political tools?

  3. You are missing the point. Teachers are underpaid, here and everywhere. I am a teacher, or at least I used to be. I never met a single teacher worth his/her salt who got into the profession for the money. They came because they love teaching, or the love kids, or their lives were touched by good teachers and they wanted to return the favor, or because the challenge of all those young minds was irresistible, or all of the above, but I promise you none of them came for the money. The same is true of the protests and strikes across the country. Teachers want to get paid enough to pay their bills but they are thinking not of themselves when they strike. If the economics of teaching force good teachers to abandon the profession, children suffer and there, my friends, is the reason they do what they do. Children are best served by the best and brightest teachers, the ones with the best skills and greatest dedication to their students. They should not be penalized with starvation wages in order to offer the best possible education to our children. What this IS about, is destroying public education and returning to a time when only the wealthy can afford to educate their children. It is obscene to consider that teachers who make less than minimum wage. They show up at school at 7:00 a.m. and are still there long after they are contractually free to go home at 3:30 p.m. and start grading papers and writing lesson plans. They are all, no exceptions, college graduates with appropriate endorsements for whatever they teach. No such requirement is made of private school teachers or even of Charter School Teachers. The classrooms are carefully regulated as is the curricula they teach. No such requirement is made of private schools. To demand such a high standard is right and just. To fail to do so of ALL teachers teaching at any school receiving public funds is a travesty. So. . .I repeat, it isn’t about the money. It is, however, all about the best interests of every child living in this state, each of whom is completely deserving of the best possible education offered by the best possible teachers being paid a salary they have earned and richly deserve.

  4. You’re right about one thing, John, you weren’t paying attention, that’s for sure. Your statement is straight out of the Trump playbook. Make a statement that sounds like a fact. Don’t check to see if it’s true. Assume that it is a fact, simply because you said it was.

    Just before the recession in 2008, teacher pay in NC was ranked in the mid 20s, nationally. 25th, I think. After the recession and Republican’s taking over the legislature, it dropped to 49th, nationally.

    The issue is really about more than pay. The issue is about how much we are funding public schools in general.


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