NC teachers association gauges educators’ interest in walkout

North Carolina

(CBS 17 photo)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina Association of Educators said Thursday it will send a survey out to members statewide to see if there’s support for walking out of class for multiple days to push for more school funding and Medicaid expansion.

Local chapters of the NCAE had been gauging interest in the issue, but after a board meeting Wednesday night, NCAE President Mark Jewell said the organization will survey members statewide. The surveys asked how many days employees would be willing to walk out of class, ranging from zero to ten.

“The disrespect shown to North Carolina educators over the past year has been unparalleled in scope, and it is clear that what educators have done to this point is insufficient to make our needs heard by leaders at the General Assembly,” Jewell said in a prepared statement.

In North Carolina, strikes by public employees are illegal and considered a class one misdemeanor.

“It’s clearly illegal for employees to engage in such actions,” said Bob Luebke, director of policy for the conservative Civitas Institute. “If NCAE is advocating that and advocating illegal action, that’s something pretty significant. I wouldn’t expect the public would support such an action.”

For the last two years, thousands of teachers and their supporters have marched in Raleigh for one day in May. So many teachers requested to use a personal day that many school district leaders decided to close schools when those rallies occurred.

Luebke said though a strike would be illegal, it could be politically difficult for district attorneys to bring a case against teachers.

“Are you gonna have a local DA there prosecute a teacher in a small town? That might be hard for some local DA’s to do,” Luebke said.

It isn’t clear how long NCAE will give members to take the survey or if the organization will ultimately call for a strike.

“People take action all the time that scares them. Courage allows you to act despite the fear,” said Kristin Beller, president of Wake County’s chapter of the NCAE. “They’ve pushed us all so far that we’re at a breaking point right now where folks are willing to resign in the middle of the year.”

This discussion among NCAE members is occurring amid an impasse over the state budget. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed the budget crafted by Republicans in the General Assembly in late June, citing what he called inadequate raises for educators and Medicaid not being expanded. Since then, Cooper and legislators have not resolved either issue.

The General Assembly is not scheduled to reconvene until late April.

Parents who spoke with CBS17 said they support teachers calling for higher pay but also acknowledge the consequences a multi-day strike could have.

“Going on strike is going to affect the students, but I mean, I do feel like they deserve higher pay,” said Chris Tucker. “Day care for two weeks, I don’t want to get into that. I just got out of that.”

Tristin Coleman said, “It is imperative that we need to be aware of the disparity of pay for our educational professionals.”

Republican legislative leaders criticized the NCAE for floating the idea of a strike.

“It’s shocking and disappointing that there would be a push to illegally strike even though teachers have received the third-highest pay raise in the entire country. The NCAE’s own parent organization reports that average teacher pay in North Carolina is $54,000 per year, good for second in the Southeast. It’s clear that a small, radicalized minority cares more about a political agenda than about teaching children,” wrote Pat Ryan, spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger (R) in an email. “In any event, if they’re going to march, they should march to Governor Cooper’s mansion, because he’s the only one blocking the sixth and seventh consecutive teacher pay raises and a $1 billion increase in public education spending.”

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