A “sea of public school teachers” descended upon North Carolina’s Capitol Tuesday, which was also National Teacher Appreciation Day, to fight back against their state’s budget cuts. Governor Perdue was in attendance to lend her support.
She pulled several surprised schoolchildren on stage with her and said to the crowd: "I need to ask you, do you feel appreciated?"
"No!" was the resounding response from several thousand teachers whose homemade signs bobbed with messages such as "Education cuts never heal" and "Kids are worth a penny!"
Teachers passed buckets at the rally, collecting pennies in a symbolic gesture. The coins will be sent to the state Department of Revenue, according to the N.C. Association of Educators, the state teachers group that held the rally.
The House budget proposes cutting public schools by 8.8 percent, community colleges by 10 percent, and the 17-cmapus UNC system by more than 15 percent.
Protesters said the combination of education cuts and tuition hikes can only result in long-term disaster for North Carolina.
Debbie Johns, who teachers [sic] career and technical education at Southwestern High School in Randolph County, said the gathering inspired her. "I think it’s a morale booster for teachers who desperately need it right now," she said.
The state risks doing long-term damage, Johns said.
"My biggest fear is the economy in our state," she said. "Companies are not going to want to come here and stay here if the state doesn’t care about education. That’s my biggest fear. This is a snowball effect. This is not temporary."
Leah Josephson, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior, said she has noticed a decline in her student experience in the past four years. One course she planned to take this year was canceled.
"Our classes are getting bigger, it’s harder and harder to graduate on time, and our education is getting more expensive," she said. "We think that has to stop."
More than a thousand union members turned out to protest Gov. Corbett’s massive budget cuts. The PSEA, SEIU, and AFSME were all represented at the gathering on the Capitol steps to oppose the cuts, but specifically the whopping billion dollars Corbett plans to slash from education.
Speakers repeated the familiar clarions of ending tax loopholes for corporations and implementing a drilling tax on gas companies.
At the beginning of the rally, AFSME Council 13 Executive Director Dave Fillman warned against the impact of Corbett’s proposed spending reductions. “We don’t want our kids on over-crowded classrooms. We don’t want health care cuts for our seniors. We don’t want huge increases in tuition. And we don’t want to see our property taxes skyrocket,” he said, as the crowd cheered. “A budget with devastating cuts for working families is wrong. A budget without a drilling tax on Marcellus Shale is wrong. A budget that allows tax loopholes for big corporations is wrong.”
While these types of large demonstrations understandably snag the spotlight, small resistances are also breaking out across the country every day. Take the example of Douglas Mason, a junior from Forest Grove High in Oregon, who made the local district’s budget cuts the centerpiece of his spoken-word performance at the school’s annual talent show.
Mason’s presentation, which lasted more than five minutes, drew loud applause.
“They wanna suppress the arts but require careers and advisory class for four years?” Mason said onstage. “Man, talk about time being wasted, it’s no exaggeration … these decisions are made in the best interest of who?”
Mason, 17, who described himself as “passionate about poetry,” said he was motivated to speak out as a representative for his fellow students.
“I felt the student body was not considered in any of the administration’s proposals,” he said. “If they’re bothered by anything I said, then of course they’re meditating on it. Maybe I’ll change something.”