A group of teachers and supporters dropped off a 61,000-signature petition to lawmakers on Thursday, demanding pay raises that do not result in destructive cuts to public education.
They carried the 14 heavy and large cardboard boxes to the offices of Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, who are currently leading the efforts to raise teacher pay.
"We're letting them know that NC citizens demand an investment in public schools, teacher pay, students' supplies and materials and teacher assistants," said Mark Jewell, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
While the petition largely focuses on raising teacher pay, supporters say they're concerned with the direction of public education in North Carolina, calling the lawmakers' approach a "broadside attack."
"You have ideas of giving teachers a pay raise by eliminating all second- and third-grade teachers' assistants or you're trying to boost the sale of lottery tickets when the lottery experts and the nonpartisan budget experts say that's voodoo math. People need to get real around here," said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC.
Brenner says Republican legislators are claiming they don't have the money for teacher raises when they passed a sizeable tax cut last year that could reduce state revenues by $2.4 billion over the next five years.
Republican Senators say they want to give an average 11 percent raise to teachers who give up their tenure protections, otherwise known as career status. House leaders, on the other hand, are proposing an average five percent raise.
The Senate plan would get rid of all second- and third-grade teacher assistants to pay for the raises, while the House would get help from the state’s lottery program. Republican representatives say that by doubling the lottery’s advertising budget, the state would rake in an extra $106 million for teacher raises. But recent projections show that restrictions in advertising would bring in far less money.
Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis both defend their plans, saying that tough decisions need to be made when crafting budgets and that locating money is not an easy task.
They've promised that they will not raise taxes to fund teacher pay. Berger and Tillis also argue that K-12 education funding has increased over the years, and that they're sticking by their commitments to raise teacher pay.
"We’re honoring the commitment that we made back in February to get our starting teacher salaries up to regional competitiveness the first year to more or less the national average in the second year," said Tillis.