Teachers rally in Raleigh
By Sarah Campbell
RALEIGH — This year’s Teacher Appreciation Day didn’t include a celebration that concluded with a gift.
Instead, it ended with a dagger in the heart as the state’s House of Representatives tentatively agreed to allow two temporary taxes to sunset.
Despite a plea by about 2,000 protesters to extend the state’s 1 cent sales tax, state house members voted 72-47 in favor of its expiration.
As a final house votes looms today, the group of demonstrators are hoping their voices will be heard.
Speaker after speaker took to a stage in Raleigh’s Bicentennial Mall on Tuesday during the One Voice Rally, sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Educators, to express their concerns about proposed state budget cuts.
Much of their message hinged on keeping the tax intact.
“I think that a very clear, understandable message for the public and for the legislators is to make that direct link between the amount they want to cut with the revenue generated by the one cent tax,” NCAE President Sheri Strickland said.
Signs with the words “it only takes a penny to save jobs of many” were waved throughout the rally.
Gov. Bev Perdue told the group that she understands the “state doesn’t have a chance” if classrooms are cut.
“I need you to know one thing,” she said. “I’m standing with you.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told the crowd she was there to take a stand for the 1.4 million students across the state.
“Students in our state need and deserve a quality education,” she said. “Every day you work with students who need caring and you influence those students who will be our future nurses, doctors, teachers, computer scientist, child care workers, legislators and even Navy SEALs.”
Atkinson said with the state’s graduation rate hitting a record high and drop outs on the decline, cuts could offset that progress.
“We cannot afford to turn back the hands of time when it comes to funding public education,” she said.
N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, spoke to the audience during a House recess.
“You know North Carolina is a national education leader, an innovative thinker and a policy setter,” she said. “But, my fellow educators, I’m terrified to tell you I believe these days are soon over.”
Cotham, a licensed principal, said the House budget will pass.
“Their budget proposal is absolutely devastating for public schools,” she said. “Their plan will set our great state, the state we love and the state we work in, back by generations.”
The superintendent of Forsyth County schools urged legislators, who are primarily Republican after last year’s elections, to take a bi-partisan look at the budget.
“I”m a Republican, but we can all care about our kids,” Dr. Don Martin said. “Let’s put minor differences aside and work together.”
Durham Board of Education Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said as taxpaying citizens the group should rethink their decision when casting their ballot in 2012.
“We elected those people over there. We have go to tell them that we will not settle for cuts to education,” she said. “We need to stop lying and saying we are putting children first if that’s not what we are going to do.”
Although a sea of red filled Bicentennial Mall, those from Durham County schools opted for a different dress code.
“We are wearing camouflage because we are ready for war,” Forte-Brown said. “We are ready.”
Alex Cioffi, a senior from Wake County’s Sanderson High School, said education is not an expense, but an investment.
“Every person in the work force was a student at some point in their life,” he said. “Education is an investment in the future of the work force.”
Cioffi criticized legislators for proposing to allow the sales tax to sunset.
“All the while the same people who support limiting the education budget refuse to adjust our state policy on collecting revenue taxes from major corporations that do business in our state,” he said. “No policy who claims to have the best interest of our people should prioritize putting money into the pockets of millionaires over the education of our children.”
Like many, Cioffi said he hopes legislators consider his message.
“I hope my words will not fall on deaf hears to the legislators who propose these cuts,” he said. “But in the meantime I implore you all to start talking about this to everybody.
“We’ve seen how instrumental social media can be in producing change so tweet about it.”
Sarah Campbell can be reached at 704-797-7683. The Associated Press contributed to this report.