NC educators marching 23 miles to ask Gov. McCrory to do more for students

A teachers’ group that is backing state Attorney General Roy Cooper’s campaign to become governor launched a 23-mile overnight march on Tuesday to demand that Gov. Pat McCrory do more to support North Carolina students.

More than 50 educators, parents, students and community leaders started walking Tuesday afternoon from Neal Middle School in Durham and Wakefield High School in Raleigh. After an overnight stop, the #StudentsDeserveMore marchers will link up in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday afternoon and try to meet with McCrory.

The walk is co-sponsored by Organize 2020, a caucus within the North Carolina Association of Educators, which has endorsed Cooper, a Democrat, for governor.

Jessica Benton, who is resigning as a special-education teacher at Millbrook Elementary School in Raleigh to get her doctoral degree, said the march is needed because things aren’t getter better for students.

“Our kids are not doing well, they’re suffering,” said Benton, who marched from Wakefield High. “They’re living in poverty. It’s easy for them to sit in the General Assembly and pass bills that they know are hurting our kids, and we’ve got to sit in the classroom with them and watch them suffer.”

McCrory won’t be able to meet with the marchers “because of previous engagements,” according to Russell Peck, his campaign manager. On Tuesday, Peck said in a statement that McCrory, a Republican, has worked to increase pay for teachers.

“While Roy Cooper voted to cut education and was complicit in the years of massive pay decline for North Carolina teachers, Gov. McCrory has already raised teacher pay faster than any other state, put forward a plan to raise teacher pay to $50,000 plus benefits and increased education funding to an all-time high, making North Carolina a top 10 state for its level of investment in education,” Peck said.

“It’s clear why the teachers’ union is endorsing Roy Cooper and attacking the governor: Cooper will be beholden to the highly-paid union bosses, not the parents, teachers, students and taxpayers of North Carolina.”

Cooper’s campaign weighed in Tuesday, faulting McCrory for not meeting with the marchers but agreeing to attend a fundraiser Tuesday for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

“It’s clear where Gov. McCrory’s priorities lie,” said Jamal Little, Cooper’s campaign spokesman. “By taking the time to go to a Donald Trump fundraiser while refusing to meet with teachers, Governor McCrory is once again putting his political agenda ahead of the best interests of our state.”

Benton said it’s more than just an issue of teacher pay. She said students need other things too, such as good health care, clean air, clean water and economic stability.

Last week, Organize 2020 released a report card giving McCrory “F” grades in areas such as “provided sufficient funding for public education,” “secured a living wage for our students’ families” and “protected our students from discrimination and criminalization.”

“Students deserve more!” marchers chanted before leaving Wakefield. “Spend the surplus! Expand Medicaid! Repeal HB2!”

Marchers wore rainbow-colored armbands as an expression of support for the LGBT community. A gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others early Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

In light of the massacre, Organize 2020 has called on the General Assembly to fully repeal House Bill 2, which critics have called the “anti-LGBT law” for its wording on employment discrimination and usage of public bathrooms by transgender people.

“We can’t have a group of people who are simultaneously attacking the rights of a certain segment of the population, and then on the other hand, trying to express their sorrow for what’s happened to that population,” said Jeff Greiner, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Martin Middle School in Raleigh.

Greiner marched from Wakefield with his 10-year-old son, Owyn, a rising fifth-grader at Lacy Elementary.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui