DAVIDSON – On the eve of the N.C. General Assembly going into short session, students and parents at Davidson Elementary School took advantage of their First Amendment rights.

Donning red shirts, rally participants held signs and chanted support on the morning of May 13 for their teachers, emphasizing higher wages and fewer standardized tests. As red-clothing clad staff arrived to school, participants cheered and expressed their appreciation for them.

“It’s important to value our teachers and show how they make a difference,” said parent Holly Becker, who organized the rally. “We want to cheer on teachers and raise morale.”

The Davidson Elementary Advocacy Committee organized the event, modeled in part after the “Red for Public Ed” campaign that started in Raleigh last summer. The committee was formed this spring by parents concerned about the state of public school in North Carolina. The group, which has a website and Facebook page, lobbies for less testing, developmentally appropriate standards and higher teacher salaries.

“Teaching in a classroom is more challenging with larger classes and fewer assistants,” Becker said. “Teacher assistants have had their hours cut throughout the state and there is more standardized testing. It’s a challenging job to have.

“We want our rockstar teachers to stay, but a lot feel they can’t make ends meet and they are leaving teaching for other professions or leaving to go to other districts.”

According to literature passed out by the Davidson Elementary Advocacy Committee, the average North Carolina teacher salary is $45,737 – lower than its neighbors. Tennessee comes in at $47,563, South Carolina $48,375, Virginia $48,670 and South Carolina at $52,880.  Overall, the state ranks 46th in average teacher salary and 48th in starting teacher salary. Staff have only had one small raise in the last five years.

“Because we are in Mecklenburg County, we are losing a lot of teachers who are crossing the line to go to South Carolina for a pay raise,” Becker said.

The rally date was chosen because that evening the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted on its proposed budget, which requests a minimum 3 percent raise for all district employees, increased choice and personalization for students, broadening support services for students and schools and the expansion of literacy initiatives. The board's request will be submitted to the county manager, who will present her recommended budget May 29, with a public hearing scheduled for June 11. The school board and commissioners are also slated to meet May 19 for a budget workshop. 

The N.C. General Assembly reconvened May 14, which also has bearing on education funding and teacher pay as well as education legislation. Recently, Gov. Pat McCrory said he would suggest a raise for all teachers, offering more for those early in their careers, and ask for consideration for a long-term plan.

In addition to the budget, the Davidson Elementary Advocacy Committee is also speaking out against the Read to Achieve Legislation, which members feel imposes severe penalties for third-graders who do not pass the reading End of Grade tests, including summer school and the threat of not being promoted to fourth grade.

The N.C. Department of Instruction Read to Achieve guidebook dated October 2013 states students take the third grade EOG and if they are proficient can be promoted. If not, they can qualify for a “good cause exemption” or must retake a different form of EOG test or the Read to Achieve test. If they still don’t pass, students are enrolled in a summer reading camp. If they don’t enroll or don’t pass, they must be retained. 

Advocacy Committee co-chair Jennifer Sidden said the program could put a large percentage of students at risk.

“We want to send the message that we need funding for programs that will instead help the students who are struggling,” she said.

Ashley Rehorn, a parent who said she previously taught for the school system, also spoke out against the increased testing.

“We need to stop standardized testing for unstandardized children,” she said. “How can a child be told do differentiate themselves by filling in bubbles?”

Rehorn and Sidden said testing causes increased stress on students, which isn’t taken into account.

Youth have also been vocal in their support for teachers and education. Joining in the Davidson Elementary rally were dozens of kids, including third-graders Abraham Sidden, Trevor Donoghue and Jeffrey Greene.

“They do so much in the world,” Greene said. “They should get paid much more because teachers are leaving to go to South Carolina to get paid more.”

“We like our teachers and we don’t want them to leave,” he added. “We need our education.”

Sidden chimed in, “We want to have the best education we can.”

Principal Dana Jarrett was not surprised at the amount of support staff received during the rally, but said it helped the teachers know the community is backing them.

“It’s time to change this state,” he said. “They will do this regardless, but let’s honor their efforts and what they do.”