'Because of teacher pay, ramen noodles are my bae'

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"I think lawmakers, politicians, they underestimate teachers", she says.

Some of the impetus and expectations for the opening-day rally likely were drawn from similar teacher protest rallies in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

In addition, teachers are calling for the creation of a multiyear pay plan for teachers, administrators and other school personnel that would raise incomes to the national average.

Cooper, who is working to eliminate the GOP's veto-proof majorities in fall elections, urged teachers to ask lawmakers, "are you going to support even more tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy, or are you going to support much better teacher pay and investment in our public schools?"

State Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said he was moved by hearing another round of teacher stories, those from Forsyth and across North Carolina. Republican state legislators rejected the governor's plan, however, opting instead for their own plan, which had smaller raises for teachers.

But these Republican leaders appear determined not to change course under pressure, and North Carolina educators aren't unionized, so they have fewer options for organized protest than teachers in some of these other states. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which looked at the percent change in K-12 funding from 2008 to 2015, adjusting for inflation, found that total state funding per student in North Carolina fell 12.2 percent since 2008.

North Carolina teachers earn an average salary of about $50,000, ranking them 39th in the country a year ago, the National Education Association reported last month.

With messages such as "Respect Public Education" on their shirts and signs, as many as 15,000 teachers from around the state participated in the rally.

A sea of teachers descended upon Raleigh, North Carolina, on Wednesday.

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More than three dozen school districts, including the 10 largest in the state, have made a decision to close classrooms as a result.

The state's Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was scheduled to address an afternoon teacher rally. "We are - in some cases - the only positive encounters for these kids, and we have to spend money out of our pockets to do so".

Rachel Holdridge, a special education teacher at Wilmington's Alderman Elementary School with 22 years' experience, said she drives for Uber to make ends meet. The Republican-dominated legislature should expand Medicaid coverage so students and their families stay healthy, and cancel corporate tax cuts until school spending is increased, Jewell said.

Teachers also filled a plaza outside the legislative building amid chants of "Red for Ed" backed by school marching bands. "We know you are critical for the success of our schools, but we have to be willing to prioritize it and pay for it", he said.

"We have no intention of raising taxes", Berger said.

Teachers are now scheduled to receive a six-percent pay raise next year, but Cooper is calling on state legislators to bump that pay increase to eight percent. Their pay increased by 4.2 percent over the previous year - the second-biggest increase in the country - and was estimated to rise an average 1.8 percent this year, the NEA said. They deserve professionally paid educators.

But with the Great Recession in the past and the state's financial stability restored, teachers say it's time to catch up on deferred school spending.

Amy Buchen, a first-grade educator at Brassfield Elementary School in Raleigh, says she was amazed by the vast community that formed in the wake of this morning's protests.