The rally in Raleigh tomorrow may be a preview to the general election campaign this fall. Both sides are trying to shape public perception of the protest and score political points. And both sides have dramatically different interpretations of the event.

Republicans are trying desperately to make the rally tomorrow just about teacher pay and they’re trying to brand it as a teacher walkout. They’re betting that more people think teachers get enough money already and that, in an historically anti-union state like North Carolina, people will resent teachers leaving the classroom for a protest in Raleigh. They’ve put up a website touting their raises, complete with charts, news articles and opinion pieces.

Democrats want to make the fall election about funding for education in general with teacher pay being a part of that narrative. Since taking control of the legislature, the GOP has reshaped the state’s public education system. They’ve lifted the cap on charter schools and subsidized private schools through a voucher program. At the same time, they’ve reduced per pupil spending and allowed teacher pay to lag behind the rest of the country. Today, our per pupil spending is in the bottom 25% of the country and our teacher pay is in the bottom third.

Republicans’ narrative around education always begins in the legislative session before they took power. The country was in the worst recession since the Great Depression and tax revenue had cratered. The Democrats in power froze teacher pay after almost a decade of steady raises. According to the GOP narrative, it’s Democrats who cut teacher pay.

What they don’t say is that they kept the freeze in place the first session they controlled the legislature, too. As the economic conditions improved, they gave small raises while continuing to allow other aspects of public education to suffer. They eliminated teacher assistants in elementary school. They slashed the budget for textbooks and technology. Schools lack enough nurses, social workers and counselors to address the needs of students.

Republicans call the rally a political stunt, but 15,000 teachers don’t travel from across the state for a political stunt. They see real problems in our classrooms that Republicans deny. Those teachers are also supported by administrators and school boards that have felt the reduction in funds from the General Assembly.

Historically in North Carolina, Democrats have done well when elections are about public education. They’re banking on that again this year. Republicans have charts and op-eds to back up their arguments but the impact of GOP rule on public schools is plain to anyone who works in them or has children that attend them. Classrooms have fewer resources and teachers have more responsibilities without an adequate increase in compensation. Republicans are making a paper argument. Democrats are making an emotional one.

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