AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In North Carolina today, thousands of teachers descended upon the state capitol.
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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Remember, remember, we vote in November.
CORNISH: That chant, remember, remember, we vote in November, was aimed at lawmakers in North Carolina's legislature. Teachers there have been watching successful protests by educators in other states for better pay and working conditions. We're joined now by reporter Rusty Jacobs of member station WUNC. He's at their state capitol bureau in Raleigh. Rusty, thanks for being here.
RUSTY JACOBS, BYLINE: Happy to do it.
CORNISH: So what exactly are these teachers asking for?
JACOBS: Well, there's a reason they're targeting the state legislature. The North Carolina legislature opened session today aimed at making adjustments to the two-year budget. They want higher pay. They want classroom size reductions. They want more per-pupil spending. The Republicans, who hold a veto-proof majority in the legislature, have said that they are going to seek an average 6.2 percent salary increase, and that would be the fifth consecutive year for salary increases. But Democrats, led by Governor Roy Cooper, and the teachers say it's clearly not enough. North Carolina ranks 39th in the nation, both for per-pupil spending and teacher pay.
CORNISH: You were able to speak with some of them today. Was there a common theme?
JACOBS: And a common outfit. It was a sea of red outside and pouring into the legislature; the numbers reaching 20,000 outside. They were wearing red T-shirts with a name that the gathering adopted for itself called hashtag #RedForEd. Their T-shirts had slogans - respect for public education, save our schools. And the themes were common. The themes were salary increases - the governor, again, asking for an 8 percent average increase for salaries and more spending for school psychologists, school counselors where, again, North Carolina ranks - lags behind the nation in those ratios. And, you know, I spoke to one teacher, Ranisha Best (ph) 31 years old. She'd been teaching for 11 years, teaches fourth grade in Wake County. And in any given year, school supplies is a problem. She says she spends $3,000 of her own money to get classroom supplies.
RANISHA BEST: Yes. It'd be great to have more money in my paycheck, but at the end of the day, the future sits in my room. And if they don't have what they need, how can I pump out and create amazing citizens for our country and our state to turn back around and do amazing things? How can I do that if I don't have what I need as an educator?
JACOBS: So Best was quick to say that teacher salaries are important, but spending on students is even more important. Then I spoke to Victoria Fernandez (ph), 24 years old. She's been a teacher for three years, teaches special ed at a middle school in Raleigh. She's upset the state no longer offers extra pay incentives for teachers who earn master's degrees. And she warns elected officials that North Carolina is going to lose good, talented teachers.
VICTORIA FERNANDEZ: I definitely think, and unfortunately if nothing changes and I get my master's degree, I'm definitely one of the ones that will be having to leave just because I can't - at a certain point, I can't turn away that money.
CORNISH: What have you heard from lawmakers so far?
JACOBS: Republicans are adamant that they will not do any - well, let's put it this way. They won't do what the governor has been asking for to find the money to give a higher salary increase. The governor has proposed freezing or canceling a scheduled tax cut for both corporate tax and a tax cut for people who earn more than $200,000. That would pay for a higher salary increase. Republicans are adamant. They say they will not raise taxes.
CORNISH: That's Rusty Jacobs at the Raleigh bureau of member station WUNC. Rusty, thank you for your reporting.
JACOBS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.