State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson is criticizing the decision to hold next week's teacher protest in Raleigh during school hours, saying he won't attend and that he hopes more school districts won't close that day.
Thousands of teachers from across North Carolina are expected to come to Raleigh on May 16 for the "March for Students and Rally for Respect" to lobby state lawmakers for better pay and working conditions.
At least 13 school districts have announced they plan to close that day because so many teachers want to take the day off to attend the march. In a statement posted on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, Johnson questioned the timing of the march.
"These are local decisions made with the safety of students in mind, but I hope more school boards do not have to close schools that day," Johnson said in the statement. "We all know this affects students, parents, and other school employees. Protesting is a right, but it can be just as effective during non-school hours."
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Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, also said that "I absolutely support teachers, but I do not plan to attend a protest on a school day."
Johnson, 34, spent two years as a Teach for America corps member at West Charlotte High School.
"We know it affects not only students, but also parents, hourly workers who work at our schools, and also other teachers who might not be taking part in that day," Johnson continued.
Johnson also defended the Republican-led General Assembly by pointing to the pay raises that helped lift average teacher pay in the state to more than $50,000 for the first time this year. The National Education Association estimates that North Carolina will rise to 37th in the nation in average teacher pay this year, up from a low of 45th in 2011.
"Teacher salaries have increased each of the last four years — outpacing inflation every year — and North Carolina is one of the top states for fastest rising teacher pay," Johnson said. "We are on the right track, and I am pleased teachers will receive another raise next year."
Next week's march is organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators, which publicly snubbed Johnson by not inviting him to speak at the group's annual convention this year.
NCAE has criticized Johnson for supporting private school vouchers and saying $35,000 was good money for young teachers in rural parts of North Carolina. Johnson later said he had used "inelegant" wording and "less-than-stellar" phrasing in his remarks on teacher pay.