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Some teachers have declared their right to resist NC legislators. How far will they go?

A group of teachers is organizing educators from across North Carolina to take steps, potentially including protests and strikes, if state legislators don't agree to make a series of education changes.

Red4EdNC is asking educators to sign its "Declaration in Defense of North Carolina's Public Schoolchildren," which lists grievances with state legislators such as inadequate school funding. The teachers advocacy group says the declaration will lead to the formation of a "Teachers Congress" that will develop "collective actions" that will be used by teachers if legislators don't agree to their demands.

Angie Scioli, founder of Red4EdNC, said the Teachers Congress will look at what's happened in other states, such as Arizona, Kentucky and West Virginia, where teachers used strikes and walkouts to press for changes. She said all options would be on the table.

“We’re the only state in the country which has criminalized striking, so the teachers who represent us at the Teachers Congress are going to have to weigh all of those circumstances and weigh what collective action can look like in North Carolina," said Scioli, who is also a social studies teacher at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh.

Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation, a group that's been supportive of the Republican-led General Assembly, said it might be harder than Red4EdNC thinks to get agreement on what actions to take.

"Some people may want to take political action, and others may want to cooperate with Republicans," Stoops said. "Some may want more radical means and walk out of school.”

Republicans have made major education policy changes since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011, including lifting the cap on charter schools and providing money for families to attend private K-12 schools.

State lawmakers have also increased education funding and teacher pay, albeit less than what groups like Red4EdNC want.

“We really hope to create a counter-narrative to what's come out of this legislature," Scioli said. "We’re the teachers on the front lines and in the classrooms. You can fool a lot of people on the degree to which public education is being supported to people who aren’t in classrooms every day, but we are teachers and we know."

The group's declaration, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, has a list of charges against legislators, including:

"Failed to restore public education funding to pre-recession levels."

"Burdened local government with unfunded mandates for class-size reduction."

"Shifted millions of dollars from support of traditional public schools to private schools."

"Directed millions of dollars to unaccountable charter schools."

"Drastically cut corporate tax rates, crippling the General Assembly's ability to fund the traditional classroom."

The declaration calls for creation of the Teachers Congress. It also calls for actions such as increasing per-pupil spending and teacher salaries to pre-recession levels, with an adjustment for inflation, and "cessation of taxation policies which favor individuals over the corporate good."

“Ironically, the founders issued the Declaration of Independence to protest that taxation was too high, and Red4Ed issued their declaration to declare that taxes on people and individuals are not high enough," said Stoops of the Locke Foundation.

Red4EdNC's declaration was unveiled last week on Independence Day. Scioli said the goal is to get signatures from teachers in at least 100 of the 115 North Carolina school districts to show legislators that the document has statewide support.

Copies of the signed declaration will be given to Gov. Roy Cooper and to state legislators in August.

Around Labor Day, Scioli said, they'll begin the task of forming a 100-member Teachers Congress. This will include trying to get a majority of teachers in each North Carolina school to agree to follow the collective actions that will be recommended by the Teachers Congress.

Scioli said the May 16 teachers march, which brought at least 19,000 teachers and education supporters to march in Raleigh, was an inspiration for forming the Teachers Congress. Many of the leaders of Red4Ed are members of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which organized the May protest, but Scioli said the new effort is not connected to the NCAE.

"We thought the march did a really good job of waking people up to the possibilities of collective action, but we needed to work further to translate that energy," Scioli said.

Scioli said the goal is to have the Teachers Congress meet around Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in January, when legislators return to Raleigh for next year's session. She said the Teachers Congress will articulate a clear seat of legislative demands and lay out a schedule of collective actions that will happen if those demands aren't met.

Depending on how far the Teachers Congress is willing to go and whether teachers support those collective actions, it could have a noticeable impact. For instance, the absence of so many teachers on May 16 caused 42 school districts — representing more than 1 million students — to cancel classes for the day.

"The Teachers Congress will have lots of moral authority, so if demands are ignored or not addressed, we think they’ll be in a better position to claim that those collective actions are warranted," Scioli said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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