RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a sea of red outside the North Carolina General Assembly Wednesday, as thousands of teachers from across the state gathered to march for more funding and better working conditions in classrooms.
Among the teachers’ demands are an increase in pay, smaller class sizes, and more funding for schools at every level across the state. Organizers said they were expecting over 15,000 educators at the rally, which forced more than 40 school districts across the state to cancel classes Wednesday.
“We are stepping up and standing up for our kids,” one teacher told NBC Charlotte.
Thousands of teachers and supporters hit the pavement in the state capital Wednesday morning, many with homemade signs urging legislators to increase funding to improve education in the state.
“I’ve had a lot of friends that have left the profession that have gone to Virginia,” another teacher said.
“I use my own money from my second job to buy textbooks for my children,” said one woman.
“Sharks are swimming around us, we need to be saved,” said Quin Dionne, an art teacher at Concord High School. “Veteran teachers are pretty much falling through the cracks. We haven’t had a raise, aren’t going to get a raise.”
Meanwhile, teachers acknowledged their classrooms were dark as dozens of districts closed due to the overwhelming number of teachers attending the rally.
“This is the perfect civics lesson for our kids about participating in our local government,” said one teacher.
Later in the afternoon, Governor Roy Cooper showed his support for the teachers dressed in red.
Cooper said his mother was a public school teacher and added, "if she were still here, she would have put her red dress on and have been standing with you fighting for her students."
Cooper said North Carolina's teacher pay, which ranks 37th in the country, is unacceptable. He said he will put in an extra $112 million to the state's budget.
"The veteran teachers have been left out. 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.
NBC Charlotte's Xavier Walton contributed to this report.