It’s being estimated that more than 20,000 educators and supporters traveled from across North Carolina to greet lawmakers returning to Raleigh for the first day of the short legislative session on Wednesday.

North Carolina Teacher Rally. Photo via Kelly Fahey.

School districts across the state – including all local districts – closed due to the high number of teachers who had requested personal leave for the day. Teachers are asking for increased education funding, as teachers have done in other states recently winning some legislative gains.

Jackie Ennis spent 15 years in the classroom in Nash-Rocky Mounty Schools and is now the dean of the School of Education at Barton College. She attended Wednesday’s rally and said it gave her hope for the future.

“I’m very worried about our severe teacher shortage in North Carolina,” Ennis said. “And I love seeing how much teachers care about our future for our students.”

Ennis added that it was important “for all of us to speak up for our students.”

Despite the thousands in attendance pushing for change on Wednesday, local Democratic House Representative Graig Meyer was not confident that things would be altered during the final tweaks to this year’s budget.

North Carolina Teacher Rally. Photo via Kelly Fahey.

“To be honest, I’m skeptical of the Republican legislative leadership’s willingness to work with us on our legislative goals or to work with Governor Cooper on what he’s proposed in his budget.”

Republican legislative leaders held a press conference on Tuesday touting the pay raises that have been implemented in recent years and pledging more raises were on the way for teachers. Meyer said there were ways to provide more for teachers immediately, if lawmakers would stop tax cuts that are set to go into place next year for corporations and individuals making over $200,000 per year.

He said teachers would remember this year’s legislative action if lawmakers did not increase educational funding.

“If they don’t, then you have the choice this year to vote for people who will support things that you want rather than what the priorities of the current legislature are.”

North Carolina Teacher Rally. Photo via Kelly Fahey.

Even though Meyer said increasing education funding this year is a priority of his, he said it was important for him to meet face-to-face with teachers on Wednesday.

“I want them to know that they’re heard and they’re loved and appreciated by some of us,” Meyer said. “And they’re giving me a real shot in the arm for being here. I’ve enjoyed spending time with them and then [Thursday], when they go back to teach, I’ll be here continuing to push for us to have better education spending this year.”