On the eve of a planned rally that is expected to draw thousands of North Carolina teachers, the state Republican Party said GOP lawmakers are being unfairly judged when it comes to teacher pay.
The state GOP hosted a news conference in Raleigh on Tuesday evening in advance of Wednesday's "March for Students and Rally for Respect," in which teachers plan to push for better pay and working conditions.
Dallas Woodhouse, the state GOP's executive director, noted that teacher pay has increased in recent years. North Carolina ranks 39th in the nation for teacher pay, up from 47th in 2013. The average teacher pay this school year is $51,214.
"We need people to judge us on what we've done," Woodhouse said of Republicans.
Woodhouse also said his organization will release a new application Wednesday that will allow teachers and others to accurately check teacher pay.
North Carolina teachers did not organize a walkout when the state ranked worse for teacher pay under Democratic leadership, Woodhouse said.
"When Democratic Governor Bev Perdue furloughed teachers and cut their pay, literally took money out of their paychecks, they did not walk out of the classroom," he said. "They're walking out of the classroom tomorrow after the largest teacher pay raises in history were passed by Republicans."
Perdue served as governor from 2009 to 2013.
During Tuesday's event, some also said teachers should not gather on a school day, especially as students are preparing for final exams and end-of-year tests. Nearly 1 million North Carolina students won't have school tomorrow, as about one-third of the state's school districts will be closed due to teacher absences.
A Durham teacher accused the rally's organizers of using students as "pawns" to push their agenda.
"Whether it's this issue or the gun issue, they're being pimped and prostituted," said Terry McCann, a math teacher at J.D. Clement Early College High School.
McCann recently wrote an op-ed for The Herald-Sun saying he would be at work Wednesday while more than 1,000 of his colleagues have decided to take the day off. Many of them plan to take part in the rally.
"I will be in my classroom May 16 planning for the next school day and away from the madness in Raleigh," McCann wrote. "I do not support the movement especially on the backs of our students."
Immanuel Jarvis, who has a child attending Clement Early College, said losing a school day will hurt black and Hispanic students the most, particularly those who are at risk of not doing well on end-of-year tests.
"They need tomorrow and by not having it, they're at risk of not passing their grade," Jarvis said. "It's kids who look like me, the black ones, the brown ones, the ones who come from a single parent."
Between 10,000 and 20,000 teachers are expected to attend Wednesday's event.
Charles Hellwig, chairman of the Wake County Republican Party, on Tuesday criticized the North Carolina Association of Educators. He said the group has behaved much like a union forcing a strike.
"If it walks like a duck and it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck," Hellwig said. "That's what the NCAE is."
Hellwig invited families to spend Wednesday at Coconut Charlie's Bump N Bounce at 7409 Six Forks Road in Raleigh.
"Please take advantage of that," Hellwig said. "It's for parents who might need a little help on a day where we've been unfairly burdened."