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Teachers and supporters in the Senate gallery bow their heads in prayer as they protest at the Capitol in Oklahoma City on April 6.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

North Carolina received some national press last week — not the kind we like — when our state was included in the report “The 9 states where teachers have it worst,” by Aimee Picchi, a reporter for CBS’s Moneywatch.

“[North Carolina’s] educators earn just shy of $50,000 per year on average, slightly below the national figure,” Picchi reported. “But their annual pay has declined almost 12 percent since 1999-2000, after adjusting for inflation.”

That’s quite a loss.

“There are 29 states where teachers are earning less than they did in the 1999-2000 school year, according to Education Department data. The cost of living has increased almost 50 percent since then,” Picchi reported.

The decline in teacher pay and benefits across the country can be traced back to the 2008 recession, according to Picchi, which hurt local tax receipts and led to teacher layoffs and the loss of school funding. Nationally, we have yet to return to where we were.

But it’s been worse in some states than others.

The problem is exacerbated by public school enrollment, which has risen 3 percent from 2006 to 2016, while the number of teachers has declined nationwide by 1 percent, Picchi reported. Many districts never rehired the staff that was cut after the 2008 financial crisis, according to Lisette Partelow of the Center for American Progress.

There may be a reckoning, judging from West Virginia, where a strike in February led to a promise of a 5-percent salary hike; Kentucky, where thousands of teachers rallied in the state capitol of Frankfort late last month to protest last-minute changes to their pension system; and Oklahoma, where teachers statewide are currently striking. Arizona may be next.

North Carolina is among seven states that have both reduced general school funding and cut income taxes in recent years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

That certainly rings a bell here.

Most people understand the innate offensiveness of a state that allows copious tax cuts for millionaires while schools scrape by with dilapidated textbooks and overcrowded classrooms. But the understanding hasn’t changed much. Despite pay raises in recent years, the state’s overall per-pupil spending ranks among the lowest in the nation, and textbook funding lags pre-recession levels, according to education advocates. Maybe it’s a matter of enough of us saying “enough.”

The state teachers’ union is planning an advocacy day on May 16 in Raleigh, when legislators return to session. It would be a good time for our legislators to meet with them, listen to their concerns and take action.

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