Sen. Berger Meets With Moral Monday Protesters
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- It was a Monday that ended with discussion instead of arrests at the North Carolina General Assembly, a relative rarity since the "Moral Monday" protests began last year.
The Senate leader at the center of the protests, Sen. Phil Berger, a Rockingham Republican, talked with 15 protesters Monday evening who planned to stage a sit-in in his office.
The meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, is the first of its kind since the "Moral Monday" rallies started at the Legislature last year to protest GOP-written laws that have made policy changes to education, health care and taxes. It also comes after two successive weeks of sit-ins, arrests and citations of protesters at the office of Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory.
Berger and his staff pulled couches into a circle in the hallway outside his office on the second floor of the Legislative Building and sat down with the group, which included teachers and college students. The discussion was a mostly civil question-and-answer dialogue as members of the group shared personal experiences inside the classroom and asked Berger why he cut money for teacher assistants and challenged him on reading test mandates for 3rd graders, saying intervention was needed earlier.
Bryan Proffitt, a protester and teacher in Durham and a leader in the discussion with Berger, said teachers face incredible challenges in being held solely accountable for students' test scores and said cuts in other areas of public education to fund teacher salary raises is inconceivable.
"We can't bear the burden of that .... we live in a state where we feel an attack on public education every day," he said.
The protesters asked Berger to commit to schedule a public meeting with people concerned about education funding, to restore all funding for teacher assistants and remove a provision in his budget that tied teacher raises to their tenure.
Berger said he could not commit to specific policy outcomes but agreed to let protesters know by Tuesday if he could facilitate a meeting. The group thanked Berger for talking with them and then left the building.
At the meeting, Berger handed out a 24-page amendment detailing the spending for 14-point policy agenda of the N.C. NAACP, the architect of the "Moral Monday" rallies. The agenda would cost more than $7 billion and require raising the corporate income tax from 6 percent to 50 percent, according to Amy Auth, a Berger spokesman.
"Show me where the money would come from," Berger said.
He also noted that no lawmaker of either party in the Senate filed any bills or amendments to accomplish the NAACP and "Moral Monday's" goals.
"I don't think there's a fundamental difference in what our goals are," Berger said. "There are differences in how we achieve those goals...that doesn't mean your opinions aren't worth listening to."
Proffitt said he is still not satisfied and pledged to return with more people if Berger doesn't follow through on his commitment to be in touch with protesters about a meeting.
"I won't be satisfied until my students have what they need and our schools aren't bleeding every day. That's when I'll be satisfied."