Point of View

A boost for N.C.’s education

May 17, 2012 

If ever there were a time to test what we are really made of, that time is now. As our state races to the bottom in funding education and we deprive our children of an adequate education, we need to ask ourselves: How did we arrive at this very sad place? Do we really want North Carolina to be in the bottom 12 percent of all states in funding education? And is there a way – especially for the most fortunate among us – to step up, take a stand, and say, “This is wrong!?”

A good place to start would be working across the aisle and considering the revenue proposal put forward by the Together NC coalition.

In the short term, the Together NC plan calls for (a) restoring the recently cut penny in our sales tax and (b) adding a top income tax bracket for households earning over $1 million per year. To make the tax code more equitable, the plan also includes (c) increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, to put money back into the pockets of low- and moderate-income working families who might otherwise be disproportionately impacted by the restored sales tax.

We can use this additional revenue to restore funding for education and for making North Carolina an attractive place to do business.

For decades, large and small businesses have thrived here as a result of our high quality of life, skilled labor and our strong workforce development system. Unfortunately, the ongoing economic downturn and resulting budget cuts have strained the public education systems that historically supported our business growth. Since 2009, North Carolina has lost over 16,000 public school positions, according to a survey by the state Department of Public Instruction. Tuition has increased dramatically at our public colleges and universities, funding per pupil has decreased in most public school systems and pre-kindergarten education is available for many fewer children.

Without high-quality schools, a good quality of life and adequate infrastructure, our business climate will suffer and economic growth will slow further. Consider what we know works in and for North Carolina: universities that are hubs of innovation, community colleges that train and retrain our workers, strong public schools that retain top-notch teachers, well-maintained infrastructure that makes doing business efficient.

In my own business experience, education has been critical to growing our company. First, to serve our clients’ complex needs, we require a highly educated workforce in which a large proportion of our consultants hold master’s or Ph.D. degrees in life sciences, MBAs or MPHs, M.D.s, Pharm. D.s, or other advanced degrees or combinations of them. Second, to recruit those highly sought-after employees to work in a specific office, we have to answer tough questions about quality of life, quality of education available for family members and property values. We couldn’t recruit and retain a high-quality workforce to support our business’ growth without good answers to those questions.

So, although times are hard, now is not the time to engage in rigid partisanship or to cling to dogmatic views that erode our competitiveness. Now is the time to renew our commitment to the public systems and infrastructure that pave the way for economic prosperity in North Carolina.

To do that, state legislators must raise revenue in 2012. After years of multi-billion-dollar budget shortfalls, our state’s schools and colleges need an infusion of resources to get us back on track.

The Together NC plan would raise just under $1 billion in 2013, enough to rehire thousands of teachers, recover some of the lost funding for public schools, lower college tuition and expand access to early childhood education. These investments will spur job growth, attract businesses and develop a highly skilled workforce.

In the long term, we need to overhaul our state’s tax code so that it matches our modern economy. That means taking a comprehensive look at the entire system to ensure that it is stable, equitable and adequate. In the meantime, we should raise revenue to restore our commitment to education and infrastructure. None of these educational systems are accidental or superfluous. We built them all as a state because we wanted to be more, do more, produce more and earn more in North Carolina.

Fortunately, we haven’t gone too far down the wrong path. We can still recover; the foundations of our K-12 and university systems remain intact. But we need to go forward, not backward. To do that, more revenue is needed.

Ann Campbell is co-founder, former president and board member of Campbell Alliance Group and a board member of WasteZero. She is also a parent and a PTA volunteer.

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