NC business leaders unite to advocate for public education

November 28, 2013 

A new group of business leaders, the very top ones in North Carolina, may be able to get the attention of Republican legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory to advance the noble cause of public education.

Yes, it’s true that the group is nonpartisan, but absent the cuts to public education and the anti-teacher rhetoric of some GOP leaders in the General Assembly, this new gathering of business people might not be necessary.

But it is necessary.

The group’s name is a little weighty, “Business for Education Success and Transformation North Carolina,” but it shortens up nicely to BEST NC.

Among the members are Ann Goodnight of SAS; Jim Goodmon of Capitol Broadcasting; Brad Wilson, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina; C.D. Spangler Jr., former UNC system president and businessman; and AT&T’s Venessa Harrison.

Organizers hope to have 75 members.

Interestingly, while some members of the new group acknowledge that the conservative business lobbying group, the North Carolina Chamber, supports public education, they feel a stronger effort is needed. Phil Kirk, a former head of the chamber group, said he felt business people needed a way to have a “singular focus” on education.

The obvious connection between this new group and education is that business can’t survive and prosper without properly educated people. Over time, though, it seems the enthusiasm to push public education has diminished, and Kirk, for one, feels it’s a result of former Gov. Jim Hunt’s being absent from the governor’s office.

Hunt never missed an opportunity to grab a business leader in a firm handshake and promote public education, and he also advocated higher teacher salaries and early childhood education programs.

Sadly, Gov. McCrory has not demonstrated that kind of leadership, and his legislative leaders have criticized public schools even as they have passed voucher programs and expanded charter schools and joined in a sort of chorus of criticism of teachers.

And after Hunt fought to bring teacher pay to the national average and improve per-pupil spending, the state’s teachers now are 46th in pay, and the state is near the bottom on spending.

This new group will support Common Core, the set of tougher standards for public schools that some conservatives have opposed, and its members will advocate as well early childhood education programs that are crucial to giving all of North Carolina’s youngsters a fair shot in school at the most crucial time, the beginning.

Teachers, some of whom vocally opposed cuts to education, have failed to get the attention of legislators, and some legislative leaders seem to think of public education as a liberal cause instead of something that should be a birth right in North Carolina.

More than that, public education – and not just job training – is vital if the state is going to have any kind of long-term growth in its economy, growth that will bring people along with it.

But in this group are business leaders who will indeed get the attention of lawmakers without begging for it. The teachers and students in North Carolina’s public education system find themselves without adequate resources. Teachers face a multitude of challenges in their charge to educate kids from a variety of backgrounds. School systems have to deliver buildings and transportation. It is a daunting task indeed.

Those who make the system run can use all the friends they can get, and indications are this business group will provide some strong ones.

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