As many students get ready to take summer break from school, we need to make sure our state lawmakers don’t take a break from investing in our kids. The decisions our elected officials make this summer will determine the future of our students and state.
The House passed a budget that does not go far enough to ensure every child will get a quality education in North Carolina. With the news that the Senate will be even more tight-fisted with money for education, we should all be very concerned about the future of our public schools and our students. North Carolina is better than this.
Lawmakers should be planning to use a projected $400 million surplus to make the critical investments in education that will help our students be more successful. The House budget did take some small steps over the governor’s proposal, but it will not make a dent in North Carolina’s national per-pupil expenditure and average teacher pay rankings that are mired in the bottom tier of states.
If we are serious about every child’s future, we have to get serious about what works. That means helping our students be more successful by providing them with modern textbooks and technology, more opportunities for one-on-one attention and a quality teacher in every classroom. Immediately infusing at least $76 million into the state’s textbook and digital resources fund would make a significant difference for students. My sixth-grader hasn’t brought home a textbook in years. Since 2008, the state’s textbook fund has been cut by 75 percent. North Carolina is better than this.
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Our students and public schools deserve a bold plan that will help them be successful and elevate North Carolina into the forefront of public education in the Southeast and the nation. Instead, the Senate spending targets for its version of the budget are barely enough to cover the expense of future enrollment growth, let alone any other investments in our students. Unfortunately, it means more status quo or worse for our public schools. North Carolina is better than this.
Our elected leaders must develop and implement a comprehensive plan to put more resources into our classrooms and to improve the pay of all teachers and other professionals in our school buildings. One of the most immediate effects we can have on students is to recruit the best teachers and to keep them in the classroom by making a long-term commitment to paying them as professionals. Not only will our economic future be more secure by providing students the best education possible, but it will have an immediate positive effect on many of our state’s communities. The largest employer in nearly two-thirds of North Carolina’s counties is the public school system, and they are in the top four employers in all 100 counties. Just a little more than a decade ago, our state was ranked 20th in the country in average teacher pay. The starting point should be at least the national average, not stuck in the back of the heap. North Carolina is better than this.
Education was once a beacon of hope in North Carolina, and it still can be. The status of North Carolina’s public schools, students and teachers should be a top concern of residents today – our economic future depends on it. Let’s not give our elected officials a break on investing in our children. North Carolina is better than this.
Rodney Ellis is president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.