Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said Friday that, as governor, he would push to raise N.C. teacher salaries to the national average, better line up school offerings with job skills, and use the bully pulpit to try to get the Republican-controlled legislature to begin restoring many of its previous cuts in education funding.
Speaking at First Ward Child Development Center in Charlotte, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate invoked past “education governors” Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt as models for how North Carolina must emphasize education – from pre-K schools to community colleges and universities – as the pathway to economic prosperity.
“We have always had a reputation for being a state of opportunity when it comes to education,” Dalton told reporters before mixing with a class of 4-year-olds at the uptown center. “North Carolina has to be a leader in education if we plan to be a leader in the global and national economy.”
Dalton’s 18-page “Great Jobs Grow From Great Schools” plan calls for expanding early college high schools to all 100 counties as a way of aligning curricula with jobs that aren’t being filled because many graduates don’t have the right skills.
Dalton’s GOP opponent, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, has also talked about giving more N.C. students skill sets that match what he’s called “marketplace needs.” He’d try to accomplish that – and raise graduation rates – by getting high schools to offer two diploma tracks, one academic, the other vocational.
The two candidates differ more on their approach to teachers.
McCrory has stressed performance, or merit, raises.
Dalton, who has been endorsed by the N.C. Association of Educators, said Friday he could support some form of merit pay down the road. But first he’d first like to raise N.C. teacher salaries to the national average over four to five years.
“We need to show that we value them as professionals,” said Dalton.
He also criticized the Republican-controlled legislature not only for its education cuts, but also for “a rhetoric that, at times, was very disrespectful to our teachers . . . These are dedicated individuals who have our students’ best interests in the front of their minds. Many of them dip into their own pockets to make up for resources that were taken away.”
Dalton also wants to make higher education more affordable – partly by keeping community colleges strong – and make universities more accountable by basing their state appropriations not just on enrollment but also on course and degree completions.
How would he pay for his plan, which he estimated would cost $625 million the first year?
Not by raising the sales tax – an idea from Gov. Bev Perdue that Dalton no longer supports – but by projected revenue growth, more aggressive tax collection, and getting catalogue and Internet companies to pay a tax already on the books.