Editor’s note: The following piece is signed by the superintendents of the following school districts: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cumberland County, Gaston County, Durham, Guilford County, Johnston County, New Hanover County, Union County, Wake County and Winston-Salem/Forsyth, as well as the president of the NC New Schools Project.
The goal of our public schools is to make sure that each child is prepared for career, college or the military – and a rich, productive life. Across the country, and in North Carolina, state legislatures are discussing how to improve public education. It’s important that the changes we make help children succeed, not reduce local control of education and create more bureaucracy.
Those of us who work in public schools welcome this year’s legislative focus on our schools. Here in North Carolina, the 10 largest school districts are collaborating to work proactively with lawmakers.
We are enthusiastic about House Bill 902, which would build strong schools for the future. It provides strong incentives for schools to partner with business and the community to benefit each student. The bill would establish a North Carolina Education and Workforce Innovation Commission. Strengthening our ties to business and the community with these innovation incentives will enable us to better prepare students for the workplace of the 21st century.
There is concern among some lawmakers that it will be hard to fund innovation incentives in this session. Delaying this could deny our students some important opportunities.
This is particularly worrisome at a time when so much money is being considered for vouchers. On nearly every national survey of per-pupil spending (when all funding sources are counted), North Carolina is in the bottom 20 among the 50 states. In recent years, education funding has been cut. Now that the economy is improving, is this the best and wisest use of money to strengthen our children’s education?
Proposed legislation would limit pre-kindergarten programs to children whose family incomes are below the federal poverty level. There is a growing body of evidence that early education is critical – so we should expand access. Pre-kindergarten programs have been recognized by educational researchers, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as providing a great return on investment. Given this compelling evidence of early education’s effectiveness, why would we not invest heavily in pre-kindergarten programs? It would also help us meet new state requirements that all children are reading by third grade.
We welcome a focus on accountability that will help parents accurately assess all public schools, traditional and charters. That requires a level playing field. Charters, which are funded with public money, should not have more flexibility and less accountability than public schools when it comes to managing resources and people.
If we want to attract and keep the best teachers, compensation must move closer to the national average. Right now, we’re about $10,000 below the national average salary for teachers.
We also need to invest in providing teachers with the opportunity to grow and learn new skills. Any discussion of evaluation and tenure should address these gaps.
As educators, we recognize that the General Assembly is an important partner and we appreciate its focus on education. This year, we see the opportunity to make North Carolina’s public education great by helping our public schools enable success for each child to succeed in life.
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