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Best use of limited state money: Teacher assistants, better pay

By Heath E. Morrison
Special to the Observer

The N.C. General Assembly is now engaged in completing the 2013-2015 budget. The important decisions made in the next few days will affect our state’s future.

As educational leaders, we support our legislators’ intentions to make North Carolina an attractive place for business. Having a prosperous economy is good for everyone in the state – but so is having a strong educational system, because it will support that economy by providing a skilled, competitive workforce.

Public education in North Carolina is working to help build that strong economy. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, we are working to create learning environments where all students acquire the skills for 21st-century occupations.

So we are urging our legislators to be mindful in making budget decisions that affect the future and to look at the past as well. North Carolina has seen significant cuts in education funding in recent years. We recognize the dialogue around tax reform but we also ask that our legislators consider carefully the effects some proposed cuts could have on public education’s ability to prepare the workforce our state will need.

That preparation requires highly effective teachers. North Carolina must be competitive in its ability to attract the best teachers but we are currently near the bottom of national salary rankings. To fully prepare our students for the 21st-century workplace, we need personalized learning environments. So we have advocated keeping funding for teacher assistants, who help very young students learn.

We urge our legislators to be mindful of the effects that fewer resources could have on children and schools. Public education enrollment is growing; is this the time to make more cuts in our spending for education?

Like everyone in our state, public education has been asked to live within our means and use resources wisely. When we are being tasked with doing more with less, should we allocate resources to unproven strategies such as vouchers, which have received mixed reviews in national studies and from the public? Is it fiscally prudent to divert public money to schools that will have little or no accountability for valuable tax dollars? As the legislature has proposed budgets with no pay increase for teachers and cuts to teacher assistants and textbooks, how can money be found to fund vouchers? How is this living within our means?

We believe that it would be wisest to invest in ways that we know will help us achieve our shared goal of better educating students. Let’s put the money to work in attracting the best teachers by paying competitive salaries. Let’s put the money to work in elementary classrooms, providing teacher assistants to ensure very young students get strong foundational skills in reading and math.

All of us agree that our children must be well educated. We want them to be prepared to succeed in a globally competitive workplace. Working together, we can build strong public schools that will help drive the economic progress we need in North Carolina. We can strengthen our K-12 schools and our colleges and universities so that our students can compete with anyone in the world for the jobs of tomorrow.

Heath E. Morrison is the superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
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