The education reforms implemented by the General Assembly this summer have been received by many public education supporters as regressive and a step backwards for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the state. Our state was once considered a leader of K-12 public education in the Southeast. A few years back, during the tenure of Gov. Jim Hunt, who was referred to on the national stage as the Education Governor, teacher salaries, academic achievement and accountability increased significantly. Unfortunately this is no longer the story of public education in our state.
However, credit should be given where due and the General Assembly should be applauded for maintaining funding for pre-K programs and should also be recognized for its bipartisan support of the $2 million matching grants program to incentivize K-12 public schools to partner with higher education and the business community to create innovative programs that will better prepare students for 21st century careers.
But other new initiatives might lead one to question how much the state actually values K-12 traditional public education. Do we really value teachers and their profession? What are we doing to motivate and encourage educators to remain in the profession and do great work? CMS teachers have had only one raise during the past six years. Last year North Carolina ranked 46th out of 50 states in teacher pay and it has been estimated we will drop to 48th in the nation next year. Our teachers will no longer receive any monetary recognition for earning advanced degrees. Nor is there any type of pay for performance plan in place to reward our best and most effective educators.
With the removal of teacher tenure local school districts are now faced with only being able to award four year contracts to 25 percent of their teachers. With close to the lowest pay in the nation, no money for advanced degrees and 75 percent of teachers operating with less than two years of job security, why would they remain in the profession? Again, the question begs to be asked, do we value the profession of teaching? What is the message we are sending to our teachers, including those who might consider moving here?
Enrollment in N.C. public schools continues to increase while the number of full time instruction staff continues to decline. This means larger class sizes. As a former high school principal, I bristle every time I hear someone say class size does not matter. It does. Student diversity, learning styles and the unique educational needs of individual students require teachers to individualize instruction to maximize effectiveness. So why did the General Assembly reduce funding for teacher assistants by $120 million? TAs are the best instructional bargain available.
The General Assembly seems to look favorably upon the privatization of public education rather than supporting our once-proud preK-12 traditional system. Evidence of this move towards privatization is the significant expansion of charter schools, which are allowed a less stringent level of accountability and lower standards for teacher certification. Another example is the voucher bill. CMS estimates the voucher bill will divert $2.7 million in 2014-15 and $10 million in 2015-16 away from the district and to private and religious schools.
Our elected leaders in Raleigh have proselytized this reform will bring about job creation along with new investment. Should they be concerned about the potential damage to the states economy and image if we continue to implement a long-term trend of regressive legislation harmful to public education? Without an educated workforce and strong corps of teachers who will remain in the profession, I believe our chances for a strong and progressive economy are ill-fated.
Bill Anderson is executive director of MeckEd. He wrote this for The Charlotte Observer.
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