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In Friday’s name, fund education

Editor’s note : 65 Friday Fellows from 23 N.C. cities and towns signed this letter representing their individual views. From Mecklenburg County, they are: Adam Bernstein, Michele Birch, Brad Divins, Ana Lucia Divins, Robin Emmons, Christian Friend, Rickey Hall, Mergil Velazco Halstead, Tony Lathrop, Denisa Leach, Winn Maddrey, Patton McDowell, Jennifer Watson Roberts and Douglas Singleton.

We write to express our concerns with recently enacted changes in education policy and reductions in school funding. We offer these concerns as a diverse group of North Carolinians with a commitment to building a better state.

Central to building a better North Carolina is supporting a world class educational system that gives all children the resources they need to thrive. This has been and should continue to be a bipartisan goal for our political leaders. Even though Govs. Jim Hunt and Jim Martin were not from the same political parties, they supported investments and innovations in North Carolina’s educational infrastructure. With their leadership, our state remained focused on improving education for all. But the state budget does not reflect the bipartisan support for education that has been the hallmark of our success. The failure to invest in education will allow our once great public schools to drift into mediocrity.

William Friday understood that poverty was as at the root of the inequality seen in public schools and consistently urged more action to eliminate poverty. Too many children are too burdened with the ills of poverty to compete in the classroom. Nevertheless, leaders of Mr. Friday’s generation made crucial investments in improving education by: investing in a strong teacher workforce; providing teachers with the support that they need to improve; building a model early childhood education program; making data-driven decisions about curriculum and school reform; and much more.

Though the work of providing each child with an excellent education has not yet been fulfilled, great strides have been made. Mr. Friday recognized the need to do more: “[W]e’ve got to reposition the schools in our priorities. We’ve got to agree we’re going to finance them the way they should be. We’ve got to make teaching a respectable career again. And create and surround the principals with the time, and effort, and money to do [their] job.”

The budget signed by the governor instead repositions the schools by making them a lower priority. The budget makes teaching a less-respected profession, eliminating enhanced pay for teachers with advanced degrees, cementing the abandonment of the prestigious Teaching Fellows scholarship, eliminating career protections for teachers, increasing class sizes and removing teaching assistants from some lower grades.

A new voucher program will draw resources away from our children who attend public schools. While some private schools provide sound educational opportunities, public dollars will not be restricted to schools with high standards. These vouchers will allow our tax dollars to flow to ideological schools that fail to provide the type of broad-based education that ensures our children are prepared for life.

Even before this budget, North Carolina had reduced per pupil education funding. We have fallen to 48th in what we invest for every child’s education. We are spending about $530 million less now than before the recession [inflation adjusted] while our student population continues to grow. In the last five years, our teachers have received just one 1.2 percent raise. Teacher pay now ranks 46th in the country. We are not investing enough to strengthen our teachers and to give them the tools they need to reach each child.

North Carolina will fall further behind with this budget, making our state less competitive and diminishing opportunities for our children. The burden of this underinvestment in teachers and schools will be borne most by those who can least afford it: our children of color, our poorest children, and our children in under-resourced rural and urban areas.

Bill Friday dedicated his life to improving education. If Mr. Friday were alive today, we believe he would join us in calling for a bipartisan consensus on making the investments necessary to create a world-class education for all of North Carolina’s children. He too would raise concerns about new policies that divest resources from our public schools. We call on our elected leaders to return to the political center and make the investments needed to provide an excellent education for all the state’s children.

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