The North Carolina Influencer Series

Our NC Influencers weigh in on reader education question

Marchers hold signs outside the N.C. House chambers at a May rally. Teachers and others from across the state want policy makers to find a ways to boost teacher pay, increase school funding, and create equity in schools.
Marchers hold signs outside the N.C. House chambers at a May rally. Teachers and others from across the state want policy makers to find a ways to boost teacher pay, increase school funding, and create equity in schools.

More from the series


The North Carolina Influencer series

The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun in Durham are launching a conversation between readers and important thought leaders throughout North Carolina.


Using an online tool called Your Voice, we asked readers across North Carolina what education issues mattered most to them this election year. We looked for a common theme in their responses, and one question stood out.

Readers wanted to know what policymakers will do to ensure that all students have access to quality schools that will prepare them for well-paying 21st century jobs. So we asked the 60 N.C. Influencers. Here are a few of their responses.

James Coleman, Duke University law professor:

“Go back to the drawing board and reimagine what public education should be. At this point, we have a hodgepodge of approaches and programs that reflect workarounds: work around discrimination, failing schools, parental involvement, religious-based education, tenure, teaching training, etc. We need to go back to the basics and build from there.”

Paul Cuadros, UNC professor and director of UNC Scholars' Latino Initiative:

"Policymakers need to commit to funding our traditional public schools to levels that make our schools the best in the country with personnel up to the task of providing an outstanding education. In addition, policymakers need to realize and accept that two separate school systems are not to the benefit of all kids in the state. Finally, leaders need to stop diverting funds from our traditional public schools to religious private schools. Families have every right to send their children to the private school of their choice, but taxpayers should not have to fund that personal decision."

Hugh McColl, former Bank of America CEO:

“Focus on reading, writing and arithmetic. Offer shop and computer training.”

Madison Shook, GOP fundraiser:

"Policymakers should continue creating conditions that balance flexibility and accountability. Flexibility empowers educators at the local level to make decisions that best meet the needs of their students, since they are in the best position to understand their needs. However, strong accountability systems at the state level can ensure that every child has access to a high-quality school and a great teacher."

Mark Jewell, president of North Carolina Association of Educators

“End the continuation of vouchers, sending public dollars to unaccountable private schools. Reverse the trend of corporate tax breaks for the wealthy and commit the revenue for resources, textbooks and technology. Fix the broken teacher salary schedule and reinstate Master and Advanced Degree pay for educators. We have a huge teacher shortage, and we’re losing high quality educators to neighboring states and beyond.”

Jay Everette, Wells Fargo senior VP and community affairs manager:

"Policymakers should create an environment of cooperation versus competition between charter and public schools. The focus should be on sharing best practices and learnings , versus promoting one or the other. The Wells Fargo Foundation recently funded a collaboration between a public and charter school located within a mile of each other to focus on ways to engage parents and guardians in the learning and education activities of their students. The principals collaborated on sharing best practices and learnings on how to empower and engage parents and guardians. It led to more engaged teacher/parent dialogue and programs. With this "share versus compete" model, students and parents are the beneficiaries of the outcomes. In the end, we need to focus on meeting the needs of students and parents and empowering them to learn and be engaged with their schools versus advocating simply for public or charter."

Jim Martin, former NC governor:

“A lot of commendable effort from public and private resources has aimed to improve K-12 education. From news reports, it does not seem to have achieved better outcomes. Now that the pressure for more charter schools has demonstrated the advantage of greater flexibility, coupled with "succeed or lose your charter," this same flexibility should be allowed for traditional schools, along with the same responsibility and consequences.”

Bree Newsome, activist:

"For the past eight years the North Carolina General Assembly has shown very little care for the overall well-being of public school students in the state, particularly those who are poor, Black, Latino and Native. The recent attacks on public education have created an atmosphere that has resulted not only in teachers leaving the state but also in students having a negative view of education in North Carolina. The actions of the Legislature in recent years represent the opposite of everything a state should do to ensure quality schools that prepare students for well-paying 21st century jobs. School desegregation is linked to higher graduation rates, higher income, economic growth, lower incarceration rates and greater tax revenue for cities and localities. If North Carolina wants to be competitive in the 21st century, to ensure a strong economic future with well-paying jobs and an employable workforce, policy that grants equitable funding and resources for every child is a fundamental necessity."

Patrick Woodie, president of the NC Rural Center:

"The NCGA included a $10 million broadband grant in the state budget. That is a good start, and a measure that has been the top Rural Center policy priority. Similar efforts have proven successful in several other states, and we hope that this program will be institutionalized and expanded in future budgets here in North Carolina. The next step should be targeted policies to close the homework gap, the inevitable achievement gap that occurs when a student is unable to complete schoolwork at home due to a lack of reliable Internet access. Local school systems, such as Lee County, are making great strides at providing Internet to students after school, through mobile hot spots, WiFi on school buses, and other innovative techniques. We need to take these projects to scale on a state level to ensure that our students can prepare for 21st century jobs both in school and at home. This comes both through providing affordable Internet access outside of the classroom, as well as through expanding digital literacy efforts."

Cyndee Patterson, president of The Lee Institute:

"They should provide local school districts with flexibility such that each school district could implement educational innovations that are being used successfully in other school districts across the country. Create additional funding for implementation of best practice vocation education programs in every county and raise teach pay."

Clayton Wilcox, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent:

"Next steps for policymakers may be more about what they can stop doing rather than what they start doing. As a strong starting point, policymakers can hold back from making education policy changes without engaging the full and authentic input of those who are best qualified, experienced and trained to educate children — our educators. We have to collaborate and ensure that our actions are built for positive impact over years for students, not just reflective of the issue of the day being discussed by adults. Most people across our state and nation want to do what is best for our children. Access to a quality K-12 education in North Carolina should be thought about as a civil right, yet public education has been increasingly used as a proxy setting for unrelated political and ideological conflicts that distract and impair educators' ability to do what they do best — educate children. We can and must work together on behalf of all students."

Mark Vitner, Wells Fargo senior economist:

“Ultimately it comes down to making better use of existing resources. The state's budget is always going to be under pressure and increases in education spending will likely remain modest. This may mean limiting standardized tests, but might also include looking at innovative ways to reduce spending outside the classroom to free up resources for teacher pay and other resources.”

Doug Lebda, LendingTree CEO:

I think the first step is to examine school funding, and from there it’s a snowball effect. Improved funding systems provide needed resources to schools, improving conditions for teachers, reducing turnover, providing students with more resources, leading to better graduation rates and college enrollment. Having great schools adds to the local economy as well, improving property values and drawing new residents to the area.”

Bev Perdue, former NC governor:

"Pay and respect teachers and then hold them accountable. Provide all schools with personalized learning opportunities and change seat time laws from 180 days to allow flexibility with competency based performance outcomes, not one-size-fits-all and one test for all."

How to participate

Your Voice is an ongoing conversation between you and the N.C. Influencers and policymakers in our state. Over the next six months we’ll ask you what matters most to you about a particular policy issue. After you’ve weighed in online, we’ll hold a Your Voice vote to see which reader’s response resonates most. Then, we’ll put that question to the Influencers. We’ll tell them what you think is most important and ask how they think policymakers should address that issue. To participate just click on the Your Voice link embedded in every Influencer series story.

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