From pre-kindergarten through doctoral degrees, our public education system is the main gateway for millions of North Carolinians to get good-paying jobs that help them provide for their families and give back to their community. It’s a great system that has withstood the tests of time — but with your help, we’ll make it even better!
THE BIG 3
Index baseline teacher pay to the regional average: Governor Bev Perdue and the Democrat-run General Assembly slashed education funding during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 fiscal years, dropping North Carolina to the bottom 5 states in teacher pay nationwide. Republicans promised to fix the problem when they took over in 2011, but then froze salaries for years on end themselves, leaving us still the 5th-worst out of 50 states. We need a better way. To ensure teacher salaries are not treated like a political football, we believe baseline pay should be automatically indexed to 110% of the regional average.
Upgrade school infrastructure: The politicians in Raleigh keep adopting budgets that make no sense in the context of a modern classroom, increasing spending on things like textbooks (that few teachers use in our digital era) while the buildings themselves crumble, basic “real world” technologies like wifi are missing, and roaches roam the halls unimpeded. We need to reinvest in our school infrastructure to provide suitable environments for kids to learn, and suitable tools enabling teachers to teach.
Implement “Truth in Tuition”: For years, Republicans and Democrats alike balanced the state’s budget on the backs of students through the tuition rates charged at our University of North Carolina institutions. These repeated tuition increases made it harder for students to graduate on time, something I experienced firsthand when I had to drop out of college in 2000. We should follow the approach of Illinois and other states by requiring “Truth in Tuition” — students having the exact same tuition and fee rate for their first 4 years of enrollment, only increasing if they don’t graduate on time. After years of student lobbying the General Assembly finally authorized a test Truth in Tuition policy in the budget passed in June, and we will see it through to implementation.
Higher Education –
Shrink and reform the UNC Board of Governors: The University system’s governing body is an enormous 32-member country club for well-connected political donors in both parties, with every single member hand-picked by the General Assembly. The Board of Governors should instead be shrunk to the size of each university’s Board of Trustees -– 13 members in all -– and at least a third of those seats should be elected by the public at large.
Protect our HBCUs: The UNC system has 5 historically black universities, and a 6th that has historically served Native Americans. Several of these universities suffer from poor academic metrics caused by bad administration, bad micromanagement by the Board of Governors, and bad meddling by the General Assembly. I recognize the value of an HBCU education as a proud alumnus of North Carolina Central University, and I will work to ensure all of these institutions have the resources and leaders they need to be successful.
Reform NCGAP: In 2015 the politicians in Raleigh quietly tucked a new program into the state budget called the North Carolina Guaranteed Admission Program, that artificially forced qualified students out of attending a university and instead redirected them to a community college. The NCGAP concept was such a disaster it was hastily rewritten in the 2016 budget bill, but more work remains to be done. No academically qualified student who meets the admission criteria of a UNC institution should be deferred or rerouted or otherwise denied the education they’re qualified to obtain.
Authorize century bonds: Like our K-12 schools, the infrastructure at many of our universities is in decay from years of deferred maintenance. Our largest schools have the private financial support to finance those repairs with what are called “century bonds,” bonds with a 100-year maturation date sold at low interest to raise money. These bonds are a better arrangement for taxpayers than pay-as-you-go repairs or shorter-term bonds, but have to be authorized by statute before they can be implemented.
Resurrect the Teaching Fellows Program: The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program began in 1986, and played a unique role in addressing teacher attrition by growing teachers who stayed in the profession far longer than their colleagues. The program was cut during the recession and eliminated entirely in 2011. As we face a new shortage of teachers brought about by low pay and byzantine regulations, we need to resurrect the Teaching Fellows Program and its work inspiring and training future teachers.
Primary Education –
Protect school choice for poor families: The wealthy have always had the privilege of school choice, and they always will. Our legislators must preserve that same degree of access to middle- and lower-class families by enabling school choice for all who want it, and ensuring charter and private schools that violate the law are cut off from receiving your tax money.
Reform the “grading” of schools: Parents have a right to know about where their children are going to school, and for years the NC Department of Public Instruction has produced “school report cards” detailing a wide variety of statistics for each school. But the politicians in Raleigh botched that entire concept with their ham-fisted attempt to assign a single “school performance grade” instead. The past two years since the letter grades began have shown they don’t actually reflect anything meaningful about any school — except how many poor students attend. The entire grade concept should be scrapped, and replaced with an easily readable datasheet that is simpler than the report cards but more insightful than the performance grades.
Proactively combat institutionalized racism: “Equality of opportunity” is one of the cardinal virtues of our political culture, the ideal that all of us start on an equal footing. And yet our K-12 education system is often the window through which we see how rare that ideal is in practice, and how profoundly unequal opportunities become based on the color of a child’s skin. In some cases educators make that problem worse themselves when students of color are punished more often and more harshly compared to identical offenses committed by white students — what is known among researchers as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Teachers need to be made aware of the racial impacts that inevitably affect the students they teach, and trained to ensure they don’t make the problem worse.
Expand reporting and statistics on school discipline: One key method of addressing institutionalized racism is recognizing that teachers hold enormous power over the students in their classrooms, particularly in deciding what behavior they choose to punish and how they choose to do so. Unfortunately the reasoning behind most of those choices is never documented, so known problems like the school-to-prison pipeline exist without enough data being available to explain why. We can’t solve problems we don’t first understand; more-comprehensive details about school discipline are needed, and that statistical data should be made available to the public.
Expand in-classroom training for teachers while in college: Doctors have clinical rotations with actual patients while still in medical school; lawyers have law school internships in actual courtrooms with actual cases. In profession after profession, “hands on” experience blended into someone’s academic education makes them more-skilled when they officially enter the workforce. Our teachers should have expanded training in the classroom with students while they are obtaining their undergraduate degrees.
Provide training in culturally relevant teaching: Earlier this year, UNC Greensboro started an Office of Latino Education Affairs (OLEA) because administrators recognized the need for a more-customized approach in helping certain students better understand the process to apply for college and succeed after admission. Providing a K-12 education that is tailored to each student has been a talking point among politicians for years, but few teachers are trained on cultural issues – a particular challenge in a school district where 9 out of 10 teachers are white, yet a majority of students are black or Hispanic. We need to offer expanded training to our teachers on understanding the cultural backgrounds of their students and how to best educate those students accordingly.
Educate teachers on the laws governing a K-12 workplace: In our litigation-happy culture, where an actual presidential candidate fires off new lawsuits on a weekly basis, teachers are often kept in the dark about the laws governing their classrooms and things that can or can’t be taught in a public environment. Our teachers are college graduates with the requisite intelligence that entails; we should treat them like adults and ensure they understand the legal environment they operate in.
Streamline teacher leave policies: Our teachers are stuck balancing a crazy array of leave policies, ranging from sick leave that requires a doctor’s note at some schools but not others, to personal leave that teachers actually have to pay $50-per-day to use, to “regular” leave somewhere in between. “Leave” should mean exactly that – one uniform policy, for one uniform type of leave, to be used as the teacher sees fit, without paying a dime for doing so.
Enable teachers’ student loans to be paid via payroll deduction: Even if the politicians in Raleigh can’t fix every problem with our education sector, fixing one issue is super easy: let teachers pay their student loans via payroll deduction. We already have payroll deduction options for insurance and other items, and teachers should have the choice to simplify their lives by adding Sallie Mae to that list.
Restore a step-based pay scale: How many of you would stay in a job where your pay was cut at the end of each year, even if you exceeded expectations? That’s what our teachers deal with under our odd system of multi-year “pay bands.” Salaries are frozen for 5 years at a time, with inflation chipping away at how much those salaries can actually buy. We need to restore the traditional step-based pay scale for all teachers, where a small adjustment is made after each year of service to keep pace with inflation.
Incentivize teachers who have classroom experience: Just as more “hands on” training in college helps produce better teachers in the field, we should incentivize people who already have preexisting classroom experience as teacher assistants or college instructors to become K-12 teachers as well. Giving them full credit for their years of experience ultimately saves taxpayers money in training costs and “coaching up” applicants with less experience.
Incentivize higher education: While nearly all teachers have at least a bachelors degree, we should encourage those in the profession to pursue further study with a masters or doctoral degree in education. Just as “iron sharpens iron,” the added time of study and dedication to understanding teaching and its challenges will make them better practitioners, and better trainers of those who will come after them.
Do you agree? Disagree? Think there is something we missed that should be part of our education agenda? If so, make sure to contact us!