By the 1980s, North Carolina had successfully raised its median household incomes to the national level. State leaders knew in the ‘60s that investing heavily in public schools and universities was the key to growing the economy, and it worked.
Then, in 2008, the Great Recession hit our state. Between 2007 and 2013, much of the progress North Carolina made was wiped out. We were back to the early 1980s.
It is time to invest in education again. It worked before and it will work now. How should we invest in education in the 21st century?
North Carolina ranks 37th in childhood poverty, and 49 percent of our children now live in low-income households. Literacy is one of the keys to escaping poverty. Children who transition from learning to read to reading to learn have a better chance to succeed in education and in life. When we invest in early childhood education, it pays for itself. It yields a 13% return on the dollar for the community and a 100% return on opportunity for every child.
I want to return teacher assistants to our younger-grade classrooms, and adequate materials and textbooks to all of our students. Years of state budget cuts have placed North Carolina 43rd in per-pupil spending. Spending per student is below what it was in 2008. This hurts our children, their future, and our economy. It is the opposite of what we should be doing.
In 2005, voters approved The Education Lottery. Forty percent of the revenues were mandated for capital needs of public schools. Today, public schools see less than half of that money. This violates public trust. I will work to restore those funds. This could double state funds for capital needs in our district.
Today we are 35th in average teacher salary, which means we can't recruit or retain the best educators. If we don’t change directions on teacher pay, we will not be ready for the new job market of the 21st century.
It is time to invest in education. When our public educators thrive, our students thrive. When our students thrive, our community thrives and our whole economy benefits. I am ready to make North Carolina a leader in public education again.
Let me conclude by emphasizing my support and respect for public education, particularly in Transylvania, Henderson, and Polk Counties. In my experience as a student, a parent, a former school board member, and as a lifelong supporter of public education, I find the criticisms of public education unfounded. Few people care more about our children and their education than public school teachers.