Education, News

Banking executive to NC business leaders: America must do more to address inequality, pay teachers more

The NC Chamber and the North Carolina Bankers Association hosted its 18th Annual Economic Forecast Forum on Tuesday, and some of the state’s most influential leaders got an earful from Kelly King, the CEO of Truist (formerly BB&T and SunTrust.)

In unusually candid remarks, the head of the nation’s sixth largest bank told the audience that many were out of touch with the financial hardships working families are facing.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported:

“We’ve got a nice house, we’ve got a nice job. We don’t go to the other side of town and we don’t realize what’s happening,” King said, referring to an audience that included scores of North Carolina bankers and executives. “Go see what’s really going on in the world around you. You will find it is very, very difficult.”

Truist CEO Kelly King

He pointed to a survey which found that most Americans can’t meet an unexpected $1,000 expense: “You can’t even relate to that. I can’t even relate to that. Well, that’s the way most of the people in our country are living.”

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

“We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,” King said. “They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.

America needs more teachers and they need to be paid and supported better, he said. As the shape of the American family changed, crucial educational roles that used to be filled by family members are left unfilled and students suffer, he said.

When he grew up on a tobacco farm in Zebulon, he said, there were plenty of unskilled jobs that you could take if you didn’t have an education. Now, those jobs are gone.

“We are seeing millions of people come out of the system that virtually have no hope,” he said.

While the problems he raised were widespread issues that ran to the core of American society, his solution for “a part of the puzzle” was compact. Truist is going to release an app to teach elementary school-age children how to read.

King said in the speech that they will test the app in about 500 schools across multiple states in the next 18 months.

“Rather than being out on the street, taking drugs, we think they’ll be sitting at home, playing this game and learning how to read,” King said to reporters after the speech.

Read the full article here.

King has advocated in the past for lawmakers to expand access to Pre-K and do more to improve student reading skills in the early grades.

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