Commentary, Education

NC must act now to harness the opportunity COVID presents in public education

COVID-19 has brought tremendous hardships to North Carolina, but it also presents our state with an opportunity to address persistent inequalities.

North Carolina maintains a healthy rainy day fund and has received billions of federal dollars in COVID-19 related stimulus funds. State leaders should use these resources to make long overdue and legally required investments in education that are crucial to our economic recovery. The good news is we can use these funds to support programs that have a track record of success.

Few issues in the world of public education present a greater challenge than the persistent and wide disparities in quality. Leandro v. State of North Carolina, a 1997 state Supreme Court case, twice confirmed North Carolina has failed to meet its constitutional obligation of providing a “sound, basic education” for all students. By law, the state is required to identify and implement recommended changes to the public education system this year.

In 2019, an outside consulting firm summarized, in a lengthy report, ways for the state to comply with the Leandro ruling. The so-called “Leandro report” recommended increased state investment in teachers because a high-quality teacher contributes most to a student’s academic success. COVID-19 provides the state an opportunity to meet the Leandro requirements through innovative and cost-effective practices.

For example, North Carolina should entice recent college graduates, struggling in this economy, to find employment as teachers by waiving certification fees and adding bonuses for highly qualified and diverse individuals to start teaching in high-needs districts or subjects. When Florida waived teacher certification exam fees in April, more than 30,000 individuals registered for the exam in a single month.

The state could also host virtual career fairs for prospective and current teachers who may be interested in school specialist or administrative careers. Organizations have long used virtual career fairs to connect with qualified candidates all over the country. With more individuals searching for jobs online during the COVID-19 quarantine, the state could attract those who may not have considered teaching otherwise.

COVID-19 also presents a unique opportunity to establish a robust, online professional development system that can be used beyond the quarantine to support a more effective educator workforce. South Carolina, for example, facilitates online mentorship for student teachers working to earn their degree during the pandemic.   Read more