Education, News

N&O’s “Influencers” series: Fund public schools, close achievement gap

North Carolina leaders should fund public schools adequately and address a long-lingering achievement gaps in student performance, says a panel of “Influencers” assembled by McClatchy papers The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun.

The papers are surveying the 60-member panel on key state issues.

And public education has been a major talking point already this year, after more than 20,000 educators and K-12 advocates swamped Raleigh in May to protest state lawmakers’ public school policymaking.

Members of the papers’ “Influencers” panel—which includes conservative and liberal pundits, business leaders, politicians and more—say public school funding is key.

From The N&O Monday:

Nearly all the Influencers listed adequate funding as being very important, saying that taking care of that issue would help solve a variety of other problems affecting the state’s K-12 education system.

“While many of these issues are very important, adequate funding is the most important,” said Pamela Davies, president of Queens University of Charlotte. “If NC was funding K-12 education appropriately, many deficiencies in our system, including teacher pay and Pre-K, could be addressed.

“However, money alone is not the answer. Strong leadership, both in the system and in the school house, is imperative if we are to deliver the quality of education the children of North Carolina deserve.”

After adequate funding, the 57 Influencers who responded listed closing the racial achievement gap and increasing teacher pay as their next two highest concerns. Making schools safer, creating universal pre-K, boosting vocational education and closing the rural-urban divide were also rated as very important by at least half the respondents.

Topics such as reducing class size, reducing use of standardized testing and expanding or reducing charter schools and school vouchers drew less support in the survey.

The funding issue comes at a time when state lawmakers have raised K-12 education funding to record levels and sharply raised teacher pay, especially for beginning teachers. But critics say education funding hasn’t risen enough and, when adjusted for inflation, is actually less than what it was before the recession in the late 2000s.

Around 19,000 teachers marched in downtown Raleigh in May to demand that state lawmakers do more to support public education.

“At all governmental levels we must adequately fund K-12 education,” said Webb Hubbell of Charlotte, an author and former Clinton Administration member. “Today’s society asks so much more from our schools and educators, and their importance needs to be reflected in the allocation of our resources.”

But not all Influencers agreed that lack of money is the problem for the state’s K-12 schools.

“Regardless of the party in control of the General Assembly, the default solution for schools has been to throw money at the problem,” said Paul Valone of Catawba, president of Grass Roots North Carolina. “Even under Republican control, pressure from the NCAE, the media, and ostensibly ‘progressive’ activists has led Republicans, who fear public pressure, to relent to essentially left-of-center solutions.”

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