North Carolina Institute for Educational Policymakers
In school year 1997-98, a large North Carolina-based foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, noted that elected and appointed policymakers were being asked to make critical decisions about some of the most complicated educational issues the state has ever confronted. Yet, the Fund found, there were few opportunities for policymakers to have the time and the resources to study the issues and gather information that would enable them to make research-based decisions on proven strategies that have been tested and proven not only in the United States but around the world.
That concern grew out of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s long history in the areas of mathematics and science, which are the principle areas of focus for the Fund. The Fund was created by Burroughs Wellcome, the pharmaceutical giant that merged with Glaxo to create one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and research companies. Coming out of a private sector arena, which is in the forefront in global economic competition, the Fund’s board members are keenly aware of the relation of education to economic competitiveness and believe that an educated citizenry is the key to a stronger North Carolina.
For years, the Fund has been a leader not only in funding important research in the fields of mathematics and science, but in attempting to enlarge the pool of young people choosing those fields of study as their life’s work. The concern has been heightened in recent years as American young people fall farther and farther behind their counterparts in other countries and as it has become more difficult to attract young people into challenging careers in technical areas.
The Fund’s concern, however, was not limited to mathematics and science. The Foundation asked the Public School Forum to work with it to design a vehicle that would have a singular goal -- to give policymakers more tools and more information to deal effectively with the host of complex questions that will shape schools and schooling in North Carolina.
The result of that work led to the creation of the Institute for Educational Policymakers, the nation’s first devoted solely to equipping elected and appointed policymakers with the tools and knowledge that will enable them to shape a comprehensive, cohesive plan to build a system of schools that is second to none.
In the spring of 1998, the Atlanta-based BellSouth Foundation joined the collaboration between the Public School Forum and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The BellSouth Foundation, created by the BellSouth Corporation, was one of the largest foundations in the nation focused exclusively on education. Working primarily within its nine state Southeastern region, the BellSouth Foundation has supported dozens of promising initiatives in North Carolina and, through its Charlotte-based subsidiary, is no stranger to education in North Carolina.
As a company, BellSouth, like the former Burroughs Wellcome company, was dependent on a well-educated workforce that can respond to the increasingly complex world of telecommunications. Like the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the BellSouth Foundation believed the Institute could not only lead to a better system of schools, but become a model for states across the country.
The focus of the Institute’s work is on three audiences: members of the North Carolina House and Senate, with a special emphasis on members of the House and Senate Education Committees; members of the State Board of Education, and; the media that covers the actions of educational policymakers.
During non-election years, the Institute, working with legislative leaders in both houses, isolates topical issues that are of importance and organizes briefings for members of the House and Senate Education Committees. The issues have ranged from school finance to testing and accountability, from data management to charter schools.
The Institute also conducts orientation sessions for new members of the State Board of Education as well as briefings for reporters new to North Carolina and/or new to covering education.
This Educational Primer is offered as a tool to elected and appointed officials as well as to candidates for office. It is envisioned to be but one of many tools the Institute will provide educational policymakers in the years to come.
Augmenting this publication, are the Institute’s newsletters, policy briefs and symposiums on educational issues. For the men and women in elected and appointed positions, the Institute extends an invitation to take part in Institute programs and join in this effort to see North Carolina public schools excel in comparison with any others across the US or around the globe.