Our superintendents lead schools with a deep understanding of what our kids need to be successful in school and in life beyond the classroom. On Education Matters this week, we heard from three superintendents who shared what they know to be critical elements that North Carolina must provide in our schools in order to ensure our children have a sound basic education across our great state.
Investing in the recruitment and retention of high-quality, well-prepared educators, which are in short supply right now, tops that list. Our districts are seeing unprecedented vacancy rates in their school buildings – including for teachers. The answer is twofold: first, we must become more flexible and creative when it comes to hiring for these roles, AND we must invest in these positions at much greater levels in order to attract and retain the talent that we — and our children — need in order to be academically successful.
We must also invest in the social and emotional learning of our students, which includes access to school support personnel, such as counselors, social workers, and psychologists. And our children need safe learning environments, where not only are the school buildings repaired and renovated to meet today’s health and safety needs, but also we need strong communities who hold each other’s personal well-being in the highest regard and work together to that end. Too often today I hear that local school board meetings are filled with tension and threats to personal safety that are unprecedented and unacceptable; we must come together as a community to support one another, not launch personal attacks as a means to achieve our own individual goals. We must all do better for the sake of our children. We are greater together.
The way forward for all of us has been made clear. We must invest in our schools in much more significant ways – right now. As we’ve been highlighting repeatedly on Education Matters, it has been more than 25 years since the beginning of North Carolina’s school funding court case known as Leandro. Since then, it has been found repeatedly that our state has not been providing the resources or public policies required to meet the fundamental needs of all of our students. We also know that as a state, we are significantly below the national average in per pupil expenditure, principal pay, and teacher pay.
You may ask yourself, “Why should Leandro be important to me?” The answer is simple: We know that every child needs a high quality and well prepared educator in their classroom and principal in their school. We know that early childhood education and postsecondary attainment are essential. We know that student support personnel, such as counselors and social workers, make a difference for kids. AND, North Carolina is ready and well-resourced. We have approximately $8 billion in surplus revenues here in North Carolina. We have significant needs in our schools. The time is now to make these significant investments in our public schools if we hope to ensure our children will be able to thrive and compete in a global economy. This impacts us all – our communities, our workforce, and our economy. We have a clear roadmap that identifies just how we can make targeted investments in our classrooms, in our teacher pipeline and in our school funding systems so that we can finally meet our constitutional obligation to equitably provide each and every child a sound basic education here in our state.
We are standing at a crossroads right now, as a court-ordered date is almost upon us to fund these targeted investments as laid out in the Leandro action plan. We have the resources. The time is now, and it’s up to each of us to demand from our leaders that we invest in our public schools. Let’s go, North Carolina.