RALEIGH – For the past two weeks, we’ve shared data that show how North Carolina is underinvesting in education.1
So as the 2019 NC General Assembly convenes today, there’s quite a bit state legislators could do for education in our state, from pre-kindergarten through the university.
House Speaker Tim Moore has already proposed a $1.9 billion bond issue, with $1.3 billion for K-12 schools, $300 million for community colleges and $300 million for state universities.2
In the accompanying video, UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith attests that there’s a backlog of more than $2 billion in unmet needs for repairs and renovations at our public universities – and it might well be even larger because some campuses have stopped submitting requests.3
And the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University – among the best in the nation at producing family physicians who remain in state to practice – desperately needs to replace its 40-year-old building, ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton says in a separate video.
UNC System schools will never catch up with their unmet repair and renovation needs relying on annual appropriations from the legislature. So it might well be time to consider another bond issue for education in North Carolina.
Among other actions legislators could take:
• They could continue expanding NC Pre-K, the state’s high-quality pre-kindergarten program – and measure success according to what percentage of eligible 4-year-olds are served, not whether a waiting list is eliminated.4
• They could continue raising K-12 teacher pay, with an eye toward closing the gap between average teacher pay in North Carolina and the national average and measuring up to teacher pay in neighboring states.5
• Similarly, North Carolina ranked 8th of 11 Southeastern states in expenditures per K-12 student in 2017-18, trailing South Carolina by $2,385.6 The state has made progress in this metric, raising its national rank to 39th in 2017-18.7 But spending was still below pre-recession levels and needs to continue to improve.
• In 2017, the General Assembly partially restored the NC Teaching Fellows program that it eliminated in 2011. The new program offers four years of loans of as much as $8,250 a year that are forgiven if the student goes on to teach in STEM fields or special education. With a teacher shortage looming,8 should the program be expanded?
• Demand for higher education is increasing in North Carolina. We are now the 9th-largest state, and the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce projects that 67% of jobs in North Carolina will require education beyond high school by next year.9 The MyFutureNC Commission – a commission of business, education, faith and non-profit leaders – will announce an educational attainment goal for the state next month. To compete in the 21st-century economy, legislators should embrace that goal and support it.
• Given the populations targeted in the UNC System’s strategic plan for greater enrollment – rural, first-generation, minority and low-income students – legislators might need to step up need-based financial aid. As outgoing UNC President Margaret Spellings points out, that doesn’t always mean a full year’s worth of aid – in some cases, a brief infusion of emergency funds to deal with a car repair, day-care crisis or other short-term challenge can make a big difference.10
• Western Carolina, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State universities saw dramatic increases in enrollment this year with the launch of NC Promise, a guarantee of $500-per-semester tuition for in-state students at those schools.11 That required a commitment of $51 million a year from the legislature. Should NC Promise be expanded to more UNC System campuses?
• Faculty salaries in both the UNC and NC Community College systems continue to lag. The last time the UNC System conducted a systemwide salary survey in 2015, average faculty salaries at 11 of the 16 university campuses were below the 50th percentile compared with their peer institutions.12
• Similarly, average salaries for NC community college instructors are 10% below the average for the 16 states represented by the Southern Regional Education Board.13 If we don’t do more to help our public colleges and universities compete for talent, it will be reflected in the loss of quality professors who teach our children.
3http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=61060&code=bog, p. 5.
6http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/180413-Rankings_And_Estimates_Report_2018.pdf, p. 83.
9https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.SR_.Web_.pdf, p. 3.