Editorial: Where do you stand? Get candidates on the record on support for public schools

26 April 2022

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, April 26, 2022; Editorial #8756
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

North Carolina’s Constitution is clear. It is the sworn duty of the state legislature to provide for a system of “free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

North Carolina’s highest court, with similar clarity, declared that since at least 1997 the legislature has failed in its obligation to provide “every child of this state an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools.” The state Supreme Court reaffirmed that view – particularly concerning at-risk students — in 2004.

In the upcoming primary elections North Carolina voters will decide who the candidates for the General Assembly will be on the fall ballot. Most state House of Representatives and state Senate districts will feature primaries.

Before they head to the polls, voters should make sure every candidate for the General Assembly has made clear their position on education and that they’ve answered a set of basic questions. The way a candidate answers these questions will let voters know if they’re going to uphold the state Constitution or seek to dodge it – and continue to neglect a basic right promised to very North Carolina child.

Every legislative candidate must be on the record as to whether they will support and will work for full implementation of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan – a multi-year program worked out and agreed to by the plaintiffs and defendants in the landmark Leandro case. This plan – that a judge has ordered implemented – will provide a solid foundation to make sure the state does what it promises.

The non-partisan Public School Forum of North Carolina is working to help voters and candidates know where those seeking office stand on the most crucial public education issues. Every legislative candidate has been offered the opportunity to respond – and everyone one should. Regardless of the answers, it will be a crucial resource to help voters – and candidates. Voters will be more fully informed when they vote and candidates will clearly let voters know where they stand. The Forum expects to start posting answers to its six key education questions later this week with early in-person voting starting Thursday, April 28 and concluding on Tuesday, May 17 – primary election day.

There is nothing controversial about the questions – but are basic to understanding what North Carolina’s schools need and the degree to which our political leaders will act to meet those needs – or if they disagree state why and explain their alternatives to meet the state’s constitutional obligation.

Check and see where the candidates for the state House of Representatives and state Senate stand. If they didn’t respond to the Forum, voters should get candidates to go on-the-record at public events such as meet-the-candidate events, debates or other gatherings.

Here are the public education questions every legislative candidate needs to be on the record about:

  • About 55% of teachers in a recent nation poll said they are more likely to leave their position sooner than expected due to stress experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic. What policies would you support to promote, recruit and keep a diverse teacher workforce?
  • Starting base teacher pay in North Carolina is just over $35,000 – ranking the state in the bottom half of states in the Southeast. What will you do to ensure the teaching profession is an attractive and sustainable career path?
  • North Carolina trails the nation in providing school nurses. Additionally, the average ratio of school counselors in the state’s public schools was 1 to 367 compared to the recommended ratio of 1 to250; the average ratio of social workers was 1 to 1,427 compared to the recommended ratio of 1 to 250. Do you think our schools and students should have access to school psychologists, counselors, social workers, and school nurses? What will you do to ensure this access?
  • North Carolina ranked 40th in the nation in per-student funding. The Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan calls for robust investments in our schools. These investments include high-quality well-prepared teachers, high-quality principals, early childhood education, post-secondary pathways, school support personnel like counselors and social workers, and accountability and finance systems that ensure our students have what they need. What are three top actions that the General Assembly can take to ensure our state meets its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education for every child?
  • Public schools have $13 billion in school infrastructure needs – due to growing student populations and aging school buildings. How would you address school infrastructure needs, and how would you ensure the needs are addressed equitably and in sufficient amounts?

Every North Carolina child deserves access to a quality education NOW. It is the best assurance that North Carolina’s future will have a citizenry empowered to build strong families, communities and a state.

Capitol Broadcasting Company’s Opinion Section seeks a broad range of comments and letters to the editor. Our Comments beside each opinion column offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about this article.

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