Editorial: Back candidates who will restore Teaching Fellows, fully fund Pre-K and demand transparency in private school vouchers

Posted October 14, 2016


PART 4: In the season of endorsements, Capitol Broadcasting Company is focusing on issues not individuals. Get to know where the candidates stand and vote for those that line up in agreement with the issues we’re outlining in a special series on this page. Political parties and ideologies are irrelevant.

A CBC Editorial: Friday, Oct. 14, 2016; Editorial# 8068
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Since 1868 all North Carolinians have had the constitutional right to a publically funded education. In 1997, the state Supreme Court emphasized that right to mean the “opportunity to receive a SOUND basic education.” In 2004, the court went even further to hold that at-risk students, including prospective enrollees (4-year-olds), had that right.

For starters, we want to focus in on three aspects of education in North Carolina that are critical to fulfill our constitutional obligation.

We urge North Carolina voters to back candidates who will:

  • Reestablish and fully fund the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program
  • Fully fund pre-kindergarten education so all children are ready to learn
  • Require private schools that receive “opportunity scholarship” vouchers to disclose student performance and financial disclosure data similar to all North Carolina public schools.

From 1986 through 2011 the N.C. Teaching Fellows program recruited the state’s top students and offered up to $6,500 per year for four years of college. In addition, fellows were part of exclusive enrichment programs, field experiences, seminars and cultural events.

Repayment was a commitment to spend four years teaching in a North Carolina public school. After five years, 73 percent of the fellows were still in the classroom, compared with, for example, only 7 percent of the North Carolina participants in Teach for America. The program was a huge success.

While North Carolina abruptly stopped the program for unspecified budget reasons, other states adopted similar versions, including Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence’s Indiana, which adopted the program in April.

At $13 million a year, when schools are struggling to recruit quality teachers and teachers are leaving the classroom faster than vacancies can be filled, this program is a bargain. Vote for candidates who will promise to bring it back.

So, where did the $13 million from the Teaching Fellows Program go, since it’s no longer going to educate and keep in North Carolina the best and brightest potential teachers?

Well, it probably is paying a portion of the North Carolina school voucher program’s “Opportunity Scholarships.” These payments provide up to $4,200 per year for a student to attend a private school. The schools don’t have to report how they spend the money, how the schools operate, even whether they are real schools.  There is no way of knowing if the taxpayer dollars are being spent on acceptable educational needs or purchasing the school administrators cars or clothing.  It is a poorly designed program with no academic or financial accountability.  It is unacceptable.

Candidates should abolish this misguided program, or at a minimum require basic accountability that shows the schools meet the same academic performance standards as public schools. Also, these private schools must provide the same transparency and financial accountability so taxpayers are sure the money is going to the child’s classroom needs.

The state also must do more to make sure all North Carolina children are prepared to learn before they get to kindergarten. The state’s current pre-K program, eligible mainly to low-income children, has a 7,000-child waiting list. It is effective and will go a long way to help these youngsters be successful learners when they enroll in the state’s public schools.

Candidates should agree, at a minimum, to fully fund the program to eliminate the waiting list. Better yet, the program should be expanded to provide for participation of all 4-year-olds in the state. Find out how your candidates stand on expanding early childhood education and back those that will do it.

Education needs to be North Carolina’s top priority.


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