Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Uncertainty not optimism, greets start of new school year

Posted September 9

Jodi Ide teaches World Religions

CBC Editorial: Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017; Editorial # 8210
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

The new school year is barely underway across North Carolina and already educators face much uncertainty. It’s not the immediate threat from Hurricane Irma – bad laws and foolish policies that threaten the foundation of public education in the state.

There isn’t a single aspect of public education that is on solid ground. Here are the major areas that face unmet needs or an uncertain future:

BASIC CLASSROOM NEEDS
North Carolina public school teachers don’t even have adequate funding for their basic classroom needs. Money for classroom supplies adjusted for inflation, has been cut 53 percent by the legislature since the 2008-09 school year. Gov. Roy Cooper has said that the typical teacher spends $500 of their own money on classroom needs. These are teachers whose average salaries rank among the lowest in the nation.

To their credit, the State Employees Credit Union and other organizations across the state have launched donation drives to fill the gap – collecting pencils, pens, crayons, paper, tissues, sanitizing wipes and the like.

Teachers shouldn’t have to empty their pockets to make sure their students have what they need to learn. Legislators need to restore adequate funding for classroom supplies.

UNFUNDED CLASS-SIZE MANDATES
Instead of properly funding its mandate to cut class size in the lower grades so that much-needed physical education, arts, music and language instruction wouldn’t be eliminated, the legislature temporarily granted school systems “flexibility.” Legislative leaders just kicked-the-can-down-the-road. They wanted to cut taxes on businesses and the wealthy more than they wanted to properly fund public education.

This neglect is already evident. At Parsley Elementary School in Wilmington, six classes have been stuffed into three rooms to meet the legislature’s mandate. The rooms just aren’t available. Two teachers in a classroom with 37 students technically meets the class-size mandate of 20 students per class. Once upon a not-too-long ago time, there at least would have been teacher aides in the classes, but the legislature eliminated most of those positions.

Legislators need to fully fund their class-size mandate quickly so local schools aren’t left scrambling at the start of the next school year.

LESS EXPERIENCE IN THE CLASSROOM
School systems around the state are seeing a dramatic reduction in the number of experienced teachers staying in the classroom. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County schools, the number of teachers with 30 or more years’ experience has dropped 41 percent since the 2006-07 school year. In Guilford County there’s been a 28 percent drop and in Wake County it’s down 20 percent.

The drop in teachers with 20 years or more experience has been more modest – from 3 to 7 percent, but the trend is troubling. Changes in pay schedules have offered modest increases to teachers with less experience while offering little incentives for those same teachers to make a career in the classroom.

Legislators need to be serious about paying teachers properly. Teachers in North Carolina should be paid at least at the national average and not be penalized for their experience.

THREAT TO EXPERIENCE TO LEAD SCHOOLS
The General Assembly adopted a new pay scheme for school principals and assistant principals – eliminating longevity and other pay enhancements -- that builds in a variety of disincentives for experienced school leaders under the guise of adding seemingly entrepreneurial incentives.

A principal at a relatively small elementary school – 328 students – who has 30 years’ experience and a doctorate has a current salary of $87,780. Next year under the legislature’s new pay plan, the salary would be $67,926, according to a report from the state Department of Public Instruction.

These are not the kind of incentives that keep the best and brightest leading our schools. Legislators must make sure a pay plan works to keep experience and ability leading ALL our schools.

PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHER ACCOUNTABILITY
Responsible parents expect more transparency from their kids in how they spend their allowance than the General Assembly demands of private schools that get millions in taxpayer funds through the private school voucher program. That’s no exaggeration.

More than $44.8 million has been set aside for vouchers this school year, with that set to increase to $134.8 million in a decade. This school year 8,353 vouchers have been approved. Yet there continues to be little significant requirements for these schools to show the curriculum they offer students nor any way to determine if the students are learning.

There have already been significant questions raised about the operations of some of these schools. Legislators should expect no less from these private schools and their use of tax dollars than they expect of our public schools. Anything short of that is irresponsible and an invitation to abuse taxpayer dollars.

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