Opinion

Editorial: Truitt's job is to stand with school children not political patrons

Wednesday, July 7, 2021 -- Legislative leaders don't need any more cheerleaders. But the school children of North Carolina do. Catherine Truitt must stand up for the public schools - the students, teachers, staff and administrators -- she was elected to lead. Public schools and the state's school children are being sold short in the Senate budget.

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Catherine Truitt
CBC Editorial: Wednesday, July 7, 2021; Editorial #8682
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.
It is now quite clear that partisan politics is Catherine Truitt’s priority as North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. That is the only conclusion any reasonable observer can reach following her statement that the budget passed late last month by the state Senate “does so much to boost North Carolina’s public school system.”

Her priority, demonstrating fealty to Senate Leader Phil Berger and other legislative leaders, is misplaced.

As an independently elected statewide leader her focus should be, regardless of partisan leanings, on North Carolina’s public-school students, the concerns of their parents, the necessary instructional resources, welfare and working conditions of classroom teachers and support for educational staff and administrators.

If that were the case, her reaction late last month to the Senate’s budget would have been very different. She would have accurately noted – instead of ignored -- that the Senate’s spending plan falls far short of the true and desperate needs of public schools. The Senate’s spending plan continues a documented legacy of neglect.
It is a matter of adjudicated fact (determined in the landmark Leandro case) that North Carolina violates its state Constitutional mandate to provide all children with access to a quality education.
The courts used a professional, non-partisan process to come up with a workable and reasonable plan to remediate that problem. That program, however, is barely funded by the Senate – just 15% to 20% of the $1.6 billion required. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget would fully-fund the remediation plan.

How can anyone suggest that a 1.5% annual raise is appropriate for teachers who haven’t seen a raise in the last two years, much less a “show of appreciation for their tireless work carried on throughout COVID.” It is an insult particularly given the extraordinary extra effort teachers displayed on a routine basis through the pandemic – too often the unsung among the front-line workers.

The average salaries paid teachers rank in the bottom half of states nationally. Significantly, that average ($54,216) is greatly inflated by local supplements that go only to some teachers in a handful of school districts. The true state-funded average teacher salary is $48,501. Cooper’s budget recommends 10% teacher pay raises over the next two years.

Truitt’s advocacy to “become #1 in the southeast for teacher compensation” is concession to mediocrity. The goal for teacher pay should be compensation that attracts and keeps the best in our public school classrooms. North Carolina isn’t even close now.

While the Senate budget provides additional funding for school psychologists, it still barely addresses a situation that today has one psychologist for every 2,000 students. The recommended level is one for every 500 students.

While there are some, who like Truitt can cherry-pick education items to demonstrate isolated areas of truly increased support, the overall picture is one of stagnation when it should demonstrate top priorities.

By Senate leaders own admission the budget is “defined by tax cuts and infrastructure.” Education didn’t merit mention in Berger’s June 24 news release headline.

Legislative leaders don’t need any more cheerleaders.

But the school children of North Carolina do.

Truitt must stand up for the public schools – the students, teachers, staff and administrators -- she was elected to lead.

Public schools and the state’s school children are being sold short in the Senate budget. It is Truitt’s job to say so and make sure it gets fixed.

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