Two groups in North Carolina, formed for different reasons, are thinking big-picture about the state’s educational continuum and reimagining how it could work. The Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education was formed by an executive order from Gov. Cooper to study how the state can meet its constitutional mandate to provide equal educational opportunity to all children. myFutureNC was formed from the state’s lack of a postsecondary attainment goal and has brought together cross-sector experts to set a goal and think about how to implement it.
Members of both groups — Brad Wilson from the Leandro commission, and Jack Cecil and David Mounts from myFutureNC — sat down at EducationNC’s Bridge convening in April to talk about their work, next steps, and measures of success.
Watch the entire panel below.
The Leandro commission has met throughout the last year to study different aspects of the educational system and are working to finalize recommendations related to the decades-long Leandro case. Meanwhile, both sides of the case agreed to have an educational consultant, WestEd, to make separate recommendations on how to ensure educational opportunity to every child, which was turned into Judge David Lee in June.
“Between these two parallel activities and ultimate conclusions, we hope that ultimately the litigation can be settled by agreement between the parties on the judicial side, and that the work of the Leandro commission will again provide opinion, guidance, [and] recommendations about how we can accelerate progress in Leandro,” Wilson said.
Cecil and Mounts introduced the work of myFutureNC as a response to a severe shortage of employees in the state who are capable to fill available, high-skilled jobs.
“We really pulled together some of the best minds we possibly could to really take a look at the challenges we face in this state,” Mounts said. “And to make the challenge very very succinct and clear, it’s we don’t have enough talent emerging with the skills we need to meet the demand of industry in the areas where these high-skilled jobs are growing. We’re losing a lot of the lower-skill blue collar jobs and the higher-skill jobs, like the type of company that I run, tech and analytics, we have huge shortfalls… I have had to move hundreds of jobs outside of the state that I much would have preferred to have in the state just because the talent wasn’t here.”
The myFutureNC attainment goal, released earlier this year, is to ensure that 2 million North Carolinians ages 25 to 44 have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2030. Mounts said if nothing changes about how the state produces talent, around 400,000 jobs will be unfilled by 2030.
He said the goal is this: “Creating this wonderful virtuous circle where when you create wonderful talent, the companies here grow and prosper, new companies move in, taxes go up, resources improve, those resources go back to the school, the schools are able to use those resources and advance further initiatives. It’s that cycle that we really want to see perpetuated.”
Mounts added that focusing on disadvantaged communities is critical to making sure the entire state moves towards the goal. Cecil said the work began from bringing together the education and business communities, but that the future of it will depend on local communities.
“… We really have to bring the work from the bottom up and help the communities understand within their families and think about it county by county, almost MSA (metropolitan statistical area) by MSA.”
Cecil said moving forward, the work also must be cross-sector, include “all demographics and geographies,” and encourage alignment along the educational continuum.
“We don’t want to go with the lowest common denominator,” Cecil said, adding that myFutureNC wants North Carolina to be innovative and excellent, establishing itself as a leader in attainment nationally.
Asked what success looks like for each of these groups, Wilson said building statewide will is important.
“I firmly believe that we are in fact at a catalytic moment both in terms of need, or supply and demand, if you want to put that business term on it, and that out of the work of the Leandro commission, the court, and the myFutureNC commission — if the people of North Carolina want this done, then it’s time for the people of North Carolina to say and demand and expect that it be done across every level of policymaking and funding in our state.”
Wilson added that the release of the Leandro commission’s recommendations will be just the beginning of the work.
“One measure of success I hope for the Leandro commission is that we do our job well enough and understandable enough and energetic enough that when our report is filed that that is the beginning of the advocacy and the hard work and not the end. And if we do that, I think the tangible success will be within our line of sight sooner rather than later.”
Mounts said what success looks like depends on teachers leading the system based on what works and doesn’t in education. With their innovative ideas, he said the goal will be reached.
“We’re going to win and we’re going to exceed these targets in 2030 and we’re going to attract all the companies and all the businesses that are seeking talent today more than anything else to our state.”
A question at the end of the panel asked about the reality of reform in divisive political times: “Can we agree politically even when we come up with reforms that we think will improve all buckets of education in North Carolina?”
Cecil said framing the conversation not as red or blue but as “what’s best for students” keeps the focus away from the division. “How do we help students? How do we help the future growth of this state? How do you help people earn enough money to break the cycle of poverty? How do you have lifelong learning?”
Wilson said putting aside differences is imperative.
“I would simply say it’s not a question of can we. We must,” he said. “… Democracy works when the people insist that it work. And how and when we talk about things matters.”
Mounts added that the steering committee of myFutureNC is bipartisan and outcomes-driven.
“We’re going to work very very hard to make sure that it doesn’t ever become political, that we’re all about the solution and the outcomes, and staying as focused on those persistently from now ’til 2030 to make sure we land where we’re supposed to be.”