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N.C. students need the best of all budgets

Over the past year, Business for Educational Success and Transformation (BEST NC) – a bipartisan, nonprofit group of business leaders – has convened conversations with hundreds of education experts, stakeholders, and leaders to discuss a vision for education in North Carolina.

Everyone agrees on a single point:

North Carolina is uniquely positioned to have the best education system in the nation.

Over the past few years, state lawmakers have supported key priorities to help meet that goal, including raising teacher pay and emphasizing early grade supports to foster third grade literacy. But these are pieces of a far more complex puzzle. We must resolve not to settle for the average education outcomes we have seen for the last decade.

The three state budgets proposed by the governor, Senate, and House make it clear that our political leaders are committed to continuing their efforts to improve education in North Carolina.

The governor proposed a responsible budget that would largely preserve current investments in education, with a strong emphasis on early career teachers and teacher leadership.

The House has developed a comprehensive package for recruiting, preparing, and supporting school teachers and leaders as we transition to 21st century learning environments.

The Senate has prioritized smaller class sizes in the early grades and increased the focus on our state’s lowest-performing schools and districts.

If we combine the priorities of these three budgets, we can significantly move the needle on education. The truth is, we need all of these ideas, working effectively together to bring about real improvements for students.

In its budget, the Senate is proposing dramatically smaller class sizes in the early grades with student-to-teacher ratios as low as 15 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade. This is an evidence-based approach to further the legislature’s commitment to improve third grade literacy and close achievement gaps.

But it can’t happen without strategically adding thousands of new, high-quality K-3 educators.

This is one example of where the House proposal can be powerfully combined with the Senate plan. The House has proposed a comprehensive package that will significantly improve student access to high quality teachers, school principals, and learning environments of a new century in North Carolina.

We must pay attention to the teacher pipeline not only for smaller class sizes to work, but also to help ensure the long-term success of low-performing schools, a core focus of the Senate. Research proves that educators are the single most important in-school factor for student success in all schools, and absolutely critical to successful turnarounds.

As business leaders, we understand the importance of having the best talent to get the job done. We commend the legislature for the investments they have already made to prioritize third grade literacy and dig average teacher salaries out of a decades-long hole.

We must further invest in early career teachers, offer teachers professional advancement as mentors and coaches, and raise the bar for school leadership to more rapidly move North Carolina forward.

At BEST NC, we believe that it is not only possible to put these good ideas together, it is absolutely necessary to meet student needs. We encourage our governor, Senate, and House leaders to work together, and partner with education stakeholders and the business community to craft a final budget that will set us on a path to lead the nation in academic performance.

J. Walter McDowell

J. Walter McDowell is the Board Chair of Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina (BEST NC).