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Perspective | Choosing students over politics

The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the February 2023 episode of Education Matters on the Public School Forum’s top education issues for 2023-24. 

The polarization of the last few years is undeniable. Many people have chosen vehement support of their own side over any alternative without even exploring those alternatives, but that should not and cannot be how we make our education policy decisions in North Carolina. Public schools are the cornerstone of our communities, our democracy, and our economy. Putting aside political differences and centering our students is imperative to making the policy decisions necessary to secure a better future for our state.

Decades of disinvestment in public education compounded by a life-changing pandemic have left our schools in need of immediate action which many would likely call drastic. However, I’d argue that the more drastic matter is North Carolina being ranked as the No. 1 state for business while also being ranked 48th in per-pupil expenditure and last in school funding effort. The billions in surplus funds from the 2022-23 state budget prove that we have the means to provide better for our children, but as a state have chosen not to.

The Public School Forum’s Top Education Issues represent The Forum’s policy agenda for the 2023-24 biennium and reflect our belief that North Carolina can overcome differences in political ideologies in order to provide our children with the sound education guaranteed to them by our state constitution.  

2023 Top Education Issues:

  • Ensure fair and competitive compensation for educators.
  • Grow, retain, and diversify the teacher pipeline.
  • Address the root causes of mental health and school safety crises.
  • Prepare students for the world they live in.
  • Implement, monitor, and evaluate the Comprehensive Remedial Plan.

You can view the full report, including the policy action items and background on each issue here.

At The Forum’s 2023 Eggs & Issues Breakfast, nearly 400 education stakeholders from across our state gathered with many more chiming in on social media, demonstrating that preparing our children for the future is something people in North Carolina care deeply about and is undoubtedly worth the investment. 

We are not talking about throwing money at problems and hoping they somehow get fixed. We’re talking about research-based solutions, and shifting from viewing education as an expense to viewing it as an investment in our state, our economy, and our communities. If we want to remain a top state for business, we must also become a top state for education and prepare North Carolina’s kids to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Possibly more important than the investment, though, is the responsibility. In November 2022 the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding our state constitution and the rights of our students by calling on the state to fully fund years two and three of the Comprehensive Remedial Plan. We now have a legal obligation to do better, and it is my hope that it will motivate us to continue to provide our public schools with the resources they need, without extensive legal and political battles. 

Divisiveness got us to our current state, which is why it cannot continue to have a place in education policy decision-making. This year, The Public School Forum of North Carolina urges our lawmakers and stakeholders to recognize the responsibility we all have and the urgency to act quickly to meet the needs of each and every student in North Carolina.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.