Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Perspective | Education is on the ballot

Voiced by Amazon Polly

The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the February 24, 2024 episode about which education issues are on the ballot this year, what the outcomes could mean for communities across the state, and the value of civic engagement.

It is once again an election year and the primaries are happening in North Carolina right now. While many people may view election season as just a time of exacerbated political divisiveness, I’d argue that it’s actually a time of great opportunity. We often talk about the changes we’d like to see in our communities or what must be protected to maintain our communities, but elections give us a chance to act. State and local elections are pivotal moments in shaping the trajectory of numerous policies that impact our day-to-day lives, including education policies. From the allocation of school funding to decisions on teacher pay and school safety measures, the outcomes of these elections will be felt throughout the state’s education system.

Some of the largest impacts elections have on education relate to school funding. Under North Carolina’s school finance system, it is the state’s responsibility to fund instructional expenses such as personnel, while county governments are responsible for the cost of capital expenses such as buildings and maintenance. North Carolina is currently ranked at the bottom — 49th this year — for school funding efforts. That won’t change unless we elect decision-makers at both the local and state levels who value and prioritize education as a public good essential to the continued progress of our communities.  

Prioritizing public education would allow us to invest in what matters and what research has proven makes a difference for kids. It would allow us to support and ensure that each child is able to reach their potential. It would allow us to pay our educators a more competitive wage — given right now one-third of our teachers make below the livable wage. And it would allow us to address the ongoing teacher vacancy issue our state has experienced as many teachers have been left with no option but to leave the profession or their community to teach elsewhere. Prioritizing public education would also allow us to better address school safety and mental health issues that have plagued young people across the country by providing the resources necessary to create positive learning environments that allow students to thrive. 

The current NC General Assembly has implemented policies, including the expansion of the Opportunity Scholarships program, that divert public taxpayer dollars from public schools to private schools across the state. These private schools, even when they receive public dollars, can deny access to students based on religion, identity and academic achievement. $4.7 billion of public taxpayer money will go to private schools via vouchers with hardly any accountability over the next decade. These vouchers are now considered universal because the recently passed expansion allows any family — regardless of income or whether their child has ever attended a North Carolina public school — to use taxpayer dollars to send their child to private school. 

The current General Assembly has also failed to fully fund the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan for school improvement despite multiple rulings that our state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with a sound basic education, and the North Carolina Supreme Court’s November 2022 ruling ordering that the plan be funded. The current North Carolina Supreme Court has now reopened the 30-year-old case. 

Over the last couple of years, we have had billions of dollars in surplus that were not invested in education. This election is your opportunity to ask questions and ensure that the people you vote for at the local, state, and federal level align with your values and what you believe is important for your students, educators, schools, and community.  

At the state level, you can learn more about this year’s candidates and where they stand on pressing education issues through the Public School Forum’s 2024 NCGA Candidate Survey at If your candidates have not yet completed the survey, we encourage you to reach out and remind them to do so. 

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.