The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the October 22, 2022 episode of Education Matters: “A Discussion of the New School Year.”
Early voting has begun in North Carolina, and the importance of the 2022 election cannot be overstated. The outcome of the soon-to-be-decided races will have far-reaching implications for critically important issues like women’s reproductive rights, gun safety, voting rights, the economy, the environment, and of course, education. We, at The Public School Forum of North Carolina, urge you to research the candidates who will be on your ballot to determine which candidates’ commitments align with what you think is best for the future of our children, our state, and our country.
Policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels play important roles in education decision-making, and the North Carolina General Assembly in particular has the power to address many issues facing our public schools. The General Assembly is responsible for appropriating state dollars for education, which gives them significant power in deciding what and how much to invest in teaching positions and salaries, school safety, mental health, school support personnel, textbooks, and supplies. And our legislators also often weigh in on issues related to testing and accountability, school calendars, and curriculum.
Our 2022 North Carolina General Assembly Candidate Survey is a resource as you prepare to cast your vote. This survey was distributed to all candidates running for the General Assembly and included six questions addressing key education policy issues that impact public schools across our state. Many of these issues come down to decisions over funding for public education and how different candidates plan to prioritize investments for the next generation of North Carolinians.
When it comes to funding for public education, North Carolina currently ranks 49th out of all states in our effort to fund schools relative to our fiscal capacity to do so. This past year, North Carolina had a budget surplus of over $6 billion, and yet the state is not providing the most basic investments to ensure that all students have access to the sound basic education that our constitution requires. North Carolina’s average per-pupil spending falls more than $3,000 below the national average. Research tells us that targeted investments in public education yield better outcomes for students’ academic success and long-term economic benefits. How — and how much — funding will be allocated to support our public schools in the years to come is a central question that members of the General Assembly will decide, and that will determine the educational opportunities available to children in every school and district across the state.
Teachers are one of the top issues on the minds of voters this election season, especially as we have seen long-anticipated staffing shortages becoming a reality in nearly every district in our state. It’s clear from the thousands of vacant teaching positions when school began this year that a base salary of $37,000 and the working conditions of the profession make it very difficult to recruit and retain the highly effective, diverse teacher workforce our students deserve and need to succeed. Teacher salaries in North Carolina rank 38th in the nation and fall about $12,000 below the national average. The teacher tax, or the discrepancy between teacher pay and what candidates with similar education and credentials make in other professions, is 24.5%, which makes choosing teaching as a profession a very challenging financial decision regardless of one’s passion and commitment to the job. We must demonstrate our commitment to our students and our educators by compensating them fairly and treating them with respect.
Beyond the General Assembly, North Carolina will be choosing a new U.S. Senator, and 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for grabs, as well as two seats on the NC Supreme Court and 4 Court of Appeals Judgeships. And at the local level, many counties will be voting for county commissioners and school board positions. For more information about the roles that these local, state, and federal policymakers play in crafting education policy, we encourage you to check out our 2022 North Carolina Education Policy Primer — what you learn may surprise you.
We hope you will make a plan to vote and make your voice heard. Our young people are counting on us.