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Will North Carolina elected officials keep their commitment to provide quality education to all students?

The campaign is over, all the votes have been counted, and nationally we’re as divided as ever with more than 60 million Americans voting for the candidate that did not win the presidency. Hopefully, President-elect Donald Trump will be thoughtful and respectful of all Americans, removing the legitimate fear that many citizens have of his presidency. He will have the opportunity to give that assurance and to lead our country. It is now time for governance and accountability.

Here in North Carolina, the gubernatorial race remains in a state of uncertainty given our current governor will not concede until all provisional ballots are counted. As someone who has experienced the personal nature of running for public office, it’s imperative that our state and nation move forward – the ideals that we believe in, the future that we want depends on us moving forward and working together, Republicans, Democrats, and independents, holding our elected officials accountable. This is the beauty and strength of our democracy.

One issue that deserves our attention now that the votes have been cast, is the importance of a quality education for all our students to the future of our state’s economic security. As important, it’s critical that our elected officials appreciate and understand that all students have the potential to add to our state’s competitiveness (or not). And for those of us that live in rural North Carolina, the question is: Do we care enough about the future of our students and our state to hold our elected officials accountable?

During this election all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, supported quality education for all of our state’s public school students, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status. Once elected, will they take meaningful action to fulfill their commitment to voters?

In my view, if North Carolina permits one half of the state’s public school students to continue to receive a mediocre or substandard education, not only does it impact the long-term growth of our state’s economy, but it will severely undermine the years of progress in our state’s image as a leader of innovation.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s 2016 Roadmap of Need report made a staggering revelation that:

“Our state is becoming ‘two North Carolinas’ — one populated by young people living in areas that are attracting jobs and industry, and another populated by young people living in communities in a state of economic decline.”

Residents of rural communities expect that their students will receive a high quality education that will enable them to be competitive as they move forward in life. However, too many of our rural communities share the dual challenges of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, and seeking sorely needed resources for curriculum development and improvement. The reality is that many rural school districts are also considered low-wealth districts, without adequate housing, employment, transportation and digital infrastructure to give educators and students the ability to be competitive.

This year, we’ve seen education become a major issue, as it should be, but importantly, the issue will gain traction at the policymaking level, if voters not only vote, but insist on results by their elected leaders. Our state’s future depends on it, particularly as it relates to the investment by our state’s leadership for students, no matter their zip code. Good education should not be dependent upon partisan politics, but instead it should be a commitment from our citizens, businesses, civic organizations and our elected officials to invest sufficiently in education, including rural schools.

North Carolina, as in many other states, is undergoing a 21st Century jobs transformation, which “involves the state’s shift from an economy based on traditional manufacturing to a new economy driven increasingly by knowledge-intensive, business services activities” as reported in the State of North Carolina Workforce 2007-2017. This report further denotes that the future prosperity of all North Carolinians depends on achieving higher educational attainment for all of our citizens. Unmistakably, providing high quality public education is critical to these types of job opportunities.

Holding newly elected officials accountable is critically important for all of us, who remain focused and committed to ensuring that our next generation of leaders has a quality education and the opportunities to live up to their God-given potential.

Voters across the state, in every corner, should not be satisfied until every student in North Carolina has the same opportunity that we want for our own children and grandchildren — our state’s future depends on it.

Eva Clayton

Eva Clayton represented the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1992-2002. She and her husband live in Littleton.