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With the state legislature in session, one topic being approached from several directions deserves all the support that can be mustered: Education.
And by “support,” we do mean “money.”
Gov. Roy Cooper would like to boost public school construction as a major part of a record $3.9 billion bond package on the November 2020 ballot. That’s a prominent ingredient in his two-year budget proposal (along with improving N.C. water treatment systems). He also wants to boost teacher pay by 9.1 percent on average over two years.
“If we set the right priorities, we can value our teachers, build schools for the future and expand Medicaid, all with no new taxes on the people of North Carolina,” Cooper said at a news conference earlier this month.
Expressing some agreement with the Democratic governor is N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, who is advocating a $1.9 billion construction-bond package on the 2020 ballot. While most Republicans are supporting a “pay as you go” plan relying on tax revenues, both Cooper and Moore contend that traditional borrowing is more predictable. It’s not subject to wishy-washy legislators who may decide next year that another corporate tax cut is more important than educating our children.
The “pay as you go” model would also provide less money for immediate needs, such as teacher pay raises, prekindergarten and environmental protections, according to an analysis by Cooper’s budget office. The additional debt is also not significant enough to threaten the state’s finances, according to the budget office.
“Skimming money that should go to teacher pay raises and other school funding is like using your gas money to buy a car,” Cooper said. “A successful school bond is a smarter way to do business.”
Cooper’s proposal has a better chance of passing the legislature than it would have before 2018, thanks to the loss of the Republicans’ veto-proof majority. Maybe Moore could add his considerable influence on his colleagues to achieve a bipartisan win for the state.
Sadly, that’s only a drop in the bucket. There were $13 billion in public-school building and infrastructure needs through 2026, as state educators estimated in 2016.
Also working their way through the legislature is a bipartisan bill requiring schools to provide arts education — though its requirement, one arts-education class between sixth and 12th grade, is pretty skimpy — and another to require that high school students take a financial literacy course and pass a financial literacy test as a condition for graduation. Again, one class may not be enough. But these are both moves in the right direction.
Could someone propose legislation to require classes on critical thinking skills, as well? Teaching our children to apply logic to decision-making could only help them — and the state — in the future.
Media literacy also seems an important educational topic.
In the midst of all this deliberation, legislators in Raleigh should brace for a second teachers’ march on Raleigh scheduled for May 1. “All of the things we marched for last year are not being addressed by the General Assembly,” Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, told N.C. Policy Watch earlier this week. “It’s time for us during this long session to remind them (lawmakers) that education still needs to be a priority.”
Some of the items educators intend to discuss with legislators include additional funding for school psychologists, social workers, nurses and librarians. They also join others who want to expand Medicaid to improve the health of students and their families.
We appreciate fiscal conservancy and don’t want to see money wasted. But legislators have skimped on North Carolina’s schools for too long. An investment in education is always an investment in our future, especially if we can provide children with practical life skills that they can put to use for their communities.