In my short time as senior education advisor to Gov. Pat McCrory, I have observed a disconnect between the narrative reported about education spending in North Carolina and the facts. Please allow me to highlight several facts I believe are relevant to a discussion about education spending in our great state.
A common cliché today is that education funding in North Carolina has been slashed. It has not. The truth is, total K-12 funding has increased each year of Gov. McCrory’s administration and North Carolina now spends 57 percent of its state budget on education, far higher than the national state average of 46 percent.
Teacher salary raises enacted in 2014 reversed the pay freezes that were enacted under Gov. Beverly Perdue shortly after she took office in 2009. In fact, the 7 percent increase in average teacher salary between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years was the largest teacher pay raise in the entire nation. Overall, North Carolina will spend over $1 billion more for teacher pay through Gov. McCrory’s first term.
As the numbers clearly demonstrate, Gov. McCrory has been prudently increasing education funding while guiding the state through a jobs-producing, economic recovery.
Lost in the debate about education funding is the fact that spending is not the sole predictor of educational quality. Inputs are relevant, but outcomes matter more. In addition to increasing teacher pay and other budgetary contributions, Gov. McCrory continues to support transformational measures to position North Carolina schools as the best in the nation.
For example, North Carolina is on track to be the first state in the country to connect every classroom to high speed wireless Internet. This development will enable a wide range of personalized learning applications for all North Carolina children and has the potential to transform the way students learn.
Gov. McCrory also believes in targeted investments, particularly those that will provide young children a strong educational foundation. The budget he signed provides funds to reduce class size in first grade to one teacher per 16 students by 2016-17. He also signed legislation that will dramatically increase access to summer reading camps to ensure every student achieves the needed literacy by third grade.
In 2014, the governor increased choice for low income parents by enacting the Opportunity Scholarship that provides financial assistance for alternative schooling for students who are not succeeding in a traditional school setting.
To help close the skills gap between employers and recent high school graduates, Gov. McCrory made it possible for NCWorks Career Coaches from our community colleges to be placed in high schools. These coaches work in tandem with counselors to explain to students the opportunities that exist outside the traditional four-year university option.
Gov. McCrory recognizes the role the state’s community colleges play in giving North Carolina citizens the skills they need to prosper in a 21st century economy. He recently instituted year round job-training by funding summer enrollment. He also increased funding to purchase modern instructional equipment and technology to ensure students train with state-of the-art facilities.
I understand the conventional political myth is to equate a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature to a de-emphasis of public education. However, any objective review of the facts bears out that Gov. McCrory is committed to giving our teachers the respect and tools they need to provide our students the skills to be successful in life and the workplace.
There is more work to do, and in the coming weeks, we will introduce additional measures that will build on the accomplishments we have already achieved for North Carolina’s students and teachers.
Catherine Truitt is senior advisor on education for Gov. Pat McCrory.