Over the last several weeks, I have met with thousands of North Carolina parents and teachers. My district’s Union County Public Schools has been recognized as the highest performing large school district in the state and its own Weddington High School was singled out as the best overall performing high school in North Carolina. Parents and teachers, who are afraid this will end as a result of anticipated funding cuts and teacher layoffs, understand that smart teachers and TA’s have achieved these results by working with parents and kids.
One mother wrote: “We cannot afford to hide behind the way business has been done in the past.” She is absolutely right! We need a fundamental overhaul of how we tax, spend, and administrate. We must value and reward these incredible men and women that teach, counsel, coach, and encourage our students. Our instructional personnel often direct traffic, meet with parents, attend interminable meetings, fix broken hearts, and in some cases, change diapers. We have placed burdens on teachers that were not even considered when most of us were in school.
We must stop micro-managing teachers and principals and remove the burdens of bureaucracy. Testing has become the goal of teaching rather than the measure of learning. Last year, the General Assembly passed The Teacher Paperwork Reduction Act, eliminating redundant reports and reducing the number of state-mandated student tests. We must allow local school districts to put money where it is most needed, rather than enacting mandates, deadlines, and tests.
The General Assembly must thoroughly review, carefully construct and realistically implement new concepts by drawing on successful ideas in places like Florida and Indiana. For example: the funding allocation formula is a muddle of unnecessary rules and regulations from the state and federal government. We must all share the responsibility and we all must share in the fix.
We must be responsible and responsive in how we perform education in North Carolina. Parents deserve to know how their schools are performing and be able to send their kids where they will get the best educational opportunities. They will not simply accept that the state is broke or that our schools are broken. They want it fixed. I don’t blame them.
Education is the top budget priority in North Carolina, accounting for nearly 60% of the state’s $20 billion annual budget. North Carolina ranks 11th in the nation in education funding and was recently recognized by The White House as 10th in the nation in increased education spending. And yet, funding challenges remain.
Simply raising taxes is not an answer. Raising taxes makes poor people poorer. We must use that strangest of all virtues, common sense. The nice-to-do must be set aside while we fund the need-to-do. Partnerships with local education organizations and the flexible application of all available resources are part of the solution. The General Assembly must fund education sufficiently, but put new emphasis on ensuring that the people’s money is used wisely.
Smart Boards are no replacement for smart teachers. Smart teachers and smart teaching assistants in the classroom, working with smart parents at home, is how we will make North Carolina “The Smart Kids State.”