The State of Schools: Lobbyist Agenda on Public Ed Spending

By: Chris Long

According to the US Census Bureau, North Carolina is 44th in the nation in amount of money spent per student enrolled in the state’s public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, North Carolina ranks 47th in the nation in terms of average teacher pay. This average teacher pay sits at $45,947, well below the national average of $56,383.

As the state of North Carolina moves toward another major election in 2016, one of the major topics for governor and General Assembly candidates to answer from voters will undoubtedly be that of public school funding. The candidates are not the only people concerned with the problem of public education spending. Lobbyists spend their time trying to persuade those serving in the General Assembly to cast their vote for a certain side of an argument. In the NC General Assembly, there are more lobbyists concerned with public education spending than those concerned with any other topic. The following is a list of lobbyist agendas on the topic of education for both the Republican and Democratic parties in the NC General Assembly. It is important to note that currently North Carolina has a Republican governor and the Republicans control the General Assembly.

Republicans

The Republicans claim that North Carolina’s bad standing in many public school statistics is a result of local governments giving so little to their public schools. They also claim that the loss of so many jobs in North carolina is due to the local school districts. According to the NC House Republicans’ website “The General Assembly authorizes a certain number of positions for each school district, and it’s up to the school district to hire people to fill those positions.” Their lobbyists say that the budget passed in September has room for the school districts to fill the jobs that were present in the past, however, the districts have chosen to cut jobs because they want to maximize their profit.

Teacher pay is another hot topic for the Republicans.Their lobbyists claim that the low teacher pay is again because of the local governments. While the base pay of teachers is determined by the General Assembly, local governments have the final say in exactly how much their teachers make. The Republicans point out that in many areas, the local governments have been giving other projects higher priorities than giving their teachers raises. The Republicans are quick to point at the city of Asheville as a prime example of this. In the summer of 2013 the city council of Asheville decided to give $2 million to a non-profit that runs a museum, instead of giving their local teachers raises.

Finally, the Republicans do admit to wanting teacher tenure to end. While this has been ruled unconstitutional by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the Republicans still believe it is in the best interest for the state’s schools to cut teacher tenure. Without teacher tenure, the Republicans say that the best teachers can be hired and retained in the school. According to Phil Berger “…it is difficult to understand how administrators can name their very best teacher, but cannot identify the top 25 percent. It is even more ludicrous that these administrators can give a permanent pay raise for top performing teachers” They point out that unlike college professors who must be reviewed by their peers before receiving tenure, public school teachers automatically get their tenure after four years. Since teachers automatically get their tenure, the Republicans say that a lot of money is abused, and they want to use that money in ways more beneficial for students.

Democrats

Generally, the Democrats oppose most of the ideas listed above and many of them sit frustrated in the General Assembly with little power to change anything. The Democrats believe that the pay for educators in the state should reflect the respect that we have for them. In addition, the Democrats believe in spending money on grants that allow students to be able to go to college who may not be able to otherwise. Also, unlike the Republicans, the Democrats believe in spending more state money on public education instead of relying on income from the local governments. If the Democrats had their way, they claim that they would increase the amount of money spent on public education.

On the subject of teacher tenure, according to the the North Carolina Democratic Party’s website, Democrats believe that the removal of tenure “both violates and removes due process protections” for teachers who are “already undervalued.” They also believed that it threatens academic freedom that harms both educators and students. In order to improve the school systems of North Carolina, protecting teacher tenure is very important to the Democrats. Earlier this month when the removal of teacher tenure was ruled unconstitutional, Democratic Representitive Larry D. Hall from Durham was pleased with the ruling and said that it had “acted to block this specific assault on educators in this state.”

Lastly, the Democrats believe that teacher pay and the amount of jobs that are cut are harmful to student’s learning experiences. They want the state to stop cutting teacher jobs and actually start adding them. In addition to adding jobs, the Democrats want all teachers to be paid more in order to compete with virtually every other state. According to the North Carolina Democratic Party’s website, they “urge the Legislature to increase teacher salaries, increase professional support for beginning teachers, restore and protect tenure, and halt any further cuts to the state teaching staff, whether in professional or supporting roles.” In order to add these new jobs and increase the teacher pay, the Democrats realize that they would need to add spending as a part of the yearly education budget.

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