Over this legislative season, I have been proud to work in the North Carolina Senate to create lasting and real change to better the lives of citizens in District 48 and across the state. Some of the changes that I am most proud of are the changes that we have made to education.
In this budget we have simultaneously worked to increase education spending and increase teacher salary, while preserving the Republican Senate’s commitment to lowering class size.
Since October 2016, the four major newspapers in District 48 have printed over 40 articles criticizing the legislature for working to maintain lower class sizes for K-3 students. This number includes six articles written since February 9th, 2018- a date after the session in which the legislature addressed all concerns of the education community. The legislature allotted an additional $61,359,225 to cover the costs of all specials teachers and an additional $57.8 million to the schools in counties that may be affected by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Not once was I, the Senator for District 48 and a member of the Senate Education Committee, asked to provide a comment or insight for any of these six articles.
Even after these changes, these six articles continued the negative slant on what the legislature has done for education. An article titled “Schools to get more time, money to meet class size mandate” by Andrew Mundhenk published in the Hendersonville Times-News on February 8th, 2018 stated “A new deal announced by state lawmakers Thursday spares Henderson County elementary schools from meeting a class size mandate that would have threatened physical education, art, music and other enhancement programs.” This article could have just as easily read “State lawmakers pass legislation that fully funds lowered teacher-to-pupil ratios, giving teachers more time to spend with students so to improve their chances to learn the skills they will require to get a great education.”
If these journalists had come to me for a comment, I would have told them that we were waiting on numbers from each Local Educating Authority (LEA) to see how much money would need to be allotted to cover funding. I would have also shared that I had personally met with each superintendent in our district, spoken to school boards and PTOs to discuss the disconnect in our funding and the money they claimed was missing. From the beginning, this was not an “unfunded mandate” as the media liked to call it. Funding increased to LEAs to account for the change. We had to take time to learn about what that money was used for and by how much funding needed to increase before acting. These were issues I worked tirelessly to understand, as did my Senate counterparts.
Instead of playing politics with our children’s education, efforts would have been better spent on understanding both sides of this issue. However, the media continued to focus in on the negative. The facts are that education spending increased to over $700 million, North Carolina teachers are now averaging over $50,000 in salary for the first time ($51,214 avg. for 2018 according to DPI), the Pre-K waitlist is now fully funded and lower class sizes will still be achieved for K-3 students.
It is deeply concerning that the media would mischaracterize the intentions of the legislature in such a way. Our goals remain clear, to continue down the path of bettering North Carolina’s education by providing for those most affected by education policy- our teachers, students and parents. This intent is underlined by all that the General Assembly has done over the past legislative year. Each citizen represented by a group affected by education policy needs to know that the legislature is working for you, even if the media is not representing that to be true. I now believe it is my job to share these truths with you so that no one can misinterpret my intent.
I have remained open to hearing concerns of those invested in education. Even creating a survey to allow citizens in my district to share their concerns and ideas with me regarding education.
It is my hope that this open letter can work to bridge the gap between the objectives of this legislature and what is being shared with the public.