Kati Haycock, CEO of The Education Trust, a nonprofit that focuses on minorities in education, joined Spellings to address public education concerns.
The two agreed on a number of issues despite their differing political ideologies. The forum began with a discussion about the controversial No Child Left Behind Act — which Spellings worked to implement during her time as Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration.
Spellings defended the legislation — which was passed in 2002 with bipartisan support — though she said its implementation had some flaws.
Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, a local education policy organization, said he was pleased to see the two agree.
“Kati and Margaret are representatives of this amazing bipartisan consensus that’s been running in the country for almost 20 years for high standards and not leaving any child behind,” he said.
But Tyler Sharp, a UNC senior, said Spellings has a clear conservative agenda.
“She’s promoted No Child Left Behind, she worked in the Bush years and she’s just overall been sort of a figure of the Republican-appointed BOG,” he said. “Things like what I’ve seen to be a really soft stance on HB2 have made me wonder what are the future policy decisions she’ll be making for this system.”
Spellings also fielded students’ questions about state budget cuts to education and tuition concerns.
In an interview after the forum, Spellings praised the state legislature’s N.C. Promise Tuition Plan — which will lower tuition to $500 per semester at three UNC-system institutions.
“Will you be able to go to Chapel Hill for $500? Not yet, but they’re moving in the right direction and I’m encouraged by that,” she said.
Spellings said the Board of Governors is looking into incentivizing UNC-system schools to graduate students in time through performance-based funding, a topic from the September BOG meeting.
“Right now, we have a system that basically pays people to stay in school as long as possible,” she said.
The themes of affordability and accessibility are key to Spellings’ agenda for the BOG’s strategic plan, which is in the works.
Spellings said preserving HBCUs is critical to accomplish these goals.
“Our problem is on the demand side, not on the supply side,” she said. “And that’s what we need to work on — having every single African-American student and Hispanic student and you-name-it student see an opportunity in this system and at those institutions.”