The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday June 20th

Op-ed: North Carolina students deserve better than Thom Tillis

Education is one of the ways we extend opportunity to the next generation. 

I was raised by a family of public school teachers. My Aunt Sis, a second grade teacher at Pickett Elementary in Lexington, North Carolina, taught me from a very young age that a good listener is a good learner. I think the same is true of leaders. 

That is why Thom Tillis’ vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education three years ago today, despite public outcry over her inexperience and hostility toward public education, is a failure of leadership for our state. 

As I travel North Carolina, I listen to students, teachers and families express not only their hopes for the future, but also the anxieties that keep them up at night. From the young people falling into student loan debt due to skyrocketing costs of higher education, to the teachers forced to work a second or third job because they aren’t being paid what they deserve — when it comes to education in this country, we’ve got work to do.

Thom Tillis doesn’t get that. 

He has been leading North Carolina down the wrong path since he came to power as Speaker of the North Carolina House, continuously chipping away at public education, making it harder for students to reach their full potential.

As Speaker of the North Carolina House, Tillis passed a bill that eliminated tax breaks for families saving for college. Senator Tillis voted against legislation to allow student loan borrowers to refinance outstanding debt. And not only did he back Secretary DeVos — one of his campaign donors — he has actually suggested that the Department of Education would be the first department he’d consider cutting.

I have a different vision for North Carolina. 

The opportunity to pursue higher education should be available to anyone who seeks it — not just a privilege for those who can afford it. To achieve that, we need to lower the cost of college and reduce the burden of student loan debt, particularly for African American students, who have been disproportionately impacted by the student loan crisis.

We can start by expanding Pell Grants, fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and giving students the ability to refinance their loans at a lower rate. We should also expand and support the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and work to remove cost as a barrier to community college and technical training. 

Something our state takes great pride in, North Carolina is second in the nation for the number of historically Black colleges and universities. We need to ensure they are funded at the level they deserve. We must also work to diversify our teacher workforce by expanding the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program to HBCUs, and across the state, make sure university faculty reflects the diversity of their students. 

While Betsy DeVos has rolled back policies that protect students from campus sexual assault, I will work to rebuild these protections and strengthen the Department of Education’s Title IX enforcement policies so that every student has equal access to education, regardless of gender. 

For far too long, Thom Tillis has ignored the concerns of North Carolinians. As your next Senator, you can count on me to be a strong advocate for North Carolina students, teachers and families — and always listen. 

 Cal Cunningham 

North Carolina candidate for the U.S. Senate

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