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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: North Carolina needs a higher budget for education

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Gov. Roy Cooper stands before members of the media following a press conference introducing Well Dot Inc. to the Chapel Hill area on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.

Public schools are essential parts of society, providing education and opportunities at a standard taxpayer cost. Teachers at these schools propel students' success. However, in North Carolina, a state with the most board-certified teachers in public schools nationally, the beginning teacher pay ranks 46th.

This lack of funding in education creates setbacks for students and teachers. For students, it can create a disparity between access to educational resources and opportunities based on their socioeconomic status, impairing their future success. For teachers, it can affect their decision to reside in a state not valuing them. Public schools and teachers deserve more funding.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced 2024 as the “Year of Public Schools” in North Carolina. The necessity of this cannot be understated. Cooper has called for a meaningful increase in public school funding, including in teacher pay, which has been severely lacking in recent years.

Between educational labor shortages after the COVID-19 pandemic; the importance of wage investment; and North Carolina’s historical lack of equal education access, N.C. teachers must be valued more. Low state funding toward education coupled with recent events increases the necessity of a significant boost in teachers' wages.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. workforce faced significant losses, particularly in the education sector. A survey done by the RAND Corporation indicated that about 1 in 4 teachers desired to leave their jobs at the end of the 2020-21 school year. While increasing teacher stress and burnout, the pandemic heightened the responsibilities of teachers, from creating virtual lessons to monitoring online cheating.

According to a figure from the N.C. Department of Commerce, the state had 9,100 fewer school workers in 2021 than the expected amount based on employment trends. While teacher attrition has fallen slightly since the 2021-22 school year, it is at its second-highest level since before the 2017-18 year. Already having a relatively low budget for education spending before 2020, the lasting effects of the pandemic on teachers emphasize the need for a wage increase.

State education funding goes toward the wages of public school teachers, which about 90 percent of the state is taught by. Considering the large number of students who are enrolled in state-funded schools, students need to be invested in statewide and public school teachers need to be appropriately paid.

Education policy is not a new topic in N.C. politics. In 1997, Leandro v. State of North Carolina argued that equal access to education, between private and public educational disparities, was not ensured in the state, citing North Carolina as one of the lowest-funded educational programs in the country.

Twenty-five years later, this ruling is still in dispute, as North Carolina has not invested the proper amount of money in each student. It is critical that the public school system can provide education to all students, regardless of race, English-speaking ability and demographic. North Carolina has multiple prestigious public universities, and many students from public schools in the state go on to attend them. If their education is not well invested in, they are less prepared and at an overall disadvantage.

North Carolina spends about $5,000 less per student than the national average, placing it at No. 46 in student investment. In 2021, New York was ranked first in student investment, spending $27,265 on per-pupil funding, which is a stark contrast to North Carolina’s $11,263.

Equal funding sets the foundation for a functioning school system, from preschool to graduating high school. It is essential that each student has a fair advantage to enable their future success. Teachers, who have been historically underpaid in North Carolina, deserve a fair wage both for themselves and if we are to truly help students find success in education.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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