Leandro report sharply at odds with Dan Forest’s dubious claims on NC education funding

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Late last week, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest ruffled feathers by sending a highly partisan, self-serving campaign email to all 100,000 of North Carolina’s teachers.  In the email, Forest, who just filed to run for governor in next year’s general election, blasted Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoing of the state budget and an educator salary bill.  

Forest made disingenuous references to cuts in education funding that occurred under Democratic rule as a result of the Great Recession and boasted about pay increases and efforts on overall education funding that have occurred since Republicans took control of state government in 2011.

Yesterday the much-anticipated Leandro report was made public.  The report is the result of a comprehensive, year-long study by non-partisan education consultants who were appointed by North Carolina courts to take a detailed, systematic look at whether or not the state is living up to its constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education” to each child.

The report is 300 pages long, and it’s going to take time to digest.  But it’s clear that the consultants’ view of North Carolina’s funding of public education differs sharply with that of Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest:

North Carolina was recognized during the 1980s and 1990s as an example of how state policymakers could turn a state around by making strong investments in teachers’ knowledge and skills and in early childhood support and education and by establishing standards for students and teachers. The state was extensively studied by the National Education Goals Panel when its efforts resulted in sharp increases in student performance and reduction in the achievement gap…

However, cutbacks that began during the recession after 2008, along with much deeper legislative cuts over the last few years, have eliminated or greatly reduced many of the programs that were put in place and have begun to undermine the quality and equity gains that were previously made.

Specifically, the WestEd report finds the following changes have crippled North Carolina’s ability to serve the needs of students, particularly those of our economically disadvantaged children:

  • Cuts to funding for DPI’s District and School Transformation have hampered efforts to improve low-performing schools.
  • The state has failed to provide adequate funding for student support services (e.g. counselors and social workers).
  • The Teaching Fellows program which was so critical to providing motivated, high quality teachers to North Carolina classrooms was discontinued by legislators and subsequently restarted at a much smaller scale.
  • Funding for professional development of teachers has decreased.
  • Budget cuts have reduced the total number of teachers employed in NC by 5% from 2009 to 2018.  During that time, student enrollment has increased 12%, meaning much larger class sizes.
  • Over the last decade, changes to curriculum have occurred as part of an effort to prepare students for a rapidly advancing society.  However, there has not been adequate investment by the state in providing the professional learning needed to implement those changes effectively.
  • The number of English language learners more than doubled from 2000 to 2015 (from 3% to 7% of students), creating a need for an educator workforce that employs more culturally responsive teaching approaches.  State funding for education has not kept pace with this growth, as per-pupil spending in North Carolina has declined by 6% over the last decade when numbers are adjusted for inflation.

Education is going to be the most important campaign issue in the 2020 election.  It’s critical that we elect leaders who believe in adequately funding our schools so we that can provide North Carolina’s students with the opportunities they deserve.

The WestEd report can be found in its entirety below:

Sound-Basic-Education-for-All-An-Action-Plan-for-North-Carolina

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