Education is an issue near and dear to my wife Rhonda and me. Rhonda was an early childhood educator in Watauga and Avery Counties for more than twenty years before becoming a lecturer at Appalachian State. I have been privileged to teach computer science at Appalachian State for 29 years. Before coming to Appalachian State, I taught for ten years at universities across the Southeast.
We have been proud to serve in North Carolina schools and continue the tradition of excellence that education in North Carolina has had for many decades. The North Carolina Association of Educators endorsed my campaign again this year. I look forward to continuing to improve education in North Carolina for our students and teachers.
Covid-19 has made educating our students harder than before
Educating students during a pandemic is one of the greatest challenges we face as this crisis continues to unfold across our state and the country. This challenge is made even more difficult as many students have inadequate access to broadband that makes it impossible to keep up with their peers. I’ve been the primary sponsor on a bill in Raleigh that would provide Ashe and Watauga Counties the funds necessary to begin expanding broadband to underserved communities and locations throughout the district.
COVID-19 has further widened gaps in our education system. With more and more learning moving online, the lack of access to broadband in rural communities is leaving many students from impoverished families behind. This is both unacceptable and fixable.
Budget cuts have hurt our schools and our children
North Carolina, for many years, was the shining example of the southern United States in our forward-thinking investments in education. In the past decade, per pupil adjusted spending has declined by 8%. That is a loss of $820 per child in the 93rd District, a total sum of nearly $5.5 million every year. Moreover, as warned by the Leandro decision, the General Assembly must invest roughly $8 billion into education in the next eight years in order to meet the state constitution’s standard of a “sound and basic education” for every child in North Carolina.
Further addressing chronic underfunding of education in North Carolina, we must do more to retain the quality teachers who are leaving their jobs in North Carolina to earn higher salaries in other states or are simply leaving the profession altogether because they do not make enough to support themselves or their families. The Republicans in the state legislature have a terrible record when it comes to education since 2010: the purchasing power of the average teacher’s pay has fallen by nearly 12% in North Carolina since 2008, when adjusted for inflation, and they have effectively reduced the NC Teachers Fellows program to a shell of what it was when created under former Governor Jim Martin.
Budgets are statements of values and morality. If we value something, we fund it. As of now, the Republican Budget sitting in the North Carolina Senate does not represent the values of North Carolina. I, along with House Democrats, held firm on refusing to override Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the Republican Budget because it does not value the work that educators do, and it does not value the students receiving a valuable education. We do not need $100 million of corporate tax cuts. We need more investment in our teachers and supplies for students. We need more counselors and nurses to better serve our children. We need hundreds of millions of dollars in school repair and construction immediately.
I have a record of fighting for our teachers and students in the General Assembly. I was a primary sponsor of HB 1130 and a co-sponsor on H B1129, bills that if passed, would raise school funding to the constitutionally mandated levels enumerated in the NC Supreme Court’s Leandro decision. I was also proud to co-sponsor bills that would expand funding and placement for pre-K programs, bringing back master’s degree pay for teachers, and restoring the NC Teaching Fellows program that the Republicans have so foolishly cut to a fraction of what it used to be. But more importantly, I will continue to fight for teachers and students to have the same access to the same levels of funding they did pre-recession.
Community colleges and universities are vital to healthy communities
Excellent community colleges and universities are an economic driver for our state. A well-educated population is a must for new employers considering expansion into North Carolina and crucial for entrepreneurial efforts that drive innovation from within the state. Our community colleges and universities stand on the frontline for economic expansion.
Funding for community colleges has been slashed by 17% since 2008. Our community colleges are struggling to teach students the skills they need to enter our 21st century economy. Time and again, I have heard from business leaders that the shortage of skilled labor is one of the greatest challenges to economic development in North Carolina. North Carolina must invest in job skills training through our community college system.
In Raleigh, I will continue to push for common-sense investment in the UNC system, our world-class community college system, and technical programs.