“When it comes to our state budget, education is the single largest item, because it’s the single greatest priority that we have – and we’re going to continue to fund it,” Moore told about 50 listeners at a private gathering underwritten by Higher Education Works board members Paul Fulton and Rob Welch.
The forum was intended to focus on education issues, and the discussion among business, education and community leaders covered a wide variety of related topics:
• Tax cuts: With the General Assembly set to convene for its “short” session in May, Moore raised the topic of further tax cuts. “North Carolina is doing well with the tax reform we’ve adopted,” he said, noting that the state has moved from 44th to 11th in rankings by the conservative Tax Foundation.
He added that average take-home pay and salaries have increased, and that Forbes recently ranked North Carolina the number-one state in the nation to do business.
“We’ve had great reform. We have other tax cuts that are going to trigger and go in this year. I don’t see the need to adopt another round of tax reform this year,” Moore said. “I think we’ve got good things in place. We need to let the dust settle.”
Considerable discussion followed on state tax policy and its impact on the ability to properly fund public education.
• Pre-Kindergarten: With a class-size bill legislators adopted last month, they eliminated the state’s entire waiting list for pre-K. In addition to providing for enough children to enroll, Moore said legislators are committed to providing qualified teachers, and the state’s universities play a key role in that.
• K-12 teacher salaries: Moore and Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said legislators have raised salaries for starting teachers from $32,000 in 2011 to $35,000 today, and that they aim to raise average teacher pay in the state to $50,000 and eventually $55,000.
• University faculty salaries: Moore acknowledged that while state university faculty received a raise last year, it was not enough to stem poaching by competing universities, and legislators need to do more.
• Connect NC bonds: The bonds NC voters approved in 2016 generate $10 million a month for the state’s economy, and that will soon jump to $40 million a month. University projects paid for by the bonds generally are in the STEM fields science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
• Research at UNC-CH and NCSU: UNC-Chapel Hill ranks among the nation’s top universities in funding from the National Institutes of Health. Moore emphasized that legislators need to support more research positions on UNC System campuses to leverage federal dollars.
• NC Promise: A new program will offer in-state tuition of $500 a semester at Western Carolina University, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University starting next fall. The $51 million effort helps meet the state’s constitutional mandate for low tuition, and the NC Promise schools have seen a significant increase in applications.
• Guaranteed tuition: Along with NC Promise, legislators required that state universities charge students the same tuition level for four years.
• Early College: Moore said his younger son is a sophomore at an Early College high school, where students can earn as much as two years’ worth of college credit while completing high school. Students emerge with two years of college completed.
• Community colleges: In response to a question about short-term skills training at Forsyth Technical Community College, Moore said unemployed workers in his hometown of Kings Mountain turned to community colleges for training after a wave of textile-mill closings in the 1990s.
Horn, a co-chair of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said legislators have begun to put dollars into apprenticeship programs they once ignored, and he said legislators need to provide more support for both skills training and Early College at the state’s community colleges.
MOORE CLOSED by noting that North Carolina is part of a global economy. “We’re not competing with other states; we’re competing with other countries,” he said.
Brandishing his iPhone, he asked whether anyone could have imagined such a device 30 years ago.
“What’s the technology that will be here 30 years from now that we’re not even thinking about? Some of those things are on the campuses,” he said. “Our colleges and universities are critical to developing that technology and developing that workforce to get us there.”