RALEIGH (January 6, 2022) – North Carolina heaved a collective sigh of relief in 2021 with approval of the first state budget in three years. But enormous issues remain to be resolved in 2022.
We hope, of course, that we at least reach sufficient herd immunity and vaccines for North Carolinians to live with the coronavirus as they do the flu. Effective efforts to help North Carolina students recover from learning loss during the pandemic will also be critical.
But public education in North Carolina still faces big issues that need to be settled this year:
- Raise teacher pay – at all levels. After three years without a budget, legislators and Gov. Roy Cooper finally approved raises for state employees of 2.5% a year in both 2021-22 and 2022-23, plus bonuses. The raises are welcome, but there’s still a long way to go. NC community-college instructors, in particular, rank 41st in the country in pay despite North Carolina’s standing as the nation’s third-largest community college system. Legislators need to continue raising pay for all educators. That includes better pay for nursing instructors, the critical link in the state’s shortage of nurses.
- Resolve Leandro. The state of North Carolina has fought a lawsuit over funding for poor school districts for what now approaches 28 years – an entire generation of students. The case has been decided twice by the state Supreme Court, and ultimately boils down to the rule of law. Judge David Lee issued an order last year for the state to spend $1.7 billion for the first two years of a plan to increase school funding by $5.6 billion over eight years. But state legislators did not fully comply. Better-prepared high school graduates mean better-educated graduates of our public colleges and universities. They mean better employees for our growing industries and small business. Will the N.C. General Assembly finally make education a priority?
- Rethink the UNC System move to Raleigh and consolidation with the NC Community College System.
You want to spend a hundred million dollars on WHAT?
The new state budget includes orders for the UNC System Office to move from Chapel Hill to Raleigh by the end of 2022. It includes $3.75 million for the system to rent office space while a new headquarters is built. And it includes $11 million to plan a $100 million UNC headquarters in the state government complex in Raleigh, with an eye toward consolidating the UNC and Community College systems.1
There’s nothing wrong with moving the UNC System Office – its old building is outdated. Research Triangle Park, as former UNC System President Tom Ross suggested, would make a nice neutral site for a new headquarters. But putting the UNC System Office within sight of the Legislative Building would only further politicize an operation that’s already too political.
The UNC System and the NC Community College System are fine institutions. But their cultures are very, very different – community colleges are very much locally controlled and responsive, whereas the university system is increasingly centrally controlled. Don’t try to mash those two together. They’re both great – but they have different missions.
- Stop politicizing and micromanaging higher education in North Carolina. Whether it’s the UNC System Office move, the selection process for a new chancellor at Fayetteville State, the search for a provost at UNC-Chapel Hill or the extended debate over tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones, higher education in our state has become far too politicized. And the primary target appears to be UNC Chapel Hill. State legislators need to revise how they appoint members of the UNC Board of Governors to create a board that is more representative of the student body and the state as a whole. And members of governing boards need to remember the dictum: “Noses in, fingers out.”
1 https://www.wral.com/budget-plans-moving-unc-system-offices-potential-remake-for-downtown-raleigh-government-campus/19988744/; https://www.theassemblync.com/long-form/uncs-mild-mannered-change-agent/.
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