Election season is upon us! Absentee ballots are now available and in-person early voting starts on October 20, 2022. As you make decisions on candidates, consider how each one has an impact on public education. This week we focus on N.C. legislators and judges.
Legislators. In the U.S, individual state governments have the primary responsibility for education, and each state determines the extent to which control is delegated to local governments. In North Carolina, the Department of Public Instruction provides statewide leadership in education, implements legislation related to education, and develops policies and guidance to support local education agencies (school districts) as they conduct the day-to-day work of educating students.
The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) comprises members of the N.C. House of Representatives and Senate. They make the laws that govern education within the states. The legislature can, through their statutory powers, regulate (or delegate) public preschool, primary and secondary education; license private preschools, primary, and secondary schools; and license or otherwise regulate parents providing home schooling. They also, in many cases, influence curricula, standards, and procedures.
Every two years, all 50 North Carolina Senate seats and 120 North Carolina House of Representative seats are elected (on even years). This fall voters have the opportunity to change the course of education in the state and elect legislators who truly value a strong public education system.
The North Carolina State Constitution clearly establishes the General Assembly’s essential role in funding public education. Article IX Section 2 of the N.C. Constitution states that “The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”
The N.C. General Assembly is heavily involved in setting a wide range of policies that impact every school district. Most importantly, it develops the state budget that provides about 67% of the education funding in North Carolina. About 23% comes from the federal government and the remaining 10% on average comes from local coffers.
However, communities across the state vary widely in their ability to supplement the state and federal dollars so the state dollars provide a critical baseline for equity and quality. In each budget, our state legislators make decisions about whether to fully fund the numerous programs that have an impact on public education. For example, they could choose to raise teacher salaries to a competitive level, boost pay for child-care workers, start universal Pre-K and pay for every child in NC to have free access, and fully fund all of the provisions of the Leandro plan. The decades-long Leandro case is an example of what may result when the NCGA doesn’t fulfill its constitutional obligations (Read our fact sheet on Leandro).
The NCGA also establishes policies and regulations such as high school graduation requirements and teacher certification standards that directly affect all public schools. They make policies that are frequently tied to the funding decisions as well as operations for the local school district such as the school calendar and the number of days of instruction required. A few examples of recent legislative actions include:
- Set educator salaries and policies around raises, bonuses, and promotions.
- Determined the base rates for teacher, principal, and other educational staff salaries
- Tied principal salaries to 1 year of test score growth.
- Declined making the A-F School Performance Grades more fair (Read our fact sheet).
- Significantly reduced funding for the NC Teaching Fellows Program in 2010, effectively eliminating the program as of 2015 and then establishing a scaled-back version in 2017.
- Funded school safety programs, workforce development programs, early college programs
- Authorized voucher programs in 2013 and greatly expanded funding for them in 2021 and 2022 (Read our fact sheet.)
- Established numerous policies in areas such as school discipline, school safety, and curriculum.
The NCGA is also directly responsible for providing resources for our higher education systems including the North Carolina Community College System and the University of North Carolina system. The health of the post-high school education and adult education opportunities available to North Carolinians almost solely rests in the hands of the legislators who will be elected this fall.
Judges. The Leandro case highlights the importance of our courts in ensuring a quality system of free public education for all students. It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of education in North Carolina hinges on the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision on whether to require the NCGA to meet the requirements of our state constitution and properly fund public education to ensure a sound, basic education for all students.
Other issues over the past decade decided by the NC Supreme Court include allowing school vouchers and establishing the extent to which charter schools must follow state guidelines.
For example, are charter schools legally bound to provide accurate enrollment numbers to the state? These and other issues are decided by the judges elected by NC voters.
This fall, 2 of 7 N.C. Supreme Court seats and 4 of 15 NC Court of Appeals seats are up for grabs. These seats will decide consequential cases for years to come.
When you to go the polls, remember that a vote for a candidate who supports public schools is a vote for all children and the future of our communities. We invited candidates to complete our position questionnaire-see who responded at bottom of this web page.
Here are 13 questions you can ask every candidate.