State of Education sparks debate at forum

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Staff photo by Cole Dittmer 

Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, converses with former Democrat United States Rep. Bob Etheridge prior to the State of Education in North Carolina forum held in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Education Building on Thursday, Oct. 17. Other elected officials like Rep. Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover, and Senator Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, also sat on the forum panel.

Generating much conversation and commentary from the crowd, North Carolina legislators and education heads talked about the recent changes in education laws that will have both immediate and long-term impacts.

The two-hour State of Education in North Carolina discussion was held on Thursday, Oct. 17, in the University of North Carolina Wilmington education building, and circled around per pupil funds, master’s degree supplement cuts, teacher tenure elimination by 2018 and school voucher money.

There was a clear divide between Republicans and Democrats on the panel. Forum and audience members threw numbers back and forth to show the significance of the changes.

Dr. Edward Pruden, superintendent of Brunswick County Public Schools, said countywide in Brunswick County 132 teachers have to be chosen by the end of the 2013-14 school year to be offered a four-year contract and a $5,000 raise split throughout four years. Pruden said school administrators have no rationale or way to tell the 133rd teacher why she did not get the money.

“That’s why it’s so contentious,” Pruden said. “… Please don’t do anything that divides us and keeps us from working powerfully.”

Earlier in the discussion, Pruden said there is a teacher salary gap of $10,000 with all neighboring states.

On the other side of the debate, Senator Thom Goolsby, referencing the Highlights of the North Carolina Public Schools Budget from February 2013, said that in 2012 North Carolina ranked 11th in the United States and second in the southeast for school funds from the state at 62 percent.

He said Democrats cut $840 million in school funding before and $361 million was added by Republicans. Audience members, most of whom vocally sided with the Democrats on the panel, said that was not true.

“It’s easy to bash the legislature,” Goolsby said. “It’s easy to bash the Republicans.”

Federal and state school funds are per pupil, with the average amount spent per student at $8,400 annually.

Former Democrat United States Representative Bob Etheridge said there is more money this year than in 2008, but there are also more children. He said the amounts mean a decrease of $327 less per child.

School administrators, like Pruden, are worried that the cuts to master’s degree supplements will drive more teachers away.

“We are really faced with losing a profession in this state, and it’s the most important profession to each and every one of us,” Democratic Representative Susi Hamilton said. “… I want to take care of the people who are taking care of my daughter.”

Republican Representative Ted Davis Jr., who is also a former New Hanover County commissioner, said representatives have to look at the pot of money that the state has and make decisions on what to spend it on. He asked people to look at all of the problems legislators were trying to tackle.


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