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NC Educators Call 2019 Critical Year for Legislation

North Carolina legislators will hear a proposal to provide $1.3 billion for K-12 construction needs, $300 million to the UNC system, and $300 million to community colleges. (Gerry Dincher/Flickr)
North Carolina legislators will hear a proposal to provide $1.3 billion for K-12 construction needs, $300 million to the UNC system, and $300 million to community colleges. (Gerry Dincher/Flickr)
January 4, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina public schools could see progress toward funding to update facilities and technology and decrease class sizes – but it will require state lawmakers to agree that an almost $2 billion public school bond is needed.

If the idea makes it through the new legislative session, the bond would be considered by voters in a 2020 ballot referendum.

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, says his organization of more than 30,000 members isn't the only group that thinks consideration is long overdue.

"My feelings right now are about what everybody else's in public education is,” says Jewell. “Particularly our parents, and our community members and our students – and it's that this needed to be put on the ballot years ago."

North Carolina lawmakers were told nearly three years ago that the state's school infrastructure needs had reached more than $8 billion. Despite bipartisan support, putting the referendum on the ballot has been stymied so far.

N.C. law mandates that local governments are responsible for school construction expenses.

Shortly after the midterm election, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore announced he'd file a bill to get the public-school bond on the ballot, and vowed to go on a statewide tour to garner support for it.

Winston-Salem teacher Tripp Jeffers, a former Forsyth County NCAE president, believes the 2018 elections and last year's teacher protest convinced lawmakers to listen.

"When 30,000 educators called into their local 'sub-finder' systems and asked to take a personal day, we closed down three-fourths of the schools in the entire state,” says Jeffers. “We effectively used our collective power to make a political statement and then, went to Raleigh and marched 30,000 strong."

Lawmakers did authorize, and voters approved, a $2 billion dollar bond in 2016 for STEM facilities on UNC campuses, but educators say K-12 schools still face overcrowding and crumbling facilities in some of North Carolina's poorer regions.

Jewell says students in North Carolina deserve better, and points out that facility needs and construction costs will only continue to grow.

"You know, the latest figures show that we have about an $8 billion facilities need,” says Jewell. “Many of the rural schools haven't had a new building since the 1980s, and we have ten of thousands of students that are going to school in trailers. And that's just simply unacceptable."

North Carolina ranks 37th in the nation for average teacher pay, and 39th for per-pupil spending, according to the National Education Association.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Antionette Kerr, Public News Service - NC