Looking back over 2018, it was a good year for advancing good public education policies. Teachers received another raise, a compromise was reached which will reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, and most importantly Wake County voters overwhelmingly supported a $583 million bond referendum to renovate existing and build new schools.
Those successes aren’t an end, however. They are just the beginning.
Looking ahead to 2019, WakeEd is focused on several education policy initiatives at the state and local level. Development of WCPSS and Wake County Government budgets have already begun. The General Assembly will start its new biennial session on January 7 as several new members are sworn in, including six in Wake County alone.
WakeEd will be working with elected officials throughout the legislative and local budget seasons to promote effective public education policies and advocate for increased funding for specific initiatives in key operating areas of school spending.
State and local funding has been a contentious issue for several years. Critics of the General Assembly say that per-pupil spending is well below where it should be, and it has not fully recovered from the beginning of the Great Recession a decade ago. However, General Assembly leaders correctly say they have increased education funding, including teacher pay, for five consecutive years.
Since education funding gets a lot of attention at budget time, it’s easy to forget that other areas of state funding would benefit from increased spending or even experience increase costs out of the state’s control.
That said, there’s still room for improvement. North Carolina is still not the most competitive in public school spending in several categories. WakeEd fully supports increasing public education spending at the state level in the next budget. In education alone, there are several priorities that will draw the most attention. Those are expected to be:
- increased funding for Pre-K programs
- school security and safety,
- hiring more social workers, nurses, social workers, and psychologists,
- teacher recruitment and retention,
- making improvements to the new principal salary schedule, and
- state-wide school construction bond referendum for the 2020 election.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but WakeEd will be working with legislators to provide them with the perspective of how these measures affect the state’s largest school district which also accounts for about 10 percent of the state’s entire student population.
At the local level, public school funding remains the top priority for WakeEd’s advocacy. County Commissioners have increased spending on WCPSS consistently since 2015. Like the state, the county’s appointed leaders and the elected commissioners must balance increasing education funding with needs in other areas such as affordable housing, public health, parks and recreation, and public safety.
County government is in a tough position because it is often the last stop on the public education funding cycle, meaning it is often looked to for picking up the tab for school system spending when federal and state funding doesn’t cover the full cost of educating students.
Looking ahead to this budget cycle, WakeEd will continue to promote the message that the voters and business leaders in Wake County are overwhelmingly in favor of increasing funding for WCPSS so that the school system may continue to offer the best and most equitable educational opportunities for the 160,000 students enrolled in its 187 schools.
For WCPSS to continue to offer schools of first-choice rather than last-resort, the system needs to operate at a different level than most of the state’s 115 school systems. While state funding has increased, it has also not been adequate to meet Wake’s needs; and while county funding has increased, the local dollars spent on public education have also fallen short.
Although salaries often get the headlines, when spending doesn’t meet the need, it is the support system that feels the pinch. Schools aren’t cleaned as often. Small repairs and routine maintenance are delayed. Bus routes run longer. Supplies run out earlier and aren’t always replaced.
WakeEd is committed to carrying the message to elected and appointed leaders in the new year that public schools continue to need their unwavering support. Adequate funding is the top priority, because without it most of the best practices in education cannot be fully implemented.