Truitt needs to stand WITH students and stand up to legislators

Published January 26, 2023

By Capitol Broadcasting Company

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt seems more concerned with appeasing the Republican partisans who rule the state legislature than making sure every school child has access to a quality public education and their schools and teachers have the resources needed to do it.

It is the clear message revealed during Truitt’s recent interview on WUNC-FM.

When asked if North Carolina schools are adequately funded – that is does the legislature provide the resources needed to meet the state Constitution’s mandate that EVERY child is entitled to a quality education – she dodges.

“I would say it depends on your definition of adequately funded,” she said. No, it doesn’t depend on that. There is a very clear answer to that question – delivered repeatedly by North Carolina’s highest court. North Carolina -- for more than a quarter century as a matter of legally established fact -- has not provided the resources to provide the education every child is entitled to.

It doesn’t depend on what legislative bosses like state Sen. Phil Berger or state House Speaker Tim Moore say is “adequate.” It doesn’t depend on what Gov. Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, state Treasurer Dale Folwell or the state Board of Education says.

It is what the North Carolina Constitution says that matters. The body our Constitution gives the duty to determine that – the state Supreme Court under the leadership of Democrats and Republicans – has repeatedly said our schools are being shortchanged.

The consensus, comprehensive, detailed program addressing the inadequacies need by need, has been developed and ordered to be implemented. Truitt hasn’t endorsed the Leandro plan and won’t urge legislators to end their efforts to thwart it. Still, she says she wants the legislature to provide resources that would do the things implementation of the plan would put into place.

Leaders of the General Assembly who attack and take every opportunity to weaken public education, are doing all they can to thwart adoption of the plan and Truitt hems-and-haws.

“The timing of Leandro and the funding are things that don’t have anything to do with the Department of Public Instruction,” Truitt said.

What? In the same interview Truitt talked about seeking tens of millions to provide nurses in every school. Teachers are being underpaid. “I absolutely believe teachers should make more money,” she declared.

At the same time leaders in the General Assembly she so seeks to appease have enacted disincentives to making teaching a career – shrinking retirement benefits including healthcare, ending additional pay for advanced degrees, eliminating longevity and a flattening of the salary schedule for teachers with the most experience.

“To say that the profession is devalued, it kind of depends on who you talk to,” Truitt said. Talk to the folks who run the state’s schools of education about why they’re seeing declining enrollments. Talk to school systems (large and small, rural and urban) that can’t find qualified teachers to fill classrooms. Talk to legislators who gutted the state’s successful Teaching Fellows program.

North Carolina’s schools are in crisis. The state is 50th in school funding effort, 48th in overall funding level. How bad? The state level was $10,791 per student in 2020, $4,655 less than the national average. Since 2008, the state’s ranking has dropped from 46 to 48.
If Truitt REALLY wants more nurses and counselors in schools, if she wants better resources and pay for teachers, if she wants to obey the state Constitution and fulfill its promise to school children, she will talk less to appease the partisan leaders in the legislature and raise her voice to immediately adopt and fund the court-ordered Comprehensive Remedial Program -- that includes all of those things she claims she wants.

Truitt must speak up for North Carolina’s public schools and children – or get out of the way.

Read a transcript and listen to the WUNC-FM interview with N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt here.