What should North Carolina expect in return for the investment in education?

Published May 24, 2018

By Joe Mavretic

by Joe Mavretic, former House Speaker and NC SPIN panelist, May 24, 2018.

What do the people of North Carolina expect in return for their investment in public education? Put another way: What does the state of North Carolina expect to get for the revenue that is appropriated for public schools, community colleges, universities, and other educational activities?

In 1983, the Select Committee on Education concluded that the purpose of public education was, "To graduate good citizens with the skills needed in the marketplace and the ability to enjoy life." This is a mission statement that most people can understand, and use to measure overall performance.

We need to measure overall performance because delivering education is the principle activity of our state. Education is this state’s public business. Budgets reflect our state’s priorities and more than half of our General Fund appropriations are for education. Education also consumes about half of every county’s budget. So, the question is, "What are we getting our for our money?"

There are four parts in the public education mission: To Graduate; Good Citizens; With Skills needed in the marketplace; The Ability to enjoy life. Are our educators accomplishing their mission? Let’s ask some reasonable questions.

Graduate. Every school-day in North Carolina a busload of high school students drop out. Odds are that each one will cost our state about $250,00.00 over their lifetimes. They will probably not vote, never marry, and serve time in jail or prison. Are we getting our money’s worth? Are we accomplishing the mission?

GOOD CITIZENS. Obeying our laws is a test of good citizenship. How do our incarceration rates compare to national averages? Good citizens vote. What are our registration, and voting rates? Good citizens don’t trash their highways.

SKILLS NEEDED IN THE MARKETPLACE. In North Carolina, we trade our time for money. We believe that if people have more education (more/higher skills) they will earn more money. There are two measures of wages for us to use-average wage and average household income. My research shows that over the past forty years, our state has been below average in both measures. This means that the working people in North Carolina are not worth the national average. Are our educators from Pre-K through our universities accomplishing their mission?

ABILITY TO ENJOY LIFE. This nation, and our state, are all about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness so we might ask why we are so eager to reduce/eliminate classes in art, music, theater, physical education, finance and household skills. We spend less time working than we do enjoying life. Are we teaching our students how to do this well?

Since over half of our General Fund budget is devoted to our states’ principle business, every Governor has to be an "Education Governor," and every General Assembly has to be primarily concerned with education. Why then are we behind the national average in so many important areas? I think there are three main reasons.

1. We do not have a system of public education in North Carolina. We have at least four systems-public schools, community colleges, universities and private educational activities. All four compete for appropriations. Each acts in its own self-interests. The systems won't even meet together. No one speaks clearly for all outcomes. No one is responsible. We are organized for mediocracy.

2. Special interest groups set our educational agendas, frame the questions, provide the biased answers and reward or punish the results. Our political leaders do not evaluate micro education issues against our macro mission. In other words, we let the tails wag the dog or we don’t look at the big picture.

3.North Carolina requires a balanced budget where appropriations must equal revenue. If we earned just the national average in wages or household income, the annual General Fund revenue would increase at least ONE BILLION dollars. Since one-half of that additional revenue could be budgeted for education, at least five hundred million dollars would be available for salaries, benefits, retirement, programs and special needs.

If our educators truly were committed to our students, they would all meet in Kenan Stadium (it would hold every one of them who gets a check from the state) and decide to use their political muscle to improve the organization of our state’s biggest business, and to work together to accomplish the mission of public education.


May 25, 2018 at 6:30 am
Charles Parker says:

"research shows...average wages and average household income have been below average in both measures...working people are not worth the national average" Education is one part.. States with "right to work" laws help keep worker's incomes down... It seems NC officials pride themselves on lower income wages. "If we earned just the national average..annual general fund income would increase at least one billion". So here's a topic for you...Is our right to work law helping or hindering the prosperity for all of North Carolina's citizens?

May 25, 2018 at 9:23 am
Joe Mavretic says:

Since at least half of our fifty states have "Right-to-work" laws or constitutional amendments, you should ask: "Do any of the right-to-work states have " average individual wages or average household incomes' at, or above, the national average." My research indicates that both sides of the "Right-to-Work" debate have carefully selected statistics that support their positions. My gut reaction to your remarks is that they are just another way to obfuscate the issue. The question remains: Are our educators accomplishing their mission?