At the start of 2022, state superintendent Cathy Truitt declared this “the year of the workforce.”

That sentiment is well intentioned, but Truitt and other state leaders need to focus first on the strain on the teacher workforce before we can make headway on preparing students to be a part of our state’s economy.

We can’t possibly prepare students for the workforce when we don’t have enough educators, support staff, or resources to educate and train them.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves. As devastating as that is, it should come as no surprise. Attacks on educators’ professionalism, massive pay cuts, the lack of basic resources—it’s no wonder teachers are turning to private-sector jobs with more reliable hours, support, and pay.

College students choosing to pursue teaching degrees have dropped by 50 percent, and North Carolina teachers earn nearly 25 percent less than graduates in other occupations. The writing is on the wall.

Senator Phil Berger said in WRAL’s documentary Leandro: The Case for a Sound Basic Education that there is “no question that students aren’t getting a sound basic education …. The real question is the remedy.”

While Republicans try to reinvent the wheel, the fact remains that schools are running out of gas.

Republicans talk about school choice—and Democrats are all for school choice. But draining funding and resources from public schools creates a false choice. Republicans are setting up public schools to fail. What parent wants to send their kid to a failing school? Republicans aren’t giving parents a real choice in the matter.

Republicans criticize the Leandro plan by claiming we can’t just throw money at a problem. That’s a nice theory, but it doesn’t work in the real world. Funding is what is needed to get students the resources they need to succeed and to join the workforce. Instead, Republicans have spent the past decade turning school investments into corporate tax breaks.

That conservative strategy may be good enough to get the coveted “Best Place for Business” title for a few years. But the lure of a zero corporate tax rate only goes so far. The total lack of investment in the next generation of workforce labor is coming back to bite us.

At the recent NC Chamber conference on education and workforce, business leaders said that addressing workforce shortages requires education partnership.

I would argue that addressing education shortages requires corporate partnership.

I applaud the business and civic leaders who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of fully funding our public schools. They see beyond tax rates to the value of investing in the next generation’s workforce.

We need to get back to the basics and make sure every preschooler is ready for kindergarten; every teacher has paper, pencils, and support staff in their classroom; every student has a nurse, social worker, or psychologist they can go to when they’re in crisis; and every high school graduate is ready to face the real world and be a contributing member of society.

It’s in the best interest of our business community to give parents strong choices in education. That will strengthen our economy in the long run. 

Dan Blue (D-Wake) is the North Carolina Senate minority leader.

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