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The NC Influencer Series: Education

The Old Well at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Spring

Along with several NC Chamber members, NC Chamber President & CEO Lew Ebert is participating in the North Carolina Influencer Series, presented by The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and the Durham Herald-Sun. Throughout the year, leaders from across the state will answer questions on a variety of topics that matter most to North Carolinians.

NC Influencers and readers identified K-12 public schools as a top concern this election year. The second survey in the series focused on education issues in North Carolina and provided a list of several issues for Influencers to review and rate: Adequate funding, reduced use of standardized testing, boosting vocational education, closing racial achievement gaps, expanding charter schools, reducing or eliminating charter schools, expanding school vouchers, reducing or eliminating school vouchers, reducing class size, making schools safer, resegregation of schools, closing the rural/urban divide, increasing teacher pay, and creating universal Pre-K. Read Lew’s answers below.

Q: Which ONE of the 14 issues above do you think is most important to address? Why?

There is absolutely no way to narrow down those issues to a singular, most important item. The most pressing concern I hear from our members & the statewide business community is the lack of available workers with the right skills and experience to fill their open jobs. It’s a challenge that has serious ramifications both for our state’s economy and for North Carolinians seeking work, and one that the NC Chamber is heavily focused on addressing. While the skills gap stems from a number of causes, boosting vocational, career, and technical education would certainly be a step in the right direction. However, without a comprehensive approach to strengthening our education system, our efforts to solve the skills gap won’t matter. The modern workforce doesn’t exist in a bubble—as much as we need more workers with flexible and adaptable skillsets, it would be shortsighted to assume that we can produce those workers without a commitment to improvements at every stage of a student’s education journey.

Q: What do you think of the overall direction K-12 education in North Carolina has taken in the past decade? Why?

K-12 education has made some gains in the past decade. For example, our graduation rates are up, and investments in third grade reading will pay off over the long term. We have raised academic standards, and continue to have strong accountability for schools.

However, it is clear that there is more work to do. When employers are struggling to find workers with the right skills for the job, it shows that we need better coordination across the education spectrum. It is important to expand successes statewide.

Q: Readers who participated in our Your Voice online tool wanted to know what policy makers will do to ensure all students have access to quality schools that prepare them for well-paying 21st century jobs. What should policy makers do?

Preparing students for the modern workforce has to start at a young age—students start building the foundation for literacy and soft skills, like problem solving, as early as pre-K. That’s why the NC Chamber advocates for lawmakers to take a comprehensive approach to education policy by continuing to expand access to our world-class pre-K program, protecting strong academic standards that prioritize the skills and knowledge students need after graduation, and working closely with stakeholders from the business community, community colleges, and higher education to ensure we’re appropriately aligning education systems with actual workforce needs.

Read the NC Influencers story summarizing responses here.