We should aim for being No. 1

March 12, 2014

Because I enjoy studying history, I was intrigued when a Rowan County teacher living in my district recently emailed to share information about a North Carolina leader from the past, Mr. Calvin Wiley.

Born almost 200 years ago in 1819, Mr. Wiley was a strong believer in public education. He was a husband, father of seven children, novelist (one of the first in our state), newspaper editor, textbook author, attorney, legislator, Presbyterian minister and N.C.’s first superintendent of schools.

Following the establishment of our common schools, Mr. Wiley realized the need to reform our state’s public education system by offering teachers more resources, textbooks, continuing education and licensure. Wiley led this effort to improve access to education state-wide by growing the number of teachers and schools. During this time period, N.C. saw our literacy rates increase significantly while he worked tirelessly to improve education. As a result, in the 1860s, N.C. was ranked third in education — behind only Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Now let us fast forward to 2014. Our state is ranked near the bottom of the nation in teacher pay and per pupil spending. And while money doesn’t fix everything, it does provide much needed resources like technology and textbooks, well maintained classrooms, lab equipment, safe school buses, and competitive teacher salaries. As your state senator, I know we can do better. In fact, we need to set our sights on being No. 1 in the nation. Education is the key to better jobs, more research and innovation, and a future that offers more opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

Last week I attended a Joint Education Oversight Committee where I heard a presentation from a newly formed group of business leaders in NC — BEST NC, or Businesses for Educational Success and Transformation. I have had several positive conversations with this new organization of business leaders and I enthusiastically endorse their three primary objectives for public education in NC:

* Every student will be ready to learn and be globally competitive;

* Every student will have an excellent teacher and school leadership; and

* Every student will graduate with relevant globally-competitive career and life skills.

I know we can accomplish these objectives and I pledge to support our teachers and students to help make N.C. No. 1 in education.

Despite the inclement weather in February, I had a busy month. I continued my travels across our district to attend community and civic meetings, visit schools, and meet with various constituent groups.

In Richmond County I visited the Richmond Early College — an opportunity for high school students to graduate with a high school diploma and associate’s degree — and heard from teachers and students about their educational experience.

Along with Rep. Ken Goodman, I met with N.C. Highway Patrol Troop H to hear about the needs of highway patrol officers in our region. Rep. Garland Pierce, Rep. Goodman and I attended a legislative breakfast meeting with board members, staff and students at Richmond Community College (RCC).

I also attended the dedication of the RCC Forte Building-the home of technical and industrial training at the college. Having served as an RCC trustee with the late Mr. Forte, it was a special day to honor his legacy.

In closing, I want to share a few comments about my friend, Senator Martin Nesbitt who passed on March 7, 2014.

Much has been written about Martin and his service as a legislator for more than 30 years. He stood tall for public education, for helping the mentally ill and for average working class families and the poor. Martin was a symbol of what public service is all about. Plain-spoken and honest, he gave me valuable advice about how the legislative process works. Martin believed there is a role for government in helping people.

I am a better legislator because of Martin Nesbitt and will always be grateful for his advice, his candor and his ability to put problems and opportunities into the proper perspective.

It was an honor to serve with him. I will miss him and so will the people of N.C.