Creating an Education System That Puts Students First

Over the past decade, North Carolina has made tremendous progress in education. Teacher pay has climbed from among the lowest in the country to become a leader in the Southeast. The number of charter schools has doubled, giving more choices to parents seeking the best education for their children.

Still, there is more progress to be made. The most vital: Changing our mindset to start putting students first.

My education policy hinges on four key ideas:

  • Parents Pick
  • Four in the Door
  • ACT Now
  • Learn and Earn

These programs will expand school choice, hold our schools accountable and open up opportunities for students of all kinds.

Parents Pick

One out of every five students in North Carolina today attends a school outside of the traditional public education system.

Governor Cooper views that as a threat. We see that as a sign that families are desperate for more choice in education.

The quality of a student’s education should not be defined by their ZIP code. Instead, multiple good options will allow families to choose the setting that works best for them.

Here’s how we’ll accomplish that.

1) Expand the Opportunity Scholarship program to every N.C. family.

Today, this highly successful program allows low-income families to access private schools through a voucher worth as much as $4,200. However, Opportunity Scholarships have been under attack in the legal system under the Cooper administration.

Under Governor Forest, we will protect the Opportunity Scholarship program for our low-income families. Further, we will expand the eligibility criteria to allow every family in North Carolina the chance to choose a school that works for them.

No family should feel stuck in one particular school. Our weighted lottery system will ensure that the people who need these scholarships the most will have access to them.

2) Level the playing field for high-quality charter schools

Charter schools often struggle to open their doors due to outdated funding formulas passed by Democrats that put these schools at a disadvantage. Charter schools are public schools that deserve to be on a level playing field.

A Forest administration will push to change the law to ensure that education funding follows the student — either to a traditional public school or public charter.

We will also create a grant program offering $50,000 grants to charter schools seeking to open in high-need areas. This can change the equation for charter school boards trying to make ends meet without a major cost to the state.

Four in the Door

For the vast majority of North Carolina students, the traditional public school system will be their best option. We owe it to them to make sure our schools are the best they can be.

Rather than defer to teachers’ unions and high-paid administrators, the Forest administration will always put students first.

This starts with our “Four in the Door” program, making sure every public school has these four positions.

1) A principal with full authority to hire and fire

If you walk into a good school, you will always find a good principal. They define a school’s culture and have the ability to set high expectations for all of their students. A Forest administration will empower principals to do what’s necessary to run their school.

2) An armed security guard

Our schools should be a refuge and our students should feel safe when they come on campus.

3) A computer science teacher

By 2040, 70% of jobs in America will require a background in computer science. In today’s world, programming languages are every bit as important as Spanish, French and Latin. The data shows that students who are exposed to computer science education at an early age are much more likely to pursue careers in this growing field.

4) A trade professional

Who better to learn electrical repair from than an electrician? But today, there is no way for skilled professionals to teach classes in the trades at our public schools. Under a Forest administration, we will lift the licensing requirements that today would prevent a master electrician from teaching their trade in a public high school.

ACT Now

For too long, our state has protected the education bureaucracy at the expense of our students. It’s a sad reality that some students are graduating from our state’s high schools barely being able to read.

The Forest administration will put students first through a commitment to transparency and accountability. This starts with three things:

1) Boosting North Carolina’s performance on the ACT to No. 1 in the Southeast.

In recent years, North Carolina ranked in the bottom five in the nation in performance on the ACT, a key test measuring students’ aptitude in English, math, reading and science. Even among states where all high school students take this test, North Carolina is among the lowest. And in the Southeast, we are currently second to last, ahead of only Mississippi.

Today, I’m setting the goal of boosting North Carolina’s performance on the ACT to No. 1 in the Southeast. It’s one metric that will judge whether our schools are adequately preparing our students for today’s world.

2) Requiring students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam before graduating.

Students should not be able to graduate from our high schools without knowing key information about our nation and its government, like who serves as Commander in Chief of the armed forces or what branch of government makes the laws.

3) Mandating background checks for teachers.

Despite spending hours each day with our children, teachers in North Carolina are not subject to the most rigorous background checks, and school districts are often not reporting wrongdoing to the state. This allows teachers who are caught in inappropriate behavior to simply resign and take a job with a different school district. This is unacceptable.

Learn and Earn

Our current education system does a great job of sending students to four-year colleges and universities. However, it’s not in every student’s best interest to push them toward tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt without a clear career objective.

The Forest administration will open up pathways for students who are interested in jumping straight into the modern workforce — and create opportunities for students to earn money while they complete their education.

1) Create a career high school diploma.

Today, high school students must pass all the classes required for entry to four-year state universities in order to graduate. This often frustrates students who don’t wish to attend and leads them to drop out of school.

We will create a high school diploma option for students who wish to attend community college or jump straight into the workforce, keeping them engaged and making sure they graduate with marketable skills.

2) Market our state’s dual enrollment and 2+2 plans.

High school students today have the opportunity to enroll in community college at the same time. College students have the chance to spend two years at community college before transferring to a four-year university.

Both of these options are among the best-kept secrets in North Carolina — and key tools that can save tens of thousands of dollars. We will create a formal marketing campaign to fix that problem.

3) Train guidance counselors in opportunities in apprenticeships and community colleges.

Under the Forest administration, schools will have more counselors who specialize in helping students explore the opportunities in the skilled trades and high-demand fields. They’ll also help interact with local businesses, who constantly tell me that they can’t find workers prepared for the jobs of today.