Is the education system failing or flourishing? Issues up for debate at UNCW

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WILMINGTON – As the debate continues from Washington D.C. to Main Street U.S.A. on whether the American education system is failing or flourishing, several issues will be up for discussion this week on the campus of UNC-Wilmington.

The Watson College of Education will host a live “NC SPIN” debate featuring four speakers with diverse views about education policy in North Carolina. The debate will run from 5:30-7 p.m., March 30, in Lumina Theater.

“NC SPIN” is a weekly television program that airs statewide and features politically balanced discussions on timely North Carolina issues. Its host and executive producer is Tom Campbell, a career broadcaster and former assistant state treasurer.

“Policies that affect our schools, the children who attend them, our educators and the communities in which they live should be debated and examined in public,” Van Dempsey, dean of Watson College of Education, said. “That debate should be vigorous with multiple perspectives engaged. The Watson College and UNCW are proud to host this discussion of the top issues in education facing North Carolina, and we thank “NC SPIN” for bringing this opportunity to our campus.”

Schools file photo.
(File photo)

Panelists include Becki Gray, senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation; Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of N.C. Policy Watch; John Hood, chair of the John Locke Foundation and president of the John William Pope Foundation; and Howard Lee, a former Democratic state senator and former chair of the State Board of Education.

Encouraging exploration of contemporary ideas and issues from a variety of perspectives contributes to academic excellence is one of the foundations of the universities Strategic Plan, according to UNCW Media Relations Director Tricia Vance.

With new Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appointed by President Donald Trump, there are many questions surrounding the future of education. From raising teacher pay to school choice, the Tar Heel State is front and center in this ongoing debate.

“When it comes to education policy we’re all about making sure dollars are invested in the best way possible,” Mitch Kokai, Senior Political Analyst at John Locke Foundation, said. “Yes, we want public schools to be as successful as possible, but making sure money is getting into the classroom and not tied up in bureaucracy and focusing on things that improve the students. A lot of the stuff being touted as beneficial to students is always necessarily true.”

While the U.S. Department of Education has limited impact on certain policies at the state and local level, Kokai believes there is some common ground between Republican legislators in North Carolina and newly elected Governor Roy Cooper. However, many of the issues up for discussion look to be a straight divide between two different viewpoints.

Four panelists with differing views on education policy will be on campus this week.
Four panelists with differing views on education policy will be on campus this week.

“Whether its charter schools, opportunity vouchers, home schooling, we want those opportunities to be available to as many people as possible,” Kokai added. “Giving parents options is the most important thing to us. Not just the wealthiest families.

“One of the things you’re going to find there will be areas for compromise and potential deals that will work in the same direction. State legislators are interested in raising teacher pay regardless of what the critics say. But, there is no indication Governor Cooper has shown support for anything than status quo. You are going to see some conflict when it comes to any ideas outside of the mainstream,” he said.

Census data from June 2016 reported pupil spending for the nation was $11,009, a 2.7 percent increase from 2013. This was the largest increase in per pupil spending since 2008 when there was a 6.1 percent increase from the year prior. Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, New York spent the highest per pupil, at $20,610, while Utah came in the lowest at $6,500.

In 2013, N.C. lawmakers and local and state education officials debated a host of hot topics during a forum on public schools at UNCW's Watson School of Education. Photo by Hilary Snow.
In 2013, N.C. lawmakers and local and state education officials debated a host of hot topics during a forum on public schools at UNCW’s Watson School of Education. (File photo by Hilary Snow)

The National Education Association, a teachers union, reported in March 2016 North Carolina’s per-pupil spending was $8,632 in 2014.

The live debate at UNCW will be live-streamed, but not televised. It’s open to the public as is the reception that will follow in the Clock Tower Lounge.

Admission is free, but seating is limited. Register to reserve a seat or sign up for live-streaming.