December 19, 2019

Dear Friends,

I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving and you’re planning celebrations and family gatherings over the coming holidays of Hanukkah (Dec. 22-30) and Christmas. My time with family and friends is treasured for the rest, joy, and renewal it provides.

I’m disappointed at the lack of progress we’ve made in the General Assembly since January. We still are without a budget that supports our public schools and provides affordable healthcare to more people who really need it. Yet, we did do some good things and kept some really bad legislation from advancing. We are set to come back into session on January 14 th, and I hope all members, no matter the political party, will be willing to work together and move budget bills forward that give better pay and funding for our teachers and other school, university, and community college employees, and find a way to expand affordable healthcare to more North Carolinians. I will keep you posted in January on that session.
Roadmap for a Sound, Basic Education
The following is a fairly lengthy description of the recent Leandro Report, but it's so important that I want you to have the benefit of some background, context and detail.

Last week’s public release of a long-awaited, court-ordered report from a non-partisan, independent, and well-respected education consulting group, WestEd, lays out the current situation for our state’s public education system and provides a road map for what we need to do. It’s clear that what we’ve been saying for years is true…we are still failing our children. It will not be an easy road, but providing a sound, basic education is not only mandated by our state constitution; it is also a critical economic imperative for North Carolina.

What’s “Leandro?”
Our NC Constitution explicitly states that we must provide a sound, basic public education for everyone:

“The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right.” N.C. Constitution, Article I, § 15.

“The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”
N.C. Constitution, Article IX, § 2.

The original Leandro lawsuit was filed back in 1994 by students, parents, and school districts in five counties: Cumberland, Halifax, Hoke, Robeson, and Vance. The suit, overseen by Judge Howard Manning, alleged that students in these low-wealth counties were not receiving a “constitutionally-adequate education.” In 1997, the NC Supreme Court ruled that the state was, in fact, failing to provide every student with an equal opportunity for a sound, basic education.

What happened next?
I n the ensuing years, little progress was made towards addressing the shortcomings identified in the Leandro decision. We did make some progress in the first decade of 2000-2009, but we were seriously restricted by the 2008-09 recession which required austere budgets and unfortunate cuts. And we have fallen even farther behind in this last decade.

Some of this can be attributed to an overall 6% decline (adjusted to 2018 dollars) in per-pupil spending since 2009-10 as well as other legislation that ended programs and impeded the attraction and retention of highly-qualified educators and principals. The corporate tax cuts passed in recent sessions have put North Carolina’s tax revenue at less than 3% above pre-recession levels, while revenues in the rest of the country are now more than 13% above those pre-recession levels. According to the NC Justice Center's Budget and Tax Center , “North Carolina’s budget for 2017 to 2019 included another round of tax cuts. Once fully implemented, these tax changes will reduce annual revenue by $900 million .” Further, we have diverted millions of dollars from our public schools to create private school vouchers, and policies passed have significantly grown the number of charter schools. It is no wonder that North Carolina’s funding for public education is the lowest among SE states.

We needed a plan with concrete direction
In 2017, Governor Cooper issued an Executive Order creating a Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education, charged with working with an independent consultant (West Ed) “…to develop detailed, comprehensive written recommendations for specific actions necessary to achieve sustained compliance with the constitutional mandates established in Leandro.” With the retirement of Judge Howard Manning, Judge David Lee was charged with oversight for the case, including implementing the consultant’s recommendations.

What does the new Leandro Report tell us?
The WestEd “Leandro Report” identifies eight critical needs based on extensive research and analysis:
West Ed Graphic
It also calls for the following existing and new investments over the next 8 years to make the plan a reality:

  • K–12 education operating expenditures (short-term): Invest $3.2 billion (approximately $395 million per year) over the next eight years that would provide intervention support to ensure students achieve at grade level. These investments would be withdrawn from the system after such student achievement levels are reached.
  • K–12 education operating expenditures (ongoing): Invest $3.7 billion (approximately $463 million per year) over the next eight years that would allow students to maintain grade-level growth.
  • Early childhood education: Invest an additional $1.18 billion in programs such as NC Pre-K and Smart Start.
  • State-level infrastructure: Invest an additional $15.5 million in programs such as teacher and principal development and the state’s system of support.

Several of the bills I filed and others I co-sponsored this year at least partially addressed many of these critical needs. It is very unfortunate that our Leadership chose not to allow them to be heard in committees so they could be considered by our members, but I am committed to continuing to push this kind of legislation that improves public school funding and restores a healthy teacher pipeline.

What’s next?
Judge Lee will be issuing a consent order; we anticipate it will be made public in the next few months. This will provide additional direction for carrying out the report’s recommendations. I will be sharing more information as it becomes available.

In the meantime, to address the need for more teachers of color in our classrooms, Governor Cooper issued Executive Order #113 , establishing a task force to advise his office “on strategies that would address matters of equity and inclusion within education.” An abundance of data and evidence shows that all students —especially students of color—benefit from teacher diversity in many ways. When children of color are taught by teachers of color, academic, non-academic, and social-emotional benefits have been demonstrated. In a study published by the Institute of Labor Economics (see below), black students who had just one black teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college; having two black teachers raises the likelihood of college enrollment to 32%.

In North Carolina, 80% of public school teachers are white, while 52% of public school students are not. I encourage you to read the materials below to better understand why building a diverse teacher pipeline is so vital to providing a sound, basic education.

Institute of Labor Economics: The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers

Public School Forum of NC:  Leandro Background and Resources
Fuller Elementary School “Take Our Elected Officials to School Day"
Fuller ES
As you know, I love visiting our Wake County Public Schools, so I jumped at the chance to participate in Fuller Elementary School's 3rd Take Our Elected Officials To School Day . My fellow elected officials --representing the NC House, Wake County Commission, Wake County School Board, and Raleigh City Council--fielded excellent questions about public service from bright and motivated students in the 3rd and 4th grades. I enjoyed engaging with these young students who are our future’s promise! And what a fun way for these students to learn about how government works!

My thanks to Principal Kendra Culberson and PTA Advocacy Chair Suzanne Miller for their kind invitation.

District 6 School Board Advisory Council
Paul Kao - WCPSS
Along with our District 49 Legislative Assistant Patty Williams who is an at-large member of the District 6 School Board Advisory Council, I was pleased to attend the December meeting. District 6 encompasses many of the schools attended by students who reside in House District 49.

WCPSS Assistant Superintendent Paul Koh (pictured) and Senior Director Dr. Marrius Pettiford spoke on a critically-important topic, social emotional learning, or SEL.  (Of special note: “Social, emotional, and academic development” is found throughout the new Leandro Report described earlier.)

According to the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning, SEL “is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” As WCPSS 2019-20 Teacher of the Year Lindsey Evans notes, “A keen awareness of and attention to social emotional learning is foundational to my ability to cultivate meaningful relationships with my students, thus ‘growing hearts.’” I was glad to learn more about initiatives underway in our WCPSS schools, and I hope that the Leandro Report will compel this Legislature to fund resources—including nurses, social workers, psychologists, teacher and administrator professional development, and curriculum—so we can seamlessly weave SEL into the fabric of what our students learn.
Wake Public Schools
Tops in National Board Certification...Again!
National Board Certification is often referred to as the “gold standard” for educators. 2019 marks the 14 th year in which our Wake County Public Schools have led the nation in achieving these rigorous goals for excellence. This year, 158 WCPSS teachers earned their first-time certification (another national record), while an additional 192 teachers renewed their certification, for a nation-leading total of 2,921 teachers.

I’m so proud to serve in a county that has such dedicated and talented teachers!
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: More Than 3,500 Teachers Achieve National Board Certification
Application Process Underway for
Annual Student Internship Program
Applications for the State of North Carolina Internship Program are now available online until January 13, 2020. The internship program is open to all North Carolina residents attending a college, university, technical institute or community college . Interns earn a stipend of $8.25 per hour and work 40 hours per week for 10-weeks during the summer, May 18 – July 24, 2020 .

The Program offers students real-world experience in a wide range of state government workplaces--Governor’s Office, parks, museums, and agencies--across the state. Internships provide opportunities for students to work in their chosen field and to consider careers in public service. Click here to watch the video of testimonials from past interns.

 For more information, please visit the State of North Carolina Internship website or contact the Internship and Youth Council Coordinator, Candace Dudley at 919-807-4407.
It's a Privilege to Serve
12-2-19 Filing - Papers
Filing the necessary paperwork
Filing Map
Standing by the new 2020
Wake County House District Map
Thank you again for allowing me the privilege of serving NC House District 49. On Dec. 2, I filed to place my name on the ballot to be re-elected to a third term.

Yet again, the District Maps have changed, so I will be running for reelection in a slightly different HD 49! The new District 49 ( see the map) will include a larger area of Raleigh, retains some areas in Cary, but will not include Morrisville. 
Holiday Greeting Photo
As we prepare for and celebrate the holidays, my husband Dave Aspnes and I send our hopes that your holiday season is blessed with much joy and peace.

Happy Holidays! From our house to yours,
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or the
District 49 Legislative Assistant, Patty Williams , with your questions or concerns.
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