Business leaders push for action on obstacles to early literacy progress

North Carolina CEOs encourage increasing teacher pay and investment in NC Pre-K to boost third grade literacy rates

A growing teacher shortage and operating difficulties at NC Pre-K providers threaten North Carolina’s progress toward increasing early literacy. The persistent reading struggles of the state’s youngest students have leaders from some of North Carolina’s most prominent businesses asking for increased investments in teacher pay and the state’s high-quality early learning program, NC Pre-K. At a press conference today, those business leaders shared a Business Roundtable report, Why Reading Matters – Now More Than Ever, that underscores the urgent need to continue efforts to build early literacy in North Carolina to help children succeed in school and into the workforce.

Today’s press conference at Southeast Raleigh Elementary School included:

  • Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS.
  • Darius Adamczyk, Chairman and CEO of Honeywell.
  • Huntley Garriott, President of Live Oak Bank.
  • Jim Hansen, Regional President at PNC Bank.
  • Dale Jenkins, CEO, retired from Curi.
  • Trey Rabon, President of AT&T North Carolina.

Six years ago, Goodnight and a group of North Carolina executives released a report from the Business Roundtable (BRT), Why Reading Matters and What to Do About It. The CEO group urged the state to act on certain report recommendations that, thanks to the support of the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper, led to expanded access to NC Pre-K and the creation of the Birth Through Third Grade (B-3) Interagency Council and a robust data system. In line with BRT’s recommendations, the group also supported the state’s efforts to adopt the “science of reading,” informed by decades of research on how children learn to read in elementary classrooms and colleges of education.

The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, which the General Assembly passed and Gov. Cooper signed into law, has led to over 44,000 pre-K through fifth grade teachers and principals being intensely trained in the science of reading. New funding is supporting a teacher coaching model that will help educators hone the skills learned through science of reading training. Additionally, colleges of education began adding new curricula and instructional practices this year. These are significant advances, but more needs to be done, according to Goodnight.

“As we strive toward a strong, sustainable economy that supports opportunities for all students, we must invest in things we know have long-lasting positive effects, like good teachers and NC Pre-K,” said Goodnight. “This requires making our state more competitive with others in the Southeast and continuing to expand access to our proven early learning program.”

Teacher shortage threatens reading progress

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), there were 5,540 teacher vacancies at the start of this school year, a 46% increase from the 2021-22 school year. Some of the highest vacancies are in core elementary teaching positions in reading and math.

Fueling the teacher shortage is a significant decline in the number of university students seeking to become teachers. Between 2010 and 2020, enrollment in undergraduate education programs in the UNC System fell by 44%. This year, NCDPI has reported a 24% decrease in the number of students seeking a teaching license through our colleges of education.

The business leaders were deeply concerned that North Carolina’s teacher shortages are directly tied to teacher pay. The leaders pointed out that North Carolina was falling behind other Southeastern states like Alabama and Mississippi, both of which have recently increased teacher pay significantly. Those states are making bold moves to attract and retain teachers, and the CEOs encouraged North Carolina leaders to increase teacher pay at a regionally competitive level to reverse teacher shortages, as well as to develop an overall long-term compensation structure that will help the state recruit and retain quality teachers for years to come.

Helping NC Pre-K providers cover increasing costs to operate

The business leaders addressed the challenges NC Pre-K providers face to keep their programs operating that are fueled by record inflation. They also expressed concerns about teacher shortages affecting NC Pre-K programs, where the pay is often less than what a person can make working today in a fast-food restaurant. Providers have significant difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified teachers because of the low pay.

These teachers are key to the proven success of the NC Pre-K program. Research from Duke University confirms that the high-quality NC Pre-K program for 4-year-olds lays the foundation for a comprehensive literacy development system. Children who participate in NC Pre-K are better prepared to enter kindergarten, have higher literacy rates and math skills, and are less likely to be held back a grade or placed in a special education program – outcomes that last through at least the eighth grade.

As such, because of persistent pressures from inflation, the CEOs urged the state to continue meaningful increases – begun last year – to the amounts paid to providers so they can keep their doors open. And, to avoid this need to “catch up” in the future, the CEOs urged the state to consider an automatic adjustment for inflation in the NC Pre-K funding structure.

Learn more in the new Business Roundtable report, Why Reading Matters – Now More Than Ever: A CEO Action Plan to Support Improved US Literacy Rates.

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The persistent reading struggles of North Carolina’s youngest students have prominent business leaders encouraging increased investments in teacher pay and the state’s high-quality early learning program, NC Pre-K.