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Education is top priority

AHOSKIE – Hertford County and northeastern North Carolina welcomed the new State Superintendent of Public Schools on Thursday.

State Superintendent June Atkinson and State Board of Education Legislative Director Linda Suggs spoke Thursday at a four-county district forum held by State Senator Robert Holloman.

Atkinson spoke on a variety of education related topics, including the continued improvement of North Carolina schools and the need to improve graduation rates in the state.

&uot;We need to continue to expand the investment in our schools and we must be creative,&uot; Atkinson said.

Atkinson provided information on fourth and eighth grade students in North Carolina scoring above the national averages in the National Assessment of Educational Progress of Reading and Mathematics. Atkinson also cited improved SAT results in the state and the important role of the ABCs of Public Education program that has been in place for nine years.

&uot;Students who do not graduate from high school are 30 percent more likely to be unemployed than students who do graduate,&uot; Atkinson said. &uot;Students who do not graduate are more likely to receive government assistance as adults and are the least likely to vote. We cannot afford to lose a single child.&uot;

&uot;We must involve parents, the community and business leaders,&uot; Atkinson continued.

&uot;We spend $4,000 a year on each student, but we spend $25,000 a year on each prisoner in the state,&uot; Suggs added. &uot;I am greatly disturbed by this. How much potential are we wasting?&uot;

&uot;It is very important to recruit and retain quality teachers,&uot; Suggs continued. &uot;We need to pool our resources to help our at risk children and the state board must articulate where funding is needed most in the state.&uot;

According to documents provided by Atkinson and Suggs, the funding for the state’s schools has continually increased since 1984 from $1.89 billion to $6.61 billion in 2005, but the percentage share spent on education of the state’s general fund has decreased by 13.34% since 1970.

Atkinson and Suggs answered several questions from the audience concerning gang violence in schools.

&uot;Safety for our schools is a major priority and we must ensure that our children feel they are part of our schools,&uot; Atkinson said. &uot;We must keep our children on the right path.&uot;

&uot;The General Assembly has authorized $2 million in grants to fight gang violence,&uot; Atkinson continued.

&uot;We must take a multi-pronged approach to this problem,&uot; Suggs said.

&uot;Gang violence should not be tolerated,&uot; Senator Holloman added.

Atkinson and Suggs also answered several questions concerning the lottery.

&uot;Forty percent of the money generated from the lottery will go to the new construction of schools,&uot; Suggs said.

&uot;We must learn the lessons from other states,&uot; Atkinson said. &uot;We need to safeguard the funding that already exists for education.&uot;

&uot;There are 28,000 new students in North Carolina schools this year,&uot; Suggs added. &uot;We cannot allow the funding for education to be supplanted.&uot;