Catherine Truitt is concerned the state isn’t doing enough to prepare students to work if they choose not to go to college after high school. As the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Truitt raised her concerns at the Council of State meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 1, saying the DPI is tackling the problem in a project with the N.C. Chamber of Commerce to elevate new K-12 Workforce goals.   

Members of the Council of State include the governor and lieutenant governor. All members are elected statewide to head agencies and provide counsel to the governor. The mix of six Republicans and four Democrats offers updates on their departments once a month at a council meeting in Raleigh.

“I believe that workforce development should be part of the K-12 system,” Truitt told colleagues. “The purpose of public education is to prepare students for post-secondary plans of their choice. All students deserve to know what opportunity awaits them after they cross the graduation stage.”  

Truitt said the state has an 87% graduation rate, but only 31% of seniors who graduate obtain post-secondary credentials by the time they turn 24. Truitt said all students are told they can go to college, but only 23% will graduate from high school and complete a four-year degree within six years of completing high school.  

“That is what economists are calling a mismatch of the education required for the jobs that we have,” she said. 

She wants educators, counselors, and especially parents, to know about alternatives after high school, such as the North Carolina Business Education Group. It allows students to work on IT credentials for free. She said not all school districts have the opportunity to put tech teachers in front of students.

“Alignment between K-12 and education and our economy has got to be a priority,” Truitt added. “Google is already reaching into high schools to get talent.”  

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson echoed Truitt’s concerns about workforce development and said his office has worked with the General Assembly on an initiative powered by the state’s community college system. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees in high-demand fields in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties will have access to up to $2,000 a year and up to $15 an hour to onboard, train and pay new apprentices. The new apprentices will also have access to $2,500 for tuition, books, and fees.  

“This money has the opportunity to change a lot of lives in the poor areas in the state and for businesses to bring on highly qualified and trained employees with a passion for their field,” Robinson said.  

COVID has sparked a new perspective on post-high school training and even led to an historic surge in new business. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall told her COS colleagues the state set a record for new business creation in 2021, which outpaced every other year on record and doubled since 2017 and was 40% over the prior year with 178,300 new businesses.

“We are a hotbed of folks that are eager and willing to make their own way no matter what the pandemic throws at them,” Marshall said. “North Carolina is a place where people want to do business and we are doing everything we can to help them turn their dreams into reality.” 

Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler said his department is beginning to administer a $50 million disaster relief program authorized by the legislature due to flooding in the mountains caused by Tropical Storm Fred, and that they have a $30 million swine and dairy pandemic relief program. Ag is also trying to increase the meat-processing base, especially small- to medium-sized slaughter and processing facilities, by improving processing and efficiency. 

“We have seen the shortage in the grocery stores,” Troxler said. “The idea is to increase efficiency so farmers can sell directly to the public. We have been hugely successful in the first three parts of the program, increasing processing facility participants by 40%. We are going to do another round of $17 million. It’s vital to the food supply for North Carolinians.”

Troxler said the department is accepting applications for a USDA Block Grant program for damage due to Hurricanes Florence and Michael.  

State Treasurer Dale Folwell reported that the Department of Transportation hit its credit card limit “because of some things that have gone on in the last four years,” but gave them credit for rebuilding the Highway Trust Fund.

“It had $1.6 billion but over two years had less than $150 million,” he said.  “It’s now approaching $900 million.” 

Folwell said the N.C. Treasury is in the process of de-chartering the town of East Laurinburg for a 10-year record of neglecting to produce audits.  On a side note, Folwell asked Cooper to allocate free at-home COVID tests only to state workers who cannot work remotely because tests are so scarce.  

Attorney General Josh Stein said all 100 counties and the 45 largest cities in the state joined the opioid lawsuit last month, which means the state will get its full share from the $26 billion opioid settlement. The state will receive $750 million over the next 18 years, with 40% coming in the next five to six years. The money will go toward treatment and recovery. He also talked about a lawsuit against a company in Texas involved in robocalls.  

State Auditor Beth Wood thanked Gov. Roy Cooper and the legislature for the passage of SB 473, which deals with audits. She said there are currently 31 cases in the queue to investigate, 26 of which are local governments with allegations of city officials abusing their positions or misusing assets. S.B. 473 makes that a Class H felony.   

Wood said legislation in the recent session will change the reporting of the Council of Internal Audit function to the General Assembly. “The internal audit function has not been as aggressive as it should be,” Wood said. “With legislation that came through in the last session to step up internal audit function in all agencies, signatures from all agency heads will be required in the next year.”