The most powerful special-interest group in North Carolina is never satisfied. Not even when education reformers in the General Assembly approve an average 7% raise for public school teachers. The latest charge from defenders of Big Education is that those mean Republican education reformers are driving college students out of the field. JLF’s Terry Stoops sets the stage.

According to a recent television news report, enrollment in undergraduate and graduate teaching programs in the University of North Carolina system has dropped nearly 18 percent since 2010.

In response to these findings, a handful of pundits suggested that Republican legislators played a role in discouraging students from entering the teaching profession. Michael Maher, assistant dean of the College of Education at N.C. State and frequent critic of Republican legislators, blamed “a really negative climate around teaching and teachers right now.”

UNC officials and others claim that state legislators have created this negative climate by “underfunding” and disrespecting public schools. N.C. Public School Forum President and Executive Director Keith Poston declared that the General Assembly needed to make a “sustained commitment” to the teaching profession in order to avert “a very real teacher shortage crisis on the horizon.”

An analysis of the data related to education school enrollment shows this, Stoops writes.

Third, North Carolina is following a national trend. According to U.S. Department of Education data for public and private universities, traditional teacher education enrollment fell 9 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2013. In fact, 28 states and the District of Columbia lost teacher education students over the past three years.

The states with the largest declines in enrollment include high teacher salary states such as California and Illinois, and lower salary states including Oklahoma and Alabama, controlled by both Democrats and Republicans. In the Southeast, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina had larger education school enrollment drops than North Carolina. (Consult the chart in my recent “Education Update” newsletter to find data for every state.)

The lesson here is that correlation is not the same as causation. Just because Republicans maintain a majority in both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly, that does not mean that they are necessarily the primary cause of changes that occur during their tenure.

Without a doubt, state-level legislation and policy play a key role in the health of our public institutions, but so do many other factors that fall outside of the authority and control of government.

So, according to the logic progressives are using to bash North Carolina reformers, California and Illinois Leftists are really big anti-public education meanies as well.