RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) began a statewide tour Tuesday after declaring a state of emergency for public education in response to a variety of measures Republicans in the General Assembly have proposed.
Cooper visited Washington Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, which was recently named the top magnet school in the country.
“The culmination of all of that requires me to declare a state of emergency in public education because if all of these things happen in our state, it’s going to be a disaster,” said Cooper. “It’s just stunning what’s going to happen to public education if these things come to pass.”
Cooper’s public campaign comes as Republicans in the legislature meet to try to resolve differences they have in the state budget, which would have significant implications for public schools.
However, they dismiss the notion that it amounts to an emergency.
“I think it’s a little disingenuous to declare a state of emergency when just a few years ago he was keeping kids out of school,” said Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover). “I just think it’s political theater for him.”
Cooper called attention to the Senate’s version of the budget which called for cuts to the state’s personal income tax rate while offering raises to teachers that would not keep up with inflation. Teachers with at least 15 years of experience would receive a $250 increase in their base pay over the course of two years.
The governor described that as a “deliberate slap in the face of public schools.”
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger points out that beginning teachers would see 11 percent raises over two years in an effort to attract more people to the teaching profession.
He added that the governor’s move is “an indication of how the governor has lost all relevance as far as the state budget is concerned.”
Republicans have a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature following Rep. Tricia Cotham’s decision earlier this year to switch parties.
The House proposed that teachers receive 10.2 percent raises on average over two years. Leaders of the two chambers are meeting now to resolve their differences with the goal of passing a finalized budget plan by the end of June.
Gov. Cooper also criticized proposed bills he said would inject politics into the classroom, including to elect the state Board of Education through partisan races.
In addition, he’s blasting a plan to expand the state’s school voucher program, called the Opportunity Scholarship, which would make every family eligible for money to send their children to private schools. The amount of money awarded would be based on income, with families earning the least being eligible for the highest amounts.
The governor’s office released an analysis of that proposal that found 31 counties would see at least a 3 percent reduction in total state funding.
Sen. Lee, who has been one of the leading proponents of the Opportunity Scholarship program, noted this latest proposal would offer those scholarships on a sliding scale with “heavy weighting” toward those with the lowest incomes.
“Because of the confluence of occurrences of legislation happening in the General Assembly, it was time for me to declare a state of emergency,” said Cooper. “I’ve made clear this is not an executive order being issued like in a pandemic or a snowstorm. But, what this is, is a call to help us preserve one of the most important assets this state has.”
Cooper said he’ll travel the state in the coming weeks to highlight his concerns, meeting with businesses, school leaders and parents.