Governor Rallying Opposition To School Vouchers - TribPapers

Governor Rallying Opposition To School Vouchers

Gov. Roy Cooper (right) being greeted by Weaverville Mayor Patrick Fitzsimmons at the Weaverville Primary School. Photo by Clint Parker

Weaverville – Extra law enforcement was present while school board members, council members, county commissioners, and others watched the black Suburban with dark-tinted windows pull into the parking lot at the Weaverville Primary School on Tuesday morning (May 30th).

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) was there to visit the school and rally opposition to the state legislature’s budget, especially regarding education spending. Cooper, who stepped out of the black Suburban, was first greeted by Weaverville Mayor Patrick Fitzsimmons and then other school and elected officials.

He then took a tour of the school, where the halls were lined with students holding crayon-colored state flags. Cooper went into the classroom, meeting with teachers and students before heading to the media center, where invited guests and media members gathered to hear Cooper’s remarks.

Cooper was introduced by Weaverville Primary School Principal Nicholas Honeycutt and Buncombe County School Superintendent Rob Jackson before taking to the podium.

After thanking the educators and elected officials for being present, Cooper began his address, saying that public schools are asked to take students as they are and educate them. He explained that’s why more money was needed for counselors, social workers, and “school nurses available in making sure that teachers have a place to refer children that they know exhibiting issues.”

Cooper then criticized the legislature’s budget, specifically on school funding, saying that all debates will now be “behind closed doors.” He said that’s why he is going across the state, informing people about what is going on. “We need significantly more investment,” said Cooper.

“I have three concerns. One is about the revenue that’s going to be available over the next few years…Second is an investment into early childhood…and third is teacher pay and overall investment in our schools.” He then said a voucher bill was working its way through the legislature, setting aside $3 billion to pay people at any income level to send their children to private school. While Cooper said there was nothing wrong with sending children to private schools, his complaint was with giving the voucher to anyone, regardless of income.

Cooper also has a problem sending the money to private schools without any accountability for performance. “Studies show you don’t see any real improvement by sending these kids to private schools,” he added. He then raised concerns over corporate tax cuts for businesses.

He touched on expanding preschool education before moving on to teacher pay. Cooper said teacher raises, like the more than 18% increase in teacher pay that he is proposing, are needed to make the state number one in the southeast and about midrange nationwide.

He further criticized the NC Senate’s version, saying it would only give veteran teachers a $250 raise over two years. “They’re sending a signal they have given up on public education, and that’s wrong.” He did say the House’s budget was better with pay increases than the Senate’s, “But not much.”

He then called on action to make known to the legislators that “this budget doesn’t work,”, especially in the rural counties where the school system might be the largest employer. He called this budget the “worst he’s seen” and added some legislation that “would allow them [Republicans] to drop culture wars into the system.” Hence, the reason he declared a state of emergency in the state.

The Tribune asked the governor to expand on the “culture wars” aspect of the legislation. “Right now, the State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the general assembly, puts together a stakeholder effort involving parents and educators, what students need to learn…There are a couple of pieces of legislation that would take that authority away from the State Board of Education and give it to an advisory board appointed by the legislature.” He cited things like LGBTQ+ issues, book banning, not wanting to teach science, and the whitewashing of history.

The Tribune also asked the governor if there was accountability attached to the voucher system; would he be for vouchers then? Cooper said, “I don’t think we should be using public money to send children to private schools, period. But at least before, there was an income limit, and it was for low- to moderate-income families, and we know this is something this legislature is going to do. So in my budget, I’ve presented some accountability efforts…”

The other side of the issue

According to a Civitas poll of nearly 1,000 registered voters, North Carolinians are also giving up on public education the way it is currently run, as an overwhelming number of residents are in favor of school choice.

“Over two-thirds of likely North Carolina voters support the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which grants scholarships to low-to-moderate-income students to attend a school of their choice.” stated in a release on the John Locke Foundation website. ?An even greater share of North Carolinians (68.8%) support Education Savings Accounts, which provide families with funds to pay for educational expenses, such as tuition, tutoring, and instructional materials. Charter schools, which have become a popular education option for families, received 68.7% support among those surveyed. Charter schools have more than doubled in number since the state-mandated cap was removed over a decade ago.”

The Tribune contacted President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s office about Cooper’s comments, specifically that the Senate’s budget only provided $250 in increased pay over the next two years for veteran teachers.

“The Republican-led General Assembly has infused more than $4 billion into the K–12 education budget since earning the majority in 2010. Funding for K–12 education is at the highest level it’s been in state history,” responded Lauren Horsch, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications for Berger. “The feedback we receive on teacher pay often focuses on beginning teacher salaries and turnover. The Senate budget addresses those concerns by increasing starting teacher pay, which would help attract new, qualified candidates and keep them in the classroom. Overall, the average salary next year for one teacher would be just below the median income for an entire household in North Carolina. Gov. Cooper’s fake ‘state of emergency’ is nothing more than fearmongering. If Gov. Cooper actually wanted to improve outcomes for students, he’d spend his time working with legislators instead of resorting to petty partisanship.”

The Tribune also contacted Speaker of the House Tim Moore’s office about Cooper’s and asked:

The governor criticized the budget for offering school vouchers to all parents without any kind of measurement of income. How would you respond to his criticism?

Next, he said that the budget would give $3 billion to private schools without any accountability. How would you respond to his comment?

In regards to the voucher system, how do you think this will change the way parents select their schools in North Carolina? How do you think it will change education?

His spokesperson, Demi Dowdy, did not respond to the questions by press time.