Gov. Hunt calls for education focus

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Former Gov. Jim Hunt delivered the annual Lambeth Lecture in Public Policy to a packed Gerrard Hall Thursday night.

Hunt, a Democrat and the longest-serving North Carolina governor who held the position from 1977 to 1985 and 1993 to 2001, used the 45-minute lecture to emphasize the necessity of education funding in the state.

“Public education is at the very center — it’s not a piece of policy to be debated with the legislature or an interest group, it’s at the center of things for us,” Hunt said in his speech.

Hunt said he made K-12 and UNC-system funding a priority during his four-term stint in the governor’s mansion — including Smart Start, an initiative that supports early education throughout the state.

“We did many things for education in our state, but I would say the accomplishment I’m most proud of came at the end of my last term — we increased teacher’s pay to the national average,” he said in the speech.

The N.C. General Assembly has faced criticism from state public education leaders in recent legislative sessions for education funding cuts, including a nearly $500 million reduction to the UNC system since 2011.

Hunt devoted part of the lecture to North Carolina’s historical accomplishments in education, including the opening of UNC, the nation’s first public university. He also mentioned former Gov. John Ehringhaus, who instituted a statewide sales tax to fund public schools in the 20th century.

Throughout the speech, Hunt tied better education to an increase in the number of high-paying jobs in an area.

UNC sophomore Brittany Jordan Cole, who attended the speech, said she appreciated Hunt’s discussion of the economics of public education.

“I thought Hunt did a good job talking about the heart of the issue and not the politics involved,” she said.

Richard Andrews, a UNC public policy professor and a member of the Lambeth Lecture Committee that selected Hunt, said the committee took Hunt’s nonpartisan approach to education into consideration.

“I would not expect it to be a partisan speech,” Andrews said. “I think education is much too important for all of us in North Carolina for it to be just a partisan issue.”

The former governor ended the lecture with a warning not to take for granted the great effort the state has made for high-quality public education.

“Everyone here needs to understand that this progress can be turned back in one generation,” Hunt said.

“It could be turned back, students, in your generation. Don’t let that happen.”

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