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Roy Cooper headlines UNC state politics roundtable

The future of North Carolina was up for discussion on Monday.

A roundtable of panelists, including Attorney General Roy Cooper, gathered at UNC about the direction of the state.

Journalism professor Ferrel Guillory hosted the discussion in Carroll Hall, which was open to students and journalists.

Cooper, a Democrat who is currently serving his fourth term, kicked off the discussion, addressing a packed room.

He criticized some of the recent changes from the N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory, and said the decision to not expand Medicaid was the worst.

“North Carolina has been seen as a progressive beacon in the South,” he said, pointing to leaders like Gov. Jim Hunt and former UNC-system President Bill Friday.

“But 10 months ago, that came to a screeching halt. We now have a legislature that is controlled not just by the Republican Party, but by the extreme factions of the Republican Party — as well as the governor’s office. That has caused damage to the state, it has caused damage to our national brand and it has caused damage to real people of North Carolina.”

Cooper has been hinting at a potential run for governor in 2016 for months now. A reporter asked what his timetable was to announce his plans.

“It’s too early for a formal announcement, but I am deeply concerned about the direction of our state, and I want to play a major role in changing it,” he said, adding that an official announcement would come later.

He repeatedly touched on the importance of prioritizing public education in his talk.

“You look at talented faculty beginning to leave community colleges and universities — public school teachers beginning to leave because they have not received pay increases,” he said. “This governor and legislature just don’t get the connection between public education and improving the economy.”

Leslie Winner, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and a panelist who spoke after Cooper, said the biggest challenge facing the state is making sure that North Carolina will have an adequate teacher workforce despite low pay and increased standards.

She said there is no money in the state budget for professional development.

“I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of teachers who have left North Carolina to go teach somewhere else,” she said. “You can’t ensure that each kid is going to come out prepared for life if that kid doesn’t have good teachers.”

Cooper said in an interview that funding for the UNC system needs to be a state priority.

“Our university system has been nationally renowned because of the effort we put into funding the system,” he said. “We don’t rely on just tuition and fees — it’s the people’s university.”

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