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'A slap in the face': Gov. Cooper declares a state of emergency for public education

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that NC's public schools would continue remote instruction through the end of the school year, following an announcement that he would be extending the state's stay-at-home order through May 8.

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for public education on May 22, as education bills in the N.C. Senate and N.C. House move forward.

In a speech declaring the state of emergency, Cooper said legislation introduced by the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly would cripple public education.

He said school choice legislation like House Bill 823, legislation that would prevent discussion of social issues like Senate Bill 49 and the increasing teacher shortage are exacerbating issues in public education. 

“It's clear that the Republican legislature is aiming to choke the life out of public education," Cooper said in a press release.

The budget passed by the N.C. Senate on May 18 allocated $13.2 million for public education, a 2.2 percent decrease year-on-year.

N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person) said the Senate's budget significantly decreases income tax revenues, raising concerns about funding for teachers and implementation of the Leandro plan.

The Leandro plan is the product of a long-standing court case in North Carolina that has recently reaffirmed the constitutional right to a sound, basic education for all children and mandated more funding. The new Republican majority on the N.C. Supreme Court allowed new filings in the case in March.

“Constitutionally, we do have an obligation to provide everyone with an education,” Meyer said.

Meyer voted against the Senate budget proposal with more than half of the Senate Democrats.

“Sometimes I'm amazed at the willingness of my Republican colleagues to show up at a school and then vote the same week against what the teachers and school leaders certainly told them was needed,” he said.

Meyer said the Senate's budget significantly decreases income tax revenues, raising his concerns about funding for teachers and implementation of the Leandro plan.

“If they fully enact this tax plan, North Carolina will never be the same,” he said.

The federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund has provided North Carolina with a total of $3.6 billion since 2019 to address pandemic-related challenges in schools, but ESSER funding ends on Sept. 30.

George Griffin, the vice chair of the CHCCS Board of Education, said ESSER funds were used in CHCCS for teacher bonuses, outdoor classrooms, tutoring, materials and addressing attendance issues.

He said the investments helped with remote learning challenges, enabling student progress tracking and positive outcomes in the district.

“We're spending, in real dollars, less money than we did a decade ago,” Griffin said. “It's not that we're increasing anything or that we’re even staying even. We're losing ground.”

Cooper’s budget proposed an 18 percent pay raise over the next two years. But the Senate budget only increases veteran teachers’ salaries by just $250, spread over two years.

“That’s a slap in the face, and it will make the teacher shortage worse,” Cooper said in the press release. 

In some districts, the vacancy rate was as high as 24 percent for the 2022-23 school year.

Lauren Fox, the senior director of policy research at the Public School Forum, said that decades of disinvestment in education have resulted in teacher shortages, vacant positions, insufficient school facilities and growing needs for mental health and academic support services among students.

She also said that this use of public funds is concerning, considering the issues of accountability, admissions discrimination and additional tuition fees in private schools. 

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"We're weeks away from having a final budget that I think is going to be one of the probably most consequential state budgets in a long time in North Carolina,” she said.

The Senate budget also allocates money toward the Opportunity Scholarship program, a program that provides public funding for private school vouchers. The Opportunity Scholarship program is not just a neglect of public education, Griffin said, but a direct insult to it.

“'We're not only not going to fund you adequately, but we're going to take some public money and let people go to private school with it,'” Griffin said. “To me, that is beyond morally bankrupt.”

Griffin said public education is a vital part of American society — teaching students critical thinking and problem-solving and exposing them to the world’s diversity.

“Our students need our investments,” Fox said. “They’re relying on our policymakers.”


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