North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper took to a live streamed YouTube event on Monday to declare a statewide “emergency” over K-12 public school education funding.
Cooper, a Democrat, made clear he wasn’t issuing an executive order — like with a hurricane or with the COVID-19 pandemic — but his action was “no less important.”
“It’s clear that the Republican legislature is aiming to choke the life out of public education,” Cooper said.
The governor took aim at three proposals specifically — an expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, income tax breaks, and what he termed “book banning” by Republicans. Cooper accused Republicans of “handing out private school vouchers to millionaires,” while giving those same millionaires “large tax breaks, too. This drops an atomic bomb on public education by shrinking the state’s budget by almost 20%.”
Cooper’s budget proposed a pay raise of 18% for teachers over the next biennium. “Our teachers deserve better pay and more respect, but the legislature wants to give them neither one,” he said.
Cooper ended his roughly six-minutes of remarks by plugging a website where voters could visit to contact their lawmakers. Within minutes of his live stream beginning, Cooper emailed a fundraising pitch to supporters.
Republicans were quick to denounce Cooper’s declaration.
The House and Senate have passed their own versions of a spending plan for the new biennium. Both budgets increase spending on public schools.
On the Senate side, the budget allocates $11.5 billion to K-12 public education in fiscal year 2023-2024 and $11.7 billion in fiscal year 2024-2025. Teachers would receive an average raise of 4.5% over the biennium, with starting teacher pay increasing by almost 11%. The plan also creates a new School Health Personnel Allotment and increases funding by $10 million recurring to help schools hire around 120 more nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists.
Meanwhile, the House budget is even more generous in dolling out raises — a 7.5% across-the-board teacher pay bump over the biennium, in combination with other targeted boosts and step increases, resulting in a total average increase of 11.2%. The overall spending amount is roughly in line with the Senate’s at around $24 billion across the two-year period.
Cooper’s declaration comes on the heels of a stinging political loss last week when Republicans successfully overrode his veto of a pro-life bill putting new guardrails around abortion access in the state. Cooper attempted to mount a statewide pressure campaign to convince a handful of moderate Republicans to switch their vote on the bill. Ultimately, the GOP ranks held firm.