Three days. Three vetoes.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced late Friday, Aug. 23, that he vetoed Senate Bill 438, the Excellent Public School Act of 2019. 

Wednesday he vetoed House Bill 370, a measure requiring local law officers to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who have issued detention orders on illegal immigrants who were being held in city or county jails. Thursday, he vetoed House Bill 645, a bill modifying billboard regulations.

Cooper has vetoed 35 bills since January 2017.

S.B. 438 aimed to improve Read to Achieve, the state’s K-3 literacy program tasked with improving low reading scores. The legislation, introduced by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, would establish individual reading plans, expand the Wolfpack WORKS program, align the literacy curriculum and instruction with Read to Achieve, as well as a few other provisions. 

In his veto message, Cooper said S.B. 438 tries to put a Band-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed.

“Teaching children to read well is a critical goal for their future success, but recent evaluations show that Read to Achieve is ineffective and costly,” Cooper said. “A contract dispute over the assessment tool adds to uncertainty for educators and parents.”

Cooper’s comments allude to the ongoing dispute over how the contract for a reading diagnostic tool was awarded to Istation. 

Berger’s office fired off a response as soon as the news of the veto broke. Bill D’Elia, Berger’s spokesman, said the real reason Cooper vetoed S.B. 438 is because Berger is the primary sponsor.

“Blocking a kids’ reading program written in part by his own appointees is a clear failure of leadership from Governor Cooper and another black eye for an administration floundering in its attempt to govern our state,” D’Elia said in a statement.

On Aug. 8, the House passed S.B. 438 by a 68-48 margin. The Senate passed the measure 28-4.