Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper recently paid a visit to the Mary Washington Howe Pre-K Center in Wilmington to announce an $8 million funding initiative for preschools across North Carolina. 

This funding is set to be sourced from two programs: the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) and the federal Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS). Governor Cooper, as the administrator of these funds, has full discretion over their allocation. The $8 million will be distributed among the state’s 2,098 Pre-K centers, with each classroom receiving approximately $3,860. 

Cooper noted that only 52% of eligible children actually go to Pre-K Centers across the state. 

During his visit, the Governor spoke of the importance of investing in NC Pre-K.

“There’s so much greater chance for a child to have success in school and success in life if this investment is made earlier in the process.” he said. “Any kindergarten teacher you talk to will tell you ‘I can see the stark difference between children who have had early childhood education and those who have not.’” 

It was not long into Gov. Cooper’s comments that he took issue with budget delays and slammed Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate that it looks like the legislature is putting casinos in front of passing a budget that we need to support education,” Cooper said. “That’s wrong, in fact it’s outrageous and I hope that the legislature will come to its senses and stop poisoning this legislative process with casinos.” 

“This funding is not only going to help them purchase materials and enhance their programs as the governor stated,” said Lorena Gonzalez the Senior Manager of the Early Education Branch at the NC DHHS: Division of Child Development and Early Education at the press conference. “It’s also going to help our early educators provide or continue to provide and create nurturing environments for our children.”

Cooper then turned his attention to the Opportunity Scholarship Program when asked about signing or vetoing the budget.

“Private school vouchers that help wealthy parents keep their children in private academies is going to hurt our public schools and we don’t need taxpayers supporting private schools for the wealthy,” said Cooper. 

By “wealthy” Cooper is referring to sliding scale income requirements for the lottery-based Opportunity Scholarship program. In order to receive the full scholarship of $6,492 a four-person household cannot earn more than $55,500 annually. A two-person household earning $36,482 or less qualifies for the full scholarship, while a family of two can earn up to $72,964 to receive a partial scholarship. The program is currently not open to students already in private schools, nor does it count food stamps benefits as income, and foster children automatically qualify regardless of their foster home income. The program is funded separately in the state budget, not as part of the state’s K-12 public education allotment.

Proponents of the scholarships say that it is designed to make school choice options available to more parents, rather than just those at higher income levels who can independently afford private schools. Matching Senate and House bills filed this year opened the program to include students already in private school. They also lift the income cap on the tiered income qualifications so that some amount of Opportunity Scholarships would be available to all North Carolina parents. Similar language is expected in the still-in-negotiations state budget.

Cooper has also faced criticism for fighting Opportunity Scholarships, yet sent his own daughter to a private girls-only school. The program has long been a sticking point with the Governor, so much so he issued a ‘state of emergency’ in May over public school funding.