News: Quick Takes

GOP lawmakers blast Cooper for stalling on school reopening bill

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham (CJ file photo)
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham (CJ file photo)

Republicans in the General Assembly are criticizing Gov. Roy Cooper for his inaction on a bill that would reopen schools for in-person instruction.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 37 last week in a bipartisan vote: 31-16 in the Senate and 77-42 in the House. Three Democrats in the Senate and eight Democrats in the House joined every Republican in voting for the bill.

The measure requires public schools to provide in-person instruction to students in kindergarten through 12th grade for the remainder of the scheduled 2020-21 school year.

The bill has been on Cooper’s desk for a week now. By law, the governor has 10 days to sign or veto legislation passed while the General Assembly is in session. Otherwise, the bill becomes law without his signature.

Cooper, a Democrat, has signaled that he will veto the bill. If he does, the General Assembly could override the veto if the original vote counts hold. His delay to act has drawn the ire of Republicans.

“Reopening schools is a national issue that impacts millions of families, especially working mothers,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, who chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Committee. “People are looking to their government for leadership, yet all they’re getting from the governor is inaction. Governor Cooper needs to either sign or veto the bill; continuing to procrastinate does nothing but hold our kids back.”

“This is a common-sense bill that makes sure parents with children who need to be in school in-person have that option,” said Rep. Erin Paré, a Republican from Wake County. “No more delay. We need to provide families with the option to get their kids back in school.”

The N.C. Association of Educators, a close ally of Cooper, has pushed for school teachers to be vaccinated before returning to in-class instruction. Even so, Democrats are facing increasing pressure from parents to reopen schools.

“Democrats like Cooper are in the middle,” noted Democratic strategic Gary Pearce in a recent column. “And Republicans are happy to use school reopening as a wedge issue to turn both teachers and parents against Democrats.”

In a news release from the office of Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, parents expressed dismayed over Cooper’s delay in signing or vetoing the bill. “Dragging this decision out for another 10 days would be yet another affront to parents who want some certainty in their children’s education,” said Wake County parent Kelly Mann.

Cooper is holding a news conference 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24. He may address the status of the bill then. Carolina Journal will provide coverage.

David Bass is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.