News: CJ Exclusives

Poll: Nearly half of N.C. likely voters oppose Cooper veto; want lawmakers to override and reopen schools

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

Gov. Roy Cooper’s 11th-hour veto of a school reopening bill Friday isn’t sitting well with nearly half of North Carolina likely voters, a Civitas Flash Poll shows.

More than 49% of respondents to the poll say they oppose Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 37, a measure that requires school districts to offer in-person instruction for K-12 students for the remainder of the scheduled 2020-21 school year. Forty-one percent support the veto.

Roughly the same percentage want their state legislator to vote to override the veto. Overall, 60% of respondents support S.B. 37, and just 28% are opposed. Nearly three-in-four respondents said a child’s parent or legal guardian, not a local school board, should be the decision maker when it comes to in-person versus virtual school.

Support for the bill runs the political spectrum, with 80% of Republicans, 56% of Unaffiliateds, and 43% of Democrats affirming their backing of the bill. Alternatively, only 8% of Republicans, 30% of Unaffiliateds, and 43% of Democrats oppose the bill.

In an 11th hour move about 10 minutes before 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the bill. The General Assembly has vowed to override the move, indicating a number of Democratic legislators will break rank and vote in favor of at least partial in-person learning for children.

“Three Democratic senators — Sens. Kirk DeViere, Paul Lowe, and Ben Clark — prioritized children’s interests when the bill passed the first time,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a news release. “If they stick to their convictions and side again with the overwhelming majority of parents, this bill will almost certainly become law.”

The governor’s objection to the bill is that it allows school districts to choose to operate under Plan A if they wish, a news release from state Republicans says. Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, said last week: “With teacher vaccinations in full swing, there is no legitimate excuse for Governor Cooper and the far-left [N.C. Association of Educators] to oppose the broad reopening flexibility this bill grants to school districts.”

This veto override would come on the tails of a release of statewide test results, which indicate a marked decline in student proficiency since school shutdowns began last year. The results showed that three-fourths of third-graders are not proficient in reading and that the majority of high school students failed Math I, Math 3, and biology exams. Third-grade students were also significantly behind in reading proficiency, with 58% of those tested scoring a Level I, which is the lowest grade possible.

Of likely voters surveyed in the Civitas Flash Poll, an overwhelming majority (77%) believe students should be either partially or fully re-opened for in-person instruction. Only 18% believe schools should be closed, solely offering virtual instruction.

Another survey, conducted earlier by the Carolina Partnership for Reform, showed that 73% of respondents said the state should require that all school systems offer an in-person learning option for students. Only 22% said the state should not require that option.

The General Assembly passed S.B. 37 in a bi-partisan vote in mid-February. By law, Cooper had 10 days to either sign or veto the bill before it became law automatically. He vetoed the measure on the ninth day.

“As written, the bill threatens public health just as North Carolina strives to emerge from the pandemic,” Cooper wrote in his veto message.

The Senate is expected to take up that vote at 7 tonight. If the original tally holds, both chambers of the legislature would have the sufficient two-thirds majority to override Cooper’s veto, which would require 72 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.

Senate Bill 37 originally passed with the support of three Democrats in the Senate — for a final vote tally of 31-16 — and eight Democrats in the House — for a 77-42 split. To sustain Cooper’s veto, two Democrats in the Senate and six Democrats in the House would need to flip their votes.

The Civitas poll, conducted by Cygnal, surveyed 600 likely N.C. voters Feb. 27-28. The margin of error is plus or minus 4%.

David Bass is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.