Democrat North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) declared a “State of Emergency for Public Education” on Monday over a Republican-led effort to promote school choice by expanding the state’s private school voucher program.
Cooper claimed in a video address posted to social media that Republican lawmakers are “dropping an atomic bomb on public education” by expanding voucher eligibility to any K-12 student. The governor claimed expansion will result in “steep funding cuts” for public schools.
“It’s clear that the Republican legislature is aiming to choke the life out of public education. I’m declaring this a state of emergency because you need to know what’s happening. If you care about public schools in North Carolina, it’s time to take immediate action and tell them to stop the damage that will set back our schools for a generation,” Cooper said in a statement.
The GOP legislature is planning to choke the life out of public education, and you need to know what’s happening. Watch Gov. Cooper’s special address on public education. pic.twitter.com/QVkXpLhDu2
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) May 22, 2023
As NC Newsline reported, critics of the voucher program “complain that the private schools that receive taxpayer money engage in religious indoctrination and exclusion, discriminate against LGBTQ students and parents, and are not held accountable for academic outcomes the way charter schools and traditional public school are.”
But supporters, like Democrat-turned-Republican state Rep. Tricia Cotham, say the program will help families place their children in schools that are a better fit for them. Cotham notably co-sponsored a House bill with the same language.
#SchoolChoice #KidsFirst pic.twitter.com/usN8uDRnYG
— Tricia Cotham (@triciacotham) May 22, 2023
In a tweet on Monday, Cotham called out Cooper and said, “the true emergency here is that the Governor is advocating for systems rather than students themselves.”
“Education is not one-size-fits-all and NC families should have the freedom to determine what kind of education is best for them,” she said. “My bill to expand the NC Opportunity Scholarship program, to allow all NC families to make that choice, will soon be on his desk, waiting on his signature. NC kids are waiting, Governor! Stop the political theater and put kids first!”
The News and Observer pointed out that Cooper’s declaration comes as Republican legislative leaders are negotiating a state budget deal for the next two years.
“The GOP has a legislative supermajority, so it can adopt a spending plan and other legislation without needing Cooper’s support,” according to the report.
In his special address, Cooper additionally said he thinks the pay increases for teachers in the proposed budget do not go far enough and could ultimately exacerbate an existing teacher shortage. He also accused Republicans of bringing “their political culture wars into the classrooms,” nodding to recent “extreme” legislation passed in the House and/or Senate that protects parental rights, protects female sports teams, and shields students from being indoctrinated by left-wing gender ideology.
The House is also considering asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow the election of members to the State Board of Education, rather than having them nominated by a governor.
“If they get their way, our State Board of Education will be replaced by political hacks who can dictate what is taught — and not taught — in our public schools,” Cooper claimed in his address. “North Carolina schools need rigorous science, reading and math classes, not more politicians policing our children’s curriculum with book bans, elimination of science courses and more.”
Republicans have chosen to Fund Companies, not Classrooms. It’s time for the @NCGOP to stop putting #MillionairesFirst and to start making the necessary investments in NC’s children. #ncga #ncpol https://t.co/vyeIt1KcyV
— NC House Democrats (@NCHouseDems) May 22, 2023
North Carolina House Democrats praised Cooper’s special address on Twitter, accusing Republicans of funding companies, “not classrooms.”
“It’s time for the NCGOP to stop putting Millionaires First and to start making the necessary investments in NC’s children,” House Democrats wrote.
This coming week, Cooper is set to travel across the state to meet with community leaders to “raise awareness about the danger of the bills in the NC General Assembly” and “ask them to demand better and join the fight,” according to his office.
Randy Brechbiel, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger (R) said in a statement that “meaningless publicity stunts do nothing to improve education outcomes in our state.”
“The House and Senate will continue working together to put forward budget proposals that address the needs of students and parents,” Brechbiel said.
Other Cooper critics and school choice advocates called out the governor for his apparent hypocrisy; according to the Education Freedom Institute, Cooper sent his own child to “an expensive private school” in Raleigh.
BREAKING: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declares a STATE OF EMERGENCY to fight against school choice.
This hypocrite sent his own kid to a private school.
We’re freeing families from the clutches of the teachers unions once and for all & there’s nothing he can do about it. pic.twitter.com/m4bbcpiEIx
— Corey A. DeAngelis, school choice evangelist (@DeAngelisCorey) May 22, 2023
“BREAKING: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declares a STATE OF EMERGENCY to fight against school choice,” school choice champion Corey A. DeAngelis tweeted. “This hypocrite sent his own kid to a private school. We’re freeing families from the clutches of the teachers unions once and for all & there’s nothing he can do about it.”
Once again, we see leaders in government telling you that they know what’s best for your child. Our Governor has gone so far as to use the words “state of emergency” as a political prop. However, words like this weren’t said when Democrats had control of the legislature and… https://t.co/YM6hPzDjSv
— Mark Robinson (@markrobinsonNC) May 22, 2023
Former North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (R) also slammed Cooper for using the term “state of emergency” as a “political prop.”
“Once again, we see leaders in government telling you that they know what’s best for your child. Our Governor has gone so far as to use the words ‘state of emergency’ as a political prop,” Robinson said. “However, words like this weren’t said when Democrats had control of the legislature and teachers were receiving pay cuts and being furloughed. Our Republican legislature is allowing families to chart their own educational destinies because they know what their children need better than a bureaucrat.”