“You’re doing the Lord’s work,” Gov. Roy Cooper said — not at a religious revival but to staff members at the Guilford Child Development Center in Greensboro Thursday afternoon.
The soft-spoken governor isn’t known for preaching, but he is thumping a big budget increase for education in his first proposed spending plan. He set a lofty goal of making North Carolina a “Top Ten Educated State” by 2025.
Guilford Child Development provides preschool education, child care, nutrition programs and a range of family services.
“You set a good example here of what we need to do across the state,” Cooper said. His budget calls for serving 4,700 more children in pre-K programs, eliminating the current waiting list.
“Education is a spectrum, it is a continuum” from early childhood through higher education and skills training for older workers, he said. He’s proposing to fund 10 percent average teacher raises over the next two years, a new scholarship program for prospective teachers, and millions more for support staff, classroom supplies, digital learning aids and efforts to boost low-performing schools.
“When we talk about investment in public schools, it must be quality investment and we must expect quality results,” he said.
As in becoming a leading state for education as measured by participation in preschool, high school graduation and university degree attainment, Cooper said.
Cooper spoke to the already converted — education professionals — Thursday. He praised them for “making a difference in the lives of these children.”
The public may be half-converted — supportive of public education but wary about costs. The proposed budget would raise overall state spending by $1.1 billion to $23.5 billion, almost a 5 percent bump. Yet, it makes up for years of slower growth and doesn’t call for tax increases.
Republican legislative leaders reacted with skepticism to the first budget from a Democratic governor they’ve seen in four years.
“Gov. Cooper is clearly growing nostalgic for the Easley-Perdue days of runaway spending — and his reckless $1 billion spending spree would surely return us to the days of high taxes and multibillion-dollar deficits,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement, referring to former Democratic governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue.
Berger employed plenty of hyperbole. One billion in new spending can’t produce “multibillion-dollar deficits” — which never existed anyway, as North Carolina’s constitution requires a balanced budget.
But the Republican religion includes tax cuts and lean expenditures, so Cooper and the legislature may have a tug-of-war over the state’s collection plate.
At the same time, Republicans say they want to boost education spending, so there might be more room for agreement than normal doctrinal differences would allow.
If North Carolina did become a leading state for education, that would complement the Republican goal of providing a top business climate. The days when major industries, including textiles, furniture and tobacco, didn’t need or want educated workers are gone. Good jobs today require a well-trained, adaptable workforce equipped with critical-thinking skills.
North Carolina’s community colleges and state universities already are among the nation’s best. That’s not true for K-12 public education, and part of the reason is that too many children aren’t prepared to learn when they start school. We don’t have to accept that.
So Cooper is floating an ambitious goal and a spending plan to make a start on reaching it. Lawmakers may come up with other plans, but they should support the goal. Maybe they all should show a little faith in each other this time.
— from the News & Record of Greensboro.