Urgency behind debate: Cutting dropout rate

North Carolina's 30 percent high school dropout rate loomed over a debate over education between the two major candidates for governor on Friday.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican candidate, said he wants to beef up vocational training at high schools to draw closer connections between education and work.

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, the Democratic candidate, said young children need to be ready to learn, and that older students need to be prepared for jobs of the future.

New high school programs, including one designed to make college more accessible and affordable, are resulting in higher graduation rates, she said.

The candidates found much to disagree about at the forum at SAS Institute.

Perdue said McCrory wanted to dismantle the state's early childhood education and health programs and use the money for vouchers to help parents pay for private schools.

McCrory said Perdue had not done enough in her positions as lieutenant governor and a member of the State Board of Education.

He denied that he wants to take money from Smart Start and More at Four, programs initiated by Democratic governors to help prepare at-risk children for school, to pay for vouchers. But he said both programs should be examined for their effectiveness.

“We don't need another program,” he said. “I think there's the opportunity for consolidation, and that makes common sense.”