Education

Gov. Cooper asks business leaders to push for educator pay hikes over tax cuts

Gov. Roy Cooper told the crowd at the Public School Forum of North Carolina’s annual “Eggs and Issues” gathering in Raleigh that he’s asking business leaders to advocate for three things: Increased education spending, repeal of House Bill 2 and expansion of Medicaid.
Gov. Roy Cooper told the crowd at the Public School Forum of North Carolina’s annual “Eggs and Issues” gathering in Raleigh that he’s asking business leaders to advocate for three things: Increased education spending, repeal of House Bill 2 and expansion of Medicaid. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Speaking to a crowd of education supporters Wednesday morning, Gov. Roy Cooper said he hopes to “organize and galvanize” the business community to support educator pay hikes over corporate tax cuts.

Cooper, a Democrat, told the crowd at the Public School Forum of North Carolina’s annual “Eggs and Issues” gathering that he’s asking business leaders to put their political capital to use with the Republican-dominated General Assembly for three things: Increased education spending, repeal of House Bill 2 and expansion of Medicaid.

“I’m going to be asking the business community to go the General Assembly and say, ‘Don’t cut the corporate tax rate again. Instead, raise teacher pay.’ It is a choice. You cannot do everything,” Cooper said to applause.

The group met at 7:30 a.m. on the day the legislature kicked off its 2017 session. The session drew educators, business people, education advocates and state lawmakers. Before Cooper spoke, the forum’s Executive Director Keith Poston and Program Director James Ford presented the group’s Top 10 list of 2017 education issues.

The list includes raising pay for teachers and school administrators, expanding early childhood education, reforming the state testing system and reviving a scholarship program for students who want to become teachers.

Cooper, who can expect resistance from the legislature after edging out Republican Gov. Pat McCrory for the governorship, said it’s not realistic to expect all of that: “We have some hard choices to make. ... Most all of them had the words ‘boost,’ ‘raise,’ ‘increase.’ ”

Cooper, who didn’t offer specifics of his upcoming budget plan, said the push to improve pay for teachers and principals has bipartisan support, though there will likely be disagreement over specifics.

“There are a lot of Republicans who support public education who are in the General Assembly,” he said. “One of the things we can all agree on: We aren’t paying our teachers and principals enough.”

He also spoke enthusiastically about reviving some form of the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, which provided scholarships for students who agreed to teach in the state. Republicans cut its funding in 2011. “We know it worked,” Cooper said. “It was a tool that was worth the money and the payback was significant.”

Cooper said he personally opposes spending money for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which provides taxpayer money to help low-income students switch from public to private schools without requiring them to take part in state testing or other accountability measures for public schools. But he’s unlikely to get much support for that view, with advocates of vouchers and other choice measures prevailing in state and national elections.

Poston’s conversation with Cooper was taped for the forum’s Education Matters TV show, which airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on UNC-TV’s North Carolina channel and will be available online next week.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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