Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper gave his State of the State address to the Republican-led General Assembly Monday evening and education featured prominently in his remarks, including when it comes to his vision for state spending.
“I don’t want to have to veto the budget, and I will do my part to see that we have a budget and I expect you to do yours,” he told lawmakers in his remarks. “And I want to see a budget that has three signatures: Speaker Moore’s, Senator Berger’s, and mine. Our people deserve it.”
Cooper said that towards the end of his address, after touting his proposed budget’s ability to meet the challenges facing North Carolinians. His two-year spending plan includes bonuses and salary increases for teachers and other education staff.
During his speech, Cooper said that better teacher pay, among other things, is important in making sure the state meets its goal of getting 2 million North Carolinians a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree by 2030.
“Our pledge … must begin with more children getting high quality pre-K and a healthy start at birth,” Cooper said. “More children who learn to read in elementary school. More children inspired to learn trades in middle school. And more well-paid educators who can guide children as well as adults getting trained for a second career.”
He said teacher raises are even more important now since teachers did not get one during the last biennium budget cycle thanks to the failure of Cooper and Republican lawmakers to come to an agreement. That ended with Cooper vetoing the legislature’s two-year budget plan and legislative Republicans failing to override the veto.
Cooper’s remarks come on the same day that the National Education Association released its annual national teacher pay rankings, showing North Carolina down two spots from 31 to 33 between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
In his speech, Cooper also highlighted other education items that are featured in his budget or may be featured in his upcoming plans for how to spend the latest round of federal COVID-19 aid.
“Education and health care will get us well on our way. But to cement North Carolina’s spot as best in the nation for business and industry, we have to solidify the state’s backbone,” he said. “Its infrastructure — schools, water and sewer, roads, bridges, transit — and also its pathways for information. High speed internet is vital for education and telemedicine but also for every person, from small business owner and farmer to big corporation and hospital,” he said.
During his press conference on his budget plans, Cooper had signified that the absence of money for things like broadband expansion in his plan was due to the fact that he would eventually propose using federal COVID-19 relief funds to address the issue.
Cooper’s proposed budget also included a bond to address infrastructure needs in the public education arena.
“We’re seeing the lowest interest rates. We can afford it, it will create jobs, and we’re never going to get a better deal. So let’s come together and pass a strong bond referendum so we can get this done,” he said.
Cooper also highlighted a number of education-related North Carolinians as examples of the state’s resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Felecia Young, a math teacher at Knox Middle School in Salisbury. He said she “went the extra mile” to make remote learning engaging.
“She produced videos with music, dance, and song that helped you with math even though you didn’t want them to. She kept in such close contact with her students and their families, she earned the nickname ‘Mama Young,’” he said.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, the people highlighted in the speech couldn’t attend the address, so Cooper’s team released videos of his conversations with the individuals prior to the address.