Gov. Roy Cooper and Senate leader Phil Berger opened the legislative session with a disagreement over education spending and taxes.
Cooper was the guest Wednesday morning at the annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast sponsored by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. Public School Forum President and CEO Keith Poston interviewed Cooper before a live audience for the forum’s television show Education Matters.
“Clearly we have to invest more in education, and that’s going to be at the top of my list as I prepare my budget,” Cooper said before the show’s taping. “The key is making sure we can pay for it. Further corporate tax giveaways will put us in the position where we can’t. That’s going to be one of the major battles during this General Assembly session. Are we going to invest in education and our people, or are we going to continue with further corporate tax giveaways? And I think we’ve got to make that choice and I want the business community to come together to help us make the right choice.”
Republican legislators maintain that their tax policies have helped families as well as corporations.
Berger, an Eden Republican, criticized Cooper’s position in a Facebook post.
“It’s the first day of session, and Roy Cooper is already trying to set up a road block against tax cuts for N.C. families, small businesses and job creators,” the Facebook post says. The post also references rolling back earlier tax cuts, which Cooper has not proposed.
Cooper, a Democrat, acknowledged the deep partisan divides in the state and nation, but said those can be bridged on some issues.
“There are a lot of Republicans who support public education in the General Assembly,” he said. “Clearly, there is common ground in some of these areas. It is our duty as elected officials to find common ground.”
The Public School Forum used the breakfast to unveil its top 10 education issues.
Cooper said he wants higher pay for teachers and principals and to restore some form of college-scholarship program for prospective teachers. The Republican legislature ended the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, which the Public School Forum managed, in 2011. The program had paid college tuition for teachers who committed to teach in state schools for four years.
House Republicans have tried to restore teacher scholarships, but haven’t convinced Senate Republicans to go along with the idea.
Cooper said Teaching Fellows brought top students to the profession. “It was a tool that was worth it,” he said. “The payback was significant. We have to restart it in some way.”
He was skeptical of private school vouchers, which use taxpayer money to pay student tuition at private schools. The legislature plans to increase funding for the program, called Opportunity Scholarships, over the next decade. Students do not have to take state standardized tests. Schools choose tests they require students to take, but they do not have to report student scores unless the school enrolls more than 25 students with vouchers.
Cooper said he has opposed vouchers because of the lack of accountability. “Vouchers should not be on the list when you have limited funds,” he said.