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Celebrating 20 years of bringing legislators together to talk ed policy

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On Jan. 22-23, 2023, The Hunt Institute held its 20th Annual Holshouser Legislators Retreat hosted by state Sens. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, and Sydney Batch, D-Wake; and state Reps. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, and Jon Hardister, R-Guilford.

“The leadership on education issues and bringing people together who may not always agree, or who don’t realize how often they will agree once they are in a room together listening to the experts, is really a value the The Hunt Institute doesn’t just bring to North Carolina but to the entire country,” Lee said.

The Hunt Institute holds legislative retreats in eight states — including North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, West Virginia, North Dakota, Illinois, Ohio, and Oklahoma — and four more states have signed on.

Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the Holshouser Retreat, noting how good it felt to see a bipartisan group of 66 legislators gathered to talk about education policy ahead of the long session.

Gov. Roy Cooper addresses the 20th Annual Holshouser Legislators Retreat. Mebane Rash/EducationNC

Cooper called on all of us to work together to find a way to put a good teacher in every classroom and good principal in each school, saying that’s the secret to a quality education, “end of story.”

The governor said he was deeply grateful to educators for their service. “You are doing the Lord’s work,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to uplift you and to talk about how much we value you as professionals because you hold the key to the future of our state.”

Over the course of two days, those in attendance had the opportunity to engage in conversations with experts and practitioners from across North Carolina and around the country on:

  • Supporting early childhood through business and community engagement.
  • Strengthening the early childhood workforce.
  • Building impactful accountability system.
  • Understanding educator licensure reform.
  • Expanding the educator pipeline through teacher residency.
  • Meeting North Carolina’s growing workforce needs.

This year, the retreat also included an education policy bootcamp for newly elected officials and an additional work session on early childhood hosted by the Joint Legislative Early Childhood Caucus.

You can see tweets from all of the sessions at #HLR23.

The event’s purpose, according to the press release, is to ensure bipartisan collaboration in the name of quality education for all students in North Carolina. Policymakers from both sides of the aisle are provided with carefully researched information in a space where they can delve into the specifics of education policy.

Sam Houston, interim chair of the board of The Hunt Institute, has been to all of the retreats over the years. He said, “They are remarkable opportunities for people from both sides of the aisle to talk about in common issues… making North Carolina the best place it can be.”

The first retreat was held in 2003. Called the North Carolina Legislators Retreat at the time, it was a “meeting of the minds” that brought together North Carolina policymakers, state and national resource experts, and education practitioners to have a candid dialogue about critical issues in public education, co-chaired by former Republican and Democratic governors of North Carolina Jim Holshouser and Jim Hunt.

State legislators play leading roles in developing policies impacting education, and the Hunt Institute helps them build capacity to create evidence-based policies that drive equitable opportunities for students.

At the retreat, former Sen. Howard Lee commended Holshouser and Hunt for sitting together and talking about how to make these retreats happen. He said, “Both were great governors. Both were dedicated and committed public servants. Both had great visions and great dreams for the future of North Carolina.”

Over the years, Sen. Howard Lee said, The Hunt Institute has become one of the greatest assets in North Carolina.

Former Senator Howard Lee address the 20th Annual Holshouser Legislators Retreat. Mebane Rash/EducationNC

To the legislators, Sen. Howard Lee said, “The strength of a legislator is to listen. And if you listen closely enough, I have found through the years you will find a way to cut through the difference.”

“It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about us,” he said. “It’s not about Republicans and Democrats. It’s not about conservatives and liberals. It’s not about the rich and the poor. It’s about giving hope to the masses and to the people.”

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.