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Gov. Roy Cooper proclaims 2024 the ‘Year of Public Schools’

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Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday proclaimed 2024 the “Year of Public Schools” and gave what he called his most urgent message in his career as governor — a call for a moratorium on private school vouchers until public schools are “fully funded.”

“It is time for us, all of us, to stand up and demand our legislature stand up for public schools,” Cooper said ahead of signing the proclamation in the library at Nashville Elementary School, which he attended as a young student. 

Cooper advocated for more funding and resources for K-12 and early childhood education and told those present to call their legislators to insist on better support for the state’s public schools.

“We should invest more in access to pre-kindergarten, we should raise teacher pay, we should buy school supplies and help ensure that all students get the education that our constitution guarantees them,” Cooper said.

The call for a temporary halt to private school vouchers comes after the most recent state budget expanded the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides publicly funded vouchers for private schools. Vouchers were previously available to lower income families but are now open to all North Carolinians, regardless of wealth or income. 

“I am not against private schools, but I am against taxpayer money going to private schools at the expense of public schools,” Cooper said. 

Gov. Cooper addressed the crowd on Jan. 23. Laura Browne/EducationNC

When the voucher expansion was introduced last year, Cooper declared a state of emergency for public schools.

In December, EdNC asked public school teachers to tell us why their schools matter. Nearly all of them pointed to the work public schools do to provide an equitable access to education. Their answers also reflect the many ways schools serve students: as a safe haven, a place to be provided with food, and a place to receive love, care, and support.

As he completes his final year in office as governor, Cooper announced his commitment to meet with parents, students, educators, and business leaders throughout North Carolina.

“We’re going to talk about the great work that our public schools are doing and how they can get even better,” he said.

Getting high-quality teachers in schools, including low-performing schools, is important, according to Cooper. He also said more must be done to expand scholarships for future teachers.

“It’s not just pay, it’s investment in teacher development, making sure they are treated as the professionals that they are, making sure that they have the surrounding support that our constitution requires — so the school counselors, the people who are there to help with instruction, enough school supplies,” Cooper said. “Those are the kinds of things that we’re struggling with right now, and our schools are performing well, even on a shoestring budget, but that can’t that can’t last.”

Cooper warned of issues the state could face if schools lack sufficient support.

“North Carolina has been ranked first in America in business, but we won’t continue to be first in business if we become last in education. The great workforce that we are providing businesses now will dwindle if our public schools falter,” Cooper said. “We cannot, we must not let that happen.”

Superintendent of Nash County Public Schools Steven Ellis emphasized the role public education plays in economic and business development.

“In our public schools, we understand that education is the foundation upon which economic prosperity is built,” Ellis said. “Our schools are not just centers of learning. They’re incubators of economic growth and innovation.”