Jim Hunt: The rise of an education governor

Tonight Governor and Mrs. James B. Hunt, Jr. will receive the 2015 Public School Forum of North Carolina Jay Robinson Education Leadership Award.

When most North Carolinians recall Governor Hunt's terms in office, the first thing that comes to mind is “education governor.”

The term education governor entered common usage only relatively recently, most likely as a direct descendent of President Johnson’s self-anointment as the “education president,” a claim he made based on passage of his Great Society school programs. The concept behind the label, however, as well as its frequent association with the South, are not inventions of the modern era. Gubernatorial leadership in education reform has long been closely associated with the South, perhaps to a degree unparalleled in other regions of the country.

Most observers consider the first Great Society education governors to be Terry Sanford of North Carolina (1961-1965) and Georgia governor Carl Sanders (1963-1967), and they were also the first to whom the label “education governor” was attributed directly. The efforts of Sanford and Sanders helped to establish the presence of an education plank as part of gubernatorial agendas in the South.

At the end of the 1970s, changes in the governorship and a steady stream of support from multi-state organizations would enable Southern governors as a group to transform education into a prominent and persistent feature of their policy agendas. Governor Jim Hunt led the way.

About the author

Trip Stallings is the Director of Policy Research at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at N.C. State University.