Cooper stresses support for education in State of the State speech

Gov. Roy Cooper enters the NC House chamber

Education as a key to expanding the state’s skilled workforce and maintaining its economic competitiveness was a central theme in Gov. Roy Cooper’s State of the State speech Monday night, a speech that included references to priorities in his next budget. 

He encouraged investment in the “education pipeline” that begins in early childhood. 

“A great workforce requires real investment from cradle to career,” he said. 

“We know that a great workforce also relies on public schools. Educating the next generation of workers who will fill the jobs that we haven’t even yet imagined is how we stay an economic powerhouse.”

Cooper said his budget will include full funding for public schools as recommended by a consultant in a long-running school finance lawsuit called Leandro. The budget will also have double-digit raises for teachers and principals, he said.  

The governor’s budget is a mere suggestion. The state legislature writes and passes its own budget and often ignores the governor’s priorities. 

His support for full Leandro funding puts Cooper, a Democrat, in direct opposition to the Republican-led legislature. 

In his January remarks opening the legislative session, Senate leader Phil Berger said,  “Success in education policy is about more than hitting some arbitrary funding goal,” Policy Watch reported. 

Last Friday, the NC Supreme Court with its new 5-2 Republican majority decided to reinstate a lower-court order blocking the funding. Last year, when the court had a 4-3 Democratic majority, it backed an order to fund the education plan. 

Cooper delivered a message directly to the Supreme Court. Justices were in the House chamber with legislators, members of Cooper’s cabinet, and Council of State members. 

“The Court should uphold decades of bipartisan Supreme Court precedent that comes down on the side of the children, because that’s what really matters – the children,” he said.  

Cooper has made Medicaid expansion one of his main goals of his time in office. For most of those years, Republicans refused to consider it. That changed last year when Berger said he supported expansion. Last week, Republican leaders announced they reached an agreement to expand Medicaid, but tied expansion to a state budget that won’t be final for months.  

Cooper urged legislators to not wait. 

“Every month we wait to expand not only costs lives but costs our state more than $521 million a month in federal health care dollars,” he said. If the state waits too long, it risks losing $1.8 billion in federal reimbursements for hospitals, he added.

Cooper took a preemptive shot at bills that could land on his desk that further restrict abortion, tell teachers how to talk about racism, and target LGBTQ students. He urged legislators to keep the state “off the front lines of those culture wars” that hurt people and cost jobs. 

“Use public schools to build a brighter future, not to bully and marginalize LGBTQ students,” he said. “Don’t make teachers rewrite history. Keep the freedom to vote in reach for every eligible voter. Leave the decisions about reproductive health care to women and their doctors.”

In a departure from tradition, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson delivered the Republican response. Robinson is expected to run for governor next year and used a good bit of his time delivering an autobiographical sketch that sounded a lot like a campaign ad. 

He reanimated grievances over COVID-19 shutdowns and credited Republicans in the legislature for the state’s economic successes.

Bonus content: Watch Gov. Roy Cooper address Leandro funding during his State of the State speech:

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Cooper stresses support for education in State of the State speech