March 4, 2021

Like poorly parented children and naughty puppy dogs, lame duck Governors live in a consequence-free environment.  Knowing he’s faced voters for the last time, a lame duck Governor can ignore public opinion and bequeath favors on his political patrons and supporters without fear of a reckoning at the ballot box.

Legislators – who voters get to pass judgment on every two years – don’t enjoy that same luxury.

So it was interesting to watch Governor Cooper lead his legislative lemmings off the cliff Monday night, killing a bill requiring public schools to provide parents an option for student to receive in-person instruction.

Several recent polls show overwhelming support for public schools returning to in-person instruction.  Yet Cooper vetoed the legislation in what appears to be a sop to North Carolina’s teachers union which also just happens to be one of his campaigns’ most generous financial supporters.

We suspect more than a few legislators will be asking themselves in October of 2022 if Governor Cooper actually had their best interests at heart when he ordered them to vote to keep public schools classrooms closed.

Which brings us to another consequence of Cooper’s school closures:  the erosion of public support for teachers and public schools in North Carolina.

Carolina Partnership for Reform polling conducted last week showed that if cost, distance and transportation were not factors, 57% of North Carolinians would choose to educate their children or grandchildren outside of a traditional public school setting.

Support for the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship program leapt to a record 69% while opposition fell to only 25%, a net gain of 25% from CPRNC’s May 2018 survey which found voters’ opinion more evenly divided with 54% supporting and 39% opposing the program.

61% of voters support increasing the amount of the Opportunity Scholarship from $4200 to $6500 per child per year and 54% back expanding eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarship to all families making less than $100,000 per year.

Of note, only 36% of voters thought teachers should get the $2,500 bonus proposed by Governor Cooper while 49% believed families with school-age children deserved a $250 extra credit grant like the legislature delivered last fall.

Taken together, it is clear Governor Cooper’s school shutdown has done more to undermine and damage confidence in North Carolina’s public schools and public school teachers than any event in the modern history of our state.

North Carolina’s conservative reformers’ commitment to high-quality public schools is unquestioned, with even the virulently partisan NCAE Teachers Union reluctantly conceding state legislators dramatically increased K-12 school funding and teacher pay over the vetoes of Governor Cooper.

And while conservative reformers should continue their unbending support of public schools, legislators are unquestionably on rock-solid policy and political footing as they work to meet public demand to expand parental school choice in North Carolina.