Investing in the future

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

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AHOSKIE – Governor Roy Cooper’s “Year of Public Schools” tour made a stop here March 7 during a visit to Hertford County Early College High School (HCECHC).

This year, Cooper is highlighting North Carolina’s strong public schools, teachers and staff across the state to show the positive impacts of a well-funded public education system on the state’s economy and communities. He also raised concerns about the dangers of underfunding public schools while pouring millions of dollars into an unregulated private school voucher program.

Before meeting with local leaders, Cooper interacted with students in an English II class taught by Jennifer Smyth and those in a Math I class where Joebert Demotica serves as the instructor. The Governor expressed his appreciation to both instructors, mentioning that his mother once served as a classroom teacher in Nash County.

“I’m so grateful for all of our public school educators across the state,” Cooper said. “That’s why I’m here, to see firsthand the great job you and your students are doing here at Hertford County Early College High School.”

Gov. Cooper stresses the funding aspect of public education while addressing Hertford County officials last week. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

He praised HCECHS, noting the choices it offers, to include the opportunity to take college level courses while still in high school or opt to gain workforce experience.

“That success looms not from seeds planted last year, it’s the dedication this state has had over the years to public schools,” Cooper remarked. “We knew then what we know today, that strong schools equals strong communities equals a strong state.

“Our public schools are safe places to learn from teachers who care about their students,” the Governor added. “Public schools are doing amazing work across our state. Our graduation rate (87 percent) is at the highest level ever.”

However, as the Governor stressed, there are “storm clouds” gathering over public schools.

“Too often, our schools have been told by the state legislators to do more with less,” he said. “Unfortunately, over the last few years, our beginning teacher pay has dropped to 46th in the country. And North Carolina is investing $5,000 less per student than the national average.

“That deserves a wake-up call,” Cooper continued. “The budget that I have sent to the General Assembly answered that call. I asked for meaningful raises for our educators, and to follow the court order to provide every child with a sound, basic education. If we don’t make these investments then we risk losing good teachers.”

Instead of funding pubic schools at an appropriate level, Cooper said the General Assembly has come up with a program that provides $4 billion in private school vouchers over the next decade.

“In the first year of that program, Hertford County is going to lose nearly $700,000 and over $200 million will be lost statewide,” Cooper said. “That’s wrong, particularly when there’s no evidence that private schools are better than our public schools.”

He added that there is pushback happening in other states where similar voucher programs are in place.

“We won’t know how these students are doing in North Carolina because private schools receiving this taxpayer money don’t have to tell the taxpayers anything about what they’re doing with that money,” Cooper stressed. “Private schools don’t have to hire licensed teachers; don’t have to provide meals; don’t have to provide transportation; don’t have to serve disabled kids; don’t have to tell taxpayers what they teach, how their students perform, which students they’re going to reject, or even if their students show up at all. That’s a reckless waste of taxpayer money.”

Cooper said he recommends placing a moratorium on the voucher program until the state fully funds its public schools.

“Public schools are the glue that hold our communities together,” Cooper noted. “Surveys show that parents are satisfied with the services their children are getting at public schools.

“I’m going to continue to be in our public schools, meeting with students, educators, parents and business and community leaders, talking about the great work going on,” the Governor added. “A lot of those that criticize our public schools don’t set foot in them.”

In closing, he encouraged those assembled at HCECHS to contact their legislators and tell them that great things are happening in the state’s public schools, and to enact a moratorium on private school vouchers. He also lobbied for higher pay for public school teachers as well as expanding access to early childhood education.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is greeted by several students at Hertford County Early College High School when he paid a visit to the local area on March 7 as part of his “Year of Public Schools” tour. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

“Your voice can make a big difference. We live in an amazing state that has created a lot of jobs; we’ve been named twice in a row as first in business in the entire country. But we can’t continue to be first in business if we become last in education. CEOs will tell you that strong public schools are critical to their business and their children. We know the future of our state goes to class every day in a public school. We have to invest in that future,” Cooper concluded.

HCECHS Principal Dr. Lyndsay Britt was among the local officials welcoming the Governor to Hertford County.

“It’s such an honor for Governor Cooper to witness all the wonderful things happening in Hertford County,” said Dr. Britt. “I’m proud of the culture we have created on campus for our students and their parents. We serve a unique and diverse community. We can change the life trajectory for kids in areas like Hertford County. We can help them achieve their dreams and aspirations and we thank Governor Cooper for his continued fight for public education.”

Britt noted that enrollment at HCECHS has increased 39 percent, has exceeded growth, and been in the top 10 percent statewide over the past two years.

Wendy Vann, who serves as the PTSO president at HCECHS, expressed her admiration for what the school has meant for her daughter, a student, and other students as well.

“They have the opportunity to gain a high school diploma and college degree,” she said. “This school has opened many doors for its students. Our school is supported by this community and that’s a blessing within itself. Everyone who enters these doors feels welcomed. This school helps students where they are and guides them to where they need to go.”

Dr. Jesse Pratt, Superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools, stressed that Gov. Cooper’s commitment to improve public education plays a vital role in helping to shape the future of North Carolina.

“He recognizes the dedication, hard work, and unwavering commitment of educators and staff who provide our students with a quality education every day,” Dr. Pratt stated. “Through innovative teaching methods, personalized approach, and focus on diversity and inclusion, Hertford County Public Schools ensures that every student has the opportunity to succeed and thrive in this community. Our educators are just not instructors, they are mentors, advocates, and champions for our students, inspiring them to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams.

“We need to continue to invest in public education. Public education drives economic growth, building stronger and more resilient communities in our state. I commend Gov. Cooper for his steadfast leadership and unwavering support of public education,” Dr. Pratt added.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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