by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
Tragic circumstances unfolded in the North Carolina Senate Monday night. Despite Republicans’ efforts to lift North Carolina children out of the dark education hole of this pandemic, all but one Democrat sided with Gov. Cooper over parents.
The N.C. General Assembly on Monday, March 1, tried but failed — by one vote, 29-20 — to override the governor’s veto of a bill to reopen schools, even as students — parents, too — suffer, and opinion polls show residents want children back in the classroom.
Who is that one Democrat who chose parents over politics? Sen. Kirk deViere of Cumberland County. Locke’s Becki Gray thanked him on Twitter following the vote.
What mattered most to all Senate Democrats, except for Sen. deViere, was sticking with their fellow Democrat, Roy Cooper. They made that choice even as polling shows bipartisan support for ensuring that public schools offer in-person instruction. Here’s the flash Civitas Poll from the weekend. Overall support for Senate Bill 37, which reopened schools, sits at 59.6%, with wide swaths of North Carolinians on board.
Support for the bill runs the political spectrum, with 80% of Republicans, 56% of Unaffiliateds, and 43% of Democrats affirming their backing of the bill. Alternatively, only 8% of Republicans, 30% of Unaffiliateds, and 43% of Democrats oppose the bill.
Yet despite those numbers, parents wake up today facing the real-world impact of a lost year of learning, with too many kids mired in depression, weariness, and longing for their friends and normal life.
But it isn’t to be despite science that supports returning to the classroom, and despite Gov. Cooper moving educators to the front of the COVID-19 vaccination line.
Here’s how it went down in the Senate.
“Three Democratic senators — Sens. Kirk DeViere, Paul Lowe, and Ben Clark — prioritized children’s interests when the bill passed the first time,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a news release. “If they stick to their convictions and side again with the overwhelming majority of parents, this bill will almost certainly become law.”
But at least two of the lawmakers instead signaled on social media and through media outlets Monday they would side with the governor.
In a statement, Lowe, D-Forsyth, said: “After some careful consideration, I will be voting to sustain the governor’s veto. Our students and teachers must come back to a healthy learning environment. I hope we can come to a compromise.”
In an email to WRAL, Clark said it would “be prudent” for the General Assembly to make the changes Cooper asked for. Clark asked that he be excused from Monday night’s session. The request was granted.
No such relief for the children. Democratic legislators had the opportunity to excuse the children from their despair. They chose not to.