by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
What does Gov. Roy Cooper really think about school choice?
Two years ago, Gov. Cooper surprised many when he signed a proclamation declaring Jan. 23–29, 2022, to be “North Carolina School Choice Week.”
Considering the governor’s long-standing opposition to parental choice and the Opportunity Scholarship Program — which he recommended shutting down numerous times in his state budget proposals — the governor’s proclamation certainly made a lot of people wonder.
Fast forward to this year. Two days into National School Choice Week, Gov. Cooper issued a proclamation declaring 2024 “The Year of the Public Schools.”
What? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to proclaim 2024 “The Year of Public School” at the beginning of the year? Why wait until National School Choice Week to make the announcement?
Of course, the governor’s actions raise other questions. In May of last year, Gov. Cooper said that Republican budget policies and support for school choice expansion were an assault on the public schools. Cooper underscored his sentiments by issuing a special address and declaring, “[P]ublic education in North Carolina is facing a state of emergency.” Of course, if Gov. Cooper really believed the public schools were under assault, why did he stop short of declaring a true state of emergency? Does the governor’s proclamation mean his “state of emergency” for the public schools is now over?
The truth is, despite last year’s proclamation, the governor has never warmed up to the idea of school choice. If he has, why has the 2022 proclamation been scrubbed from the governor’s web site? Its absence is conspicuous.
Now it appears the governor is showing his true colors, just in time — coincidentally — for National School Choice Week.
Could the governor’s actions have been influenced by other school choice opponents?
It turns out that behind the governor’s statement, there may be a few more actors who want parents to rethink their support of school choice.
According to an article in the Daily Signal, a coalition of left-wing organizations is spearheading a disinformation campaign against school choice that just so happens to match up with National School Choice Week. Led by the benign-sounding Partnership for the Future of Learning, several organizations are launching a campaign to scare families into believing that school choice programs are destructive and lack accountability, two claims the Daily Signal article readily confronts. The article also references a web site titled “Truth in Education Funding,” which urges the public to end its support for vouchers and the privatization of education.
On the list of partnering organizations for “Truth in Education Funding” are Public School Forum of North Carolina and the North Carolina Justice Center, two North Carolina–based organizations leading the opposition to school choice in North Carolina.
So why did Gov. Cooper declare 2024 “The Year of Public School” during National School Choice Week? I think we have a pretty good idea.