by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Those straining noises you heard yesterday were the eyebrows of North Carolina school choice advocates being raised in justified skepticism. The occasion? Governor Roy Cooper signed a state proclamation declaring January 23rd to 29th School Choice Week in North Carolina.
Don’t get me wrong, the proclamation is a good thing. I welcome all publicity celebrating school choice, but as they say, consider the source.
After the initial euphoria of wondering, had the Governor finally came to his senses? I came down to earth, and sensed, maybe it was time for me to come to mine. Yeah, the proclamation was stamped with the Governor’s official seal. Still, the question of legitimacy emerged. Was it a prank? A few phone calls established the proclamation as legitimate.
Still why? Why would Cooper – a longtime opponent of school choice, a cause he had fought for years – sign on to a school choice proclamation?
My colleague Terry Stoops has had the most succinct assessment to date. Quoted in Carolina Journal , Stoops said Cooper’s decision to sign a proclamation is “either a startling change of mind, a shrewd political maneuver or an embarrassing administrative blunder.”
Cooper did not like school choice. He made shutting down the Opportunity Scholarship Program part of his annual budget proposals as Governor. Many times, he treated charter schools as less than equal partners. Moreover, the Governor even challenged in court the legislature for using a budgeting technique to stabilize and grow school choice programs. He lost.
This history fuels my skepticism.
Of course, Governor Cooper can sign a proclamation celebrating school choice.
However, it’s impossible to ignore his long history doing otherwise. It generates a whole lot of questions.
Will he answer any of them? is one of the most important questions of all.
So far, Cooper’s office hasn’t had any statements on the topic.
Some argue that not posting the proclamation to the Governor’s web site is a “statement.” Maybe he is trying to limit potential damage by not drawing attention to it?
I also tend to think not responding to questions is a “de facto” statement as well.
If you’ve had a genuine change of heart, wouldn’t you expect someone to come out and be willing to share their thoughts?
If Cooper hasn’t changed his mind and the episode is merely a staff blunder, you keep your head down, keep silent and take the hit.
But who knows?
Yes, a proclamation is nice. But still, unless Cooper comes out and says his positions have changed, I’m not changing my mind about what I believe about the governor and school choice.