Strong Schools, Strong Communities

Governor Roy Cooper
6 min readJan 24, 2024


Yesterday, Governor Cooper traveled to Nashville Elementary School in Nash County, where he attended elementary school as a child, to proclaim 2024 as “The Year of Public Schools” in North Carolina. Gov. Cooper was joined by business leaders, state and local education leaders, teachers, and parents.

Remarks as prepared:

It’s always good to be home. And today I’ve come home to launch a long-term effort to highlight the excellent work being done in our public schools and to help them succeed. Our public schools educate our children, power our economy, and provide opportunity in every community in North Carolina.

I know firsthand the value of a good public education. Mine started right here at Nashville Elementary School. Here I learned how to read and do math. I had teachers who cared about me and I’ll never forget my third grade teacher, Mrs. Batchelor, hugging me on the morning my grandmother died. And Nash County is the home of the best teacher I’ve ever known who made a real difference in the lives of so many of students I still hear from today: my mom, Beverly Cooper.

She believed that every student had promise for success and she worked hard to teach and guide them. My mom, like public school teachers here at Nashville Elementary and across our state, worked early mornings and late nights — and weekends — preparing for class and finding new ways to help her students learn.

That’s what public schools are about: safe places where children can learn from teachers who care about them, make friends with their neighbors, and get the opportunity to lead successful lives. I’m filled with gratitude for the public school education I and my children received and I’m energized to see the amazing work still being done.

Our state has so many effective public schools:

· We’ve seen the highest graduation rate in our state’s history — 87% in 2023.

· Our public schools are preparing young people for work. They earn nearly a quarter-million workforce credentials each year for jobs in information technology, construction trades, healthcare, and more, and nearly a third of them take at least one college course.

· Our public schools have some of the best educators in the nation. North Carolina has the most National Board-certified teachers in the country — one of the highest recognitions teachers can earn. In the last four years, we’ve had the national school psychologist, counselor and superintendent of the year, and a finalist for national teacher of the year.

· Our NC Pre-K program is one of the best early childhood programs in the nation.

For every one of these amazing accomplishments there are hundreds of other examples of excellence. Bottom line: North Carolina public schools rock.

And that success blooms not from seeds planted last week or even last year, but from a dedication and reverence for public education for more than 150 years.

Even when we were one of the poorest states in America, North Carolina found a way to invest in public schools. We paid attention to what worked and tried to fix what didn’t. We took great pride in our public schools because we knew then what is still true today: strong public schools mean strong communities and a strong state. Our success in economic development today is a direct result of our reverence for public education over the decades.

So, today, back in my very first school, I join you with a heart full of both gratitude and grave concern. I’m here to deliver the most urgent message of my seven years as governor: our strong public schools are at risk and if we don’t act, our children and grandchildren, our businesses, and our communities will bear the consequences.

We’re losing good teachers because they’re underpaid and underappreciated. Too often our schools are being asked to do more with less. The major threat is the legislature’s 10-year assault on public schools that has escalated over the last three or four years. Parents know our schools are woefully underfunded and our legislators refuse to step up despite the Supreme Court ordering them to do so.

It’s time for that to change.

Unfortunately, North Carolina now ranks near the bottom for public school funding –nearly $5,000 less per student than the national average. When it comes to beginning teacher pay, it’s the same sorry record: we rank 46th nationally — and we’re 11th out of 12 states in the Southeast.

North Carolina invests less of its Gross State Product on public education than any other state in the country. Dead last. That’s appalling. And it deserves a wake up call.

As Governor, I’ve answered that call and pushed for a better path. Every year I’ve sent the legislature a budget that includes significant raises for teachers to ensure we can recruit and retain the best of the best. I’ve put forward budgets that follow court orders and fully fund our schools. But every year, the legislature comes up short.

We know parents support fully funding our schools, and they are doing their part. So are students and teachers. But the legislature — time and time again — says no. Instead, the legislature plans to waste more than FOUR BILLION dollars over the next decade on vouchers for unaccountable and unregulated private schools.

Private schools that get voucher money don’t have to hire licensed teachers. They don’t have to provide meals, transportation, or services for disabled students. They don’t even have to tell the taxpayers what they teach, how well their students perform, which students they’ll accept or reject, or whether the students they accept even show up at all!

I’m not against private schools. But I am against taxpayer money going to private schools at the expense of public schools, and that’s exactly what the legislature is doing.

In the spirit of generations of North Carolinians who sacrificed for our public schools, we must put a moratorium on private school vouchers until we fully fund our public schools.

Public schools are the glue that hold our communities together. It’s where we gather for concerts, pancake suppers, football games, quiz bowls and more. Where parents can see their children thrive in art, music, theater, and athletics. Public schools define our communities.

We should invest in more access to pre-kindergarten, raise teacher pay, buy school supplies, and help ensure that all students get the education our state constitution guarantees them.

We have an amazing state. For the last two years North Carolina has ranked first in America in Business. But we won’t continue to be first in business if we become last in education. The great workforce we’re now providing businesses will dwindle if our public schools falter. We can’t let that happen.

In North Carolina, families choose to send their children to public schools because they believe in them. More than 8 in 10 school-aged children go to public schools. In surveys, parents overwhelmingly say they’re satisfied with the education their children are getting there.

The future of our state goes to class in a public school. And we must invest in that future.

That’s why today, I’m proclaiming 2024 the Year of Public Schools in North Carolina. As your Governor, I’m going to be in communities across the state, meeting with parents, students, teachers, business leaders and more. We’re going to talk about the great work schools are doing, and how they can get even better.

And as part of this effort, I need each of you to do some important homework.

I need you to contact your legislators in Raleigh and candidates running for those offices to specifically ask them to do more for public schools. And tell them you’ll be watching.

Here are four things I’d like you to say:

1. Great things are happening in our public schools.

2. Put a moratorium on private school vouchers until our PUBLIC schools are fully funded.

3. Pay our teachers like the professionals we expect them to be.

4. Expand access to early childhood education, quality child care, and pre-kindergarten for all eligible children.

Your voice matters. I believe that if enough of you contact your legislators you can make a difference.

Our public schools must produce new generations of North Carolinians who will build our homes and highways, grow fresh food, keep our lights on and our water clean. We must prepare soldiers who will guard our liberty, managers who will oversee our banks, stores and restaurants.

We have to produce the extraordinary doctor who’ll find a cure for cancer, the astronaut who will tame the challenge of space travel, the teacher who’ll change lives of young people heading in the wrong direction.

It is time for us, all of us, to stand up and demand that our legislature stand up for public schools. Nothing will have a longer-lasting impact for North Carolina than to once again, honor — and support — our public schools. Thank you.



Governor Roy Cooper

Roy Cooper understands the challenges facing our families and communities and wants to build a North Carolina that works for everyone.