RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A day after releasing a taped video sharply criticizing Republicans' educational proposals, Governor Roy Cooper toured a Wake County elementary school to double down on his message.
"Now at a time where we have more than 5,000 teacher vacancies and tens of thousands of students don't have a quality educator, salary packages that have been passed in the General Assembly don't even keep up with inflation," said Cooper Tuesday afternoon inside Washington Elementary in Raleigh.
The Governor stopped by three classrooms before holding a press conference in the school's gymnasium, where he was joined by outgoing WCPSS Superintendent Catty Moore and fellow Democratic lawmakers.
While Cooper is hoping teachers receive an 18% raise, the House proposal calls for a 10.2% raise, while the Senate plan includes a 4.5% increase.
"I think there are some hopeful moments inside of there. Increased funding for student mental health resources, for example, increased resources for nurses in school. Those things are positive for sure. And what North Carolinians want is to recruit high-quality teachers to be in school buildings, and neither of these budgets does that," said Bryan Proffitt, the Vice President of NCAE.
During his remarks, Cooper noted there were more than 5,000 school vacancies statewide.
"We don't have to speculate, people are already leaving. We already have significant vacancies. We already have veteran teachers, who are really, really high-quality, high-skilled educators who have been showing up for our kids for decades who are saying this is not a sustainable place for me to be," said Proffitt.
Another point of contention: the planned expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, removing income levels in order to access financial assistance.
"When you're giving money to a millionaire to send a child to a private academy, that's not the best use of taxpayer money," said Cooper.
"The public schools educate a lot of kids and they do a very good job of it. But a lot of kids don't necessarily fit within the existing options that parents have in a given particular area. The Opportunity Scholarship allows parents really to provide a better fit for their children," contended Bob Luebke, who serves as Director of the Center of Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation.
Luebke argued that the program receives a fraction of funding compared to public schools, adding enrollment challenges have existed for years in rural districts.
"We believe that's helping to meet a need. That need has expanded the past couple of years because of COVID, and the expansion of the opportunity scholarship would be a good thing," Luebke said.
North Carolina has earned plaudits for its economic performance and Governor Cooper believes that could be hindered if public education funding is impacted.
"Not only do these CEOs who are thinking about coming here or expanding here care about public education because of the workforce that it will bring to them. They care about it because that's where their employees are going to have their children in school," said Cooper.
Cooper's announced 'state of emergency', which he noted was not a formal declaration, but rather an attempt to emphasize his concerns, drew swift rebukes from Republican leadership.
A spokesperson for Senate President Phil Berger's Office shared a statement Monday with ABC 11: "Meaningless publicity stunts do nothing to improve educational outcomes in our state. The House and Senate will continue working together to put forward budget proposals that address the needs of students and parents."
A spokesperson for Speaker Tim Moore's office also responded with a statement: "The House and Senate are currently hard at work negotiating a budget that will include pay raises for teachers, tax cuts for families, and expands school choice for students. The Governor's political stunts and misinformation are simply counterproductive."
Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers, though seven Democrats in the Senate and nine Democrats in the House voted in support of their chamber's respective budgets.
ABC11 has requested interviews with Republican lawmakers involved with Education Committees but has not heard back as of publication.
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