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2016 March 22 - 01:20 pm

Cooper Unveils Education Plan in NC Gubernatorial Bid

Democrat Backs Free Community College. More Pre-K and Improved Teacher Pay

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Attorney General Roy Cooper rolled out a public education agenda for his governor’s race, vowing if elected to seek to raise teacher salaries to at least the national average, boost pre-kindergarten funding and help ease student loan debt burdens.

The Democrat unveiled his first significant policy proposal since formally announcing his bid in October. He blamed Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOPled legislature for tax and education spending policies that have lowered teacher morale and prevented more students from being prepared for the workforce.

“Right now we seem to be going backward,” Cooper said at a news conference on a Wake Technical Community College campus.

“We must make education a priority in North Carolina. This is not the North Carolina — the education state — that I know.”

Cooper said he’d also like to work toward making community college tuition free, largely by maximizing access to federal grants. More public schools need broadband access, teacher recruitment scholarship programs should be revived and parents should be granted more time to volunteer or attend their children’s school activities, he said.

Cooper’s way to pay for his education agenda would be anchored on reworking a tax system that he said recently has disproportionately favored corporations and the highest wage-earners, but the details appear squishy.

Cooper said he wasn’t seeking to raise taxes but said he wanted to stop pending tax reductions that favor the wealthy. Any changes would have to be agreed to be the General Assembly.

“I want to work with them to figure out a way that we can give the tax breaks to the middle class and invest in public education,” Cooper told reporters. “I’m not wedded to any particular formula, but what’s happening now is hurting public education and hurting the middle class.”

Under GOP rule in Raleigh, the corporate income tax rate has fallen from 6.9 percent to 4 percent and could go lower, while a three-tiered individual income tax system has been consolidated to one lower flat rate. That flat rate is scheduled to fall again in 2017. When fully implemented, Cooper said, the tax changes will cost the state about $1 billion a year.

Accumulating the funds to bring up teacher raises permanently and increase funding for pre-K programs would likely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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