Earlier this week, Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper issued what he called a “State of Emergency” regarding K-12 public school education funding, but under new state law a real “State of Emergency” would require a vote from the North Carolina Council of State. So, how would they vote? Here is what they told us.
political theater or true emergency?
First, in announcing his education “state of emergency,” Cooper clarified that he was not issuing an executive order — like with a hurricane or with the COVID-19 pandemic — but the action he said was “no less important.”
Cooper took aim at three proposals specifically — an expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, income tax breaks, and what he termed “book banning” by Republicans.
The red banner proclaiming “public education in North Carolina is facing a state of emergency” still remains at the top of the governor.nc.gov website this weekend, despite Republican criticism that it is more of a political stunt than a true emergency.
New State of Emergency Law
If it were a true emergency, Council of State members would have to vote on on the action taken by Cooper, or any other governor, under a new law that took effect on Jan. 1.
Any statewide emergency a governor declares will automatically expire in 30 days unless extended by a majority vote of COS. If a member fails to vote within 48 hours, that’s counted as a concurrence. After 60 days, the emergency will expire unless extended by an act of the General Assembly.
The law was in response to how Cooper handled restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which left North Carolina in a state of emergency for two and a half years. The law made changes to the Emergency Management Act as part of S.B. 105, otherwise known as the 2021 state budget, which Cooper signed into law in Nov. 2021, with the new law taking effect at the beginning of this year.
How would they vote?
North Carolina’s Council of State is set up in the state Constitution as a body of ten members elected statewide and, with the governor’s cabinet, make up North Carolina’s executive branch. So, would the N.C. Council of State members vote for an education “State of Emergency?” Reaction was mixed.
“The Republican General Assembly is defunding public education,” said Attorney General Josh Stein in an emailed statement to Carolina Journal. He is also a Democrat candidate for the 2024 governor’s race. “They are making it harder for our kids to compete. I applaud Governor Cooper for sounding the alarm because our children have a constitutional right to a sound, basic education.”
Jason Tyson, Communications Director for Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, told CJ in an emailed statement, “As to any official state of emergency declaration before the Council of State, Commissioner Causey would weigh all sides of the issue before making the decision to vote to declare or not declare an emergency.”
Secretary of Labor Josh Dobson told CJ in an emailed statement that as a product of public education, he believes we need to do as much as we can to strengthen public education and support teachers, but added he doesn’t anticipate it coming for a vote and would be hesitant to commit one way or another without more details.
He did, however, want to point out that not only are there challenges and vacancies in public education but also in state government.
“The N.C. Department of Labor is not immune from this crisis,” Dobson said. “In our compliance bureau, we are allotted 102 positions, and we have 24 vacancies. In our elevator bureau, we are allotted 39 positions and currently have 32 elevator inspectors to inspect over 25,000 elevators and escalators across our state.”
He said there is no substitute for money for teachers or state employees.
“So, while I won’t commit to a state of emergency, I will say that any focus should not only include public education (which I agree with) but all of North Carolina’s hard-working public servants,” Dobson added.
A spokesperson for Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in an emailed statement that he has no opinion to share at this time.
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is also a Republican candidate for the 2024 governor’s race, did have an opinion. He called Cooper’s “State of Emergency” “political theatre” and that he could have asked people to call their legislators through a press release or one of his fundraising emails.
“The fact of the matter is, the Governor is not looking out for North Carolina, he is looking for the next step in his political ladder,” Robinson said in an emailed statement to CJ. “If this ever came to a vote, I would unequivocally vote no. The real “State of Emergency” is spending half of our state budget on education and our kids not being able to read at grade level. It is high time we address the real problems with education, and it is not Opportunity Scholarships.”
State Treasurer Dale Folwell, also a Republican candidate for governor in 2024, said he generally supports legislation that pushes the power to the parent as long it is done in an “efficient, accountable, transparent, and auditable manner.”
“He’s following a pattern that I’ve been accustomed to over the last seven years, and that is when he wants to say or do something that he doesn’t think has the support of the majority of the Council of State, then he does it this way,” said Folwell in a phone interview with CJ.
“If he wants to say or do something where he thinks he may need some political cover, then he asked us for our vote,” he added. “To issue a ‘statement of emergency’ on something that is as important as public education is, without convening the Council of State and describing and making his case and having the courage to put that up for a vote, I think it’s sort of like a hug without a squeeze. It’s really nothing to it.”
Folwell said education isn’t one-size fits all for all children.
“You could actually have twins born within minutes of each other, who have two different types of educational needs,” he said.
Democrat Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Democrat State Auditor Beth Wood, and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, did not return comment before publication.