Something exciting has happened in North Carolina and we're not talking about March madness. We're spotlighting the cooperation and agreement reached between the legislature and Governor Cooper over reopening our schools.
Most agreed that virtual learning was not working well and that we needed to get students back in class, but until early this month we didn't know how badly they had fallen behind. According to data presented to our State Board of Education the majority of our high school students did not pass the end-of-course exams that were administered at the start of this school year. The majority failed the Math 1, Math 3 and Biology exams. More troubling was that 58.2 percent of third-grade students who took the beginning-of-grade reading exam scored at Level 1, the lowest rating on the exam and 75.4 percent were not reading at a level considered "proficient." Educators caution us not to read too much into these data because not all students have been tested, but the raw numbers are shocking.
The alarm bells were ringing. Action was needed. Political pundits and partisans prepared for the too frequent dance we've experienced the past four years. The Governor proposes action to get children back in class. The legislature barely gives his proposals daylight before passing their own legislation, which they send to him for signing into law. After a few days Cooper vetoes the bill. That returns it to both houses of the legislature to see if they have the votes to override the veto. In most instances since 2019 one chamber can't scare up the requisite number needed to override and the matter dies.
But this time something different occurred. Some sources report that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (or his staff) approached the Governor (or his staff) about initiating school reopening discussions. No matter who started it, there were willing ears and attitudes because of the urgency of the matter. Legislators and the executive branch resolved their differences. It's called compromise and wonders of wonders, it worked.
The Speaker, Pro Tem and Governor all appeared at a press conference to announce the outcome. Everyone, with the exception of some teachers, cheered, both for the resolution but also for the signal that we might be seeing a new day in relations between the executive and legislative branches.
It gets better. Within days Senator Berger announced that he and Governor Cooper are going to appear together on a public service announcement urging North Carolinians to get their coronavirus vaccinations. With the devilish smile those who know Berger have seen, he then quipped, "People will think it's the end times or something."
We can only hope it signals a new era in North Carolina politics, a time when partisans can come together to take action best for our citizens, not just their respective parties. Is it too much to imagine a jointly negotiated state budget that both houses and the executive branch could embrace, one enacted before the start of the new fiscal year, July 1?
We are going to see a big test of the new détente as lawmakers are attempting to redefine laws regarding the length of emergency declarations and the decision-making process. We can understand a governor not wanting to consult with a committee over every executive action, especially if that committee is politically partisan. But we can also understand wanting more than one voice in decisions. What we citizens hope for is a process that won't be the same-old, same-old fighting between parties.
We've seen that our leaders can do it. We encourage them to continue this cooperative process. It could be the start of something great for North Carolina.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.