RALEIGH — Even as the economy remains the dominant issue, a partisan turf war has emerged in North Carolina about education ahead of the legislative session and 2012 elections.
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue said Monday she will embark on a two-week statewide tour to make a case for more education money and called for a conservative nonprofit to stop airing a television advertisement about teacher funding.
Im asking them to pull this ad down, to stop trying to distort the truth, Perdue told a gaggle of reporters she called to the state capitol at 8:30 a.m. This is the facts. There are fewer dollars in the public school system today than theres ever been.
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation is spending $475,000 on a statewide television ad that touts the Republican legislatures accomplishments and claims they put money in the state budget for 2,000 more teachers.
Dallas Woodhouse, the groups state director, said the ad is 100 percent accurate and truthful and it will remain on television. Were going to continue to tell the truth about what this budget did, he added.
Democrats and Republicans are jockeying for position weeks before the N.C. General Assembly reconvenes. Lawmakers will hold a mini-session in April and return to Raleigh in May for the so-called short session when the budget will take center stage.
With the ad, Americans for Prosperity also seeks to counter liberal political groups and Democrats who have traveled the state for months trying to highlight the effects of state budget cuts, including those to the classroom.
Clearly this is the issue that has them scared, said Gerrick Brenner, the head of Progress NC, one of the liberal groups making education an election issue. The polling weve seen shows people do not like these cuts.
All together, the dialogue makes education an early centerpiece of the 2012 campaign, which doesnt surprise former Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat and education champion.
Its about the economy, said Hunt, who leads an education think tank. Education is really about economic growth and jobs and a good place to live.
In politics, things go up and down, he continued, but over time the parties and the candidates who support building the state with education will serve the state best and be politically successful.
The economic downturn is making it hard to find money for schools. In recent years, federal money helped fill the void. A $250 million federal grant in this years state budget will expire next year, leaving a hole for state lawmakers to fill.
Perdue is pushing for a three-quarter cent sales tax increase to help boost education funding. Earlier this year, she decided not to seek re-election and dedicated herself toward advocating for schools. But GOP legislative leaders have said they wont consider a tax increase.
Perdue said she plans to meet with legislative leaders to discuss education funding ahead of her statewide tour.
I continue to be very hopeful that they will join me in not further damaging the public schools, she said.
Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis issued a statement saying Perdues press conference outside the capital was a classic example of her gotcha approach to public policy formulation. But Tillis said he welcomed a constructive dialogue.
Staff writer John Frank