Staff of the Governor’s School of North Carolina welcomed students for another summer session on Sunday with the hope that this one isn’t the last.
The Governor’s School is a five-and-a-half week summer program at Meredith College in Raleigh and Salem College in Winston-Salem for gifted high school students pursuing academic and artistic endeavors. The program was started in 1963 by Gov. Terry Sanford and is recognized as the oldest program of its kind in the country and a model for other states.
State lawmakers are nearing the end of the process of approving a state budget. The budget plan from the state Senate would strip the Governor’s School of the $800,000 in state funds it receives. The competing House plan has proposed keeping the program’s funding unchanged, while Gov. Roy Cooper has asked to raise the amount to $1.2 million. A compromise between the House and Senate could be announced this week.
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Karen and David Shore of Holly Springs dropped off their son, Carter, at Meredith on Sunday. Carter plays the French horn and said he wanted to attend the school after learning about a friend’s experiences last summer. He said he was excited to play with the “best from around North Carolina.”
Carter and his parents said he would learn more than just music while on campus. One class he’s taking deals with personal finance. His mother said she hopes the legislature takes a closer look at the program before making a final decision.
“I hope they realize how great it is for North Carolina students and what an investment it is,” Karen Shore said. “You have to spend now but it pays off later.”
Yet over the past eight years, the budget for the Governor’s School has either decreased or remained unchanged. In 2009, the school’s budget was cut from $1.3 million to $850,000. In 2011, the program nearly lost all funding before the General Assembly agreed to provide $800,000.
Laura Sam, Governor’s School East site director at Meredith, said because funding has remained static for years while North Carolina’s population has grown, the program cannot match demand. The Governor’s School enrolled 670 students for the summer, but Sam said it received 1,796 applicants this year and more than 1,700 the year before.
The program charges $500 in tuition to help make up for lower state funding. While it offers scholarships to those who might not be able to afford tuition, Sam said she knows some students might ignore the school once they see the cost.
“We have not failed, we have succeeded ... but we are not fully funded,” she said.
The Senate plan to end state funding for the program would direct money to revive a different summer program, the Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service, and to a four-week science, math and engineering residential program run by the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican and education budget writer, has said the move would expand opportunities for student leadership and public service as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Barefoot has said the Governor’s School could continue in some form without state funds using tuition, while “state funding is being used to expand STEM and leadership.”
The president of the Foundation for the Governor’s School of North Carolina has said tuition and private fundraising would not be enough to keep the program alive.
Will Niver, a teacher for Governor’s School East, remembers being a student in the program in 2003 when he was a rising senior in high school and he was interested in the social sciences.
“When I look at the person who came, to seeing the person who left just six weeks later, it opened my eyes to so much,” said Niver. “... It put me on a different path.”
Niver said after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, he spent some time as a middle school teacher and then completed a master of public policy degree from Duke University. Meantime, he returned to work at the Governor’s School in 2007.
Niver spoke as students arrived and located the residence halls where they would live. He said he is aware of state budget concerns but he can’t let those bother him.
“We need to keep making sure the General Assembly knows how valuable this program is,” Niver said. “The first thing on my mind right now is I’m going to meet several dozen students in the next couple of days and I want them to have just as amazing a time (as) I did.”