RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) - Gov. Roy Cooper (D) toured a school in Raleigh Tuesday as he called on state lawmakers to support placing a nearly $2 billion bond referendum for school construction on the ballot.
He said, "And I would ask, can we afford not to?"
Cooper spoke to reporters after walking through Stough Elementary. After 50 years in Raleigh, this is the last year the school building will be open to students. The county has planned a nearly $37 million renovation, creating a two-story building at the same site that would re-open to students in August 2020.
"We do have some challenges when it comes to things you don't see, maybe things with the HVAC systems or some of the roofing is old," said Principal Chris Cox.
School construction is typically a responsibility of counties in North Carolina. However, some state lawmakers have begun building support for a statewide bond package of $1.9 billion to build new schools and renovate old ones.
Click here to see how much money each school system would receive under a proposal in the state legislature.
"I think there is a lot of bipartisan support," said Cooper, who acknowledged the bonds would not cover all the projects communities have identified. "And the needs across the state right now are at about $8 billion."
Cooper criticized Republican lawmakers for placing six constitutional amendments on the November ballot, but not the school bond. The last statewide school bond referendum was in 1996.
"I would have actually liked to have seen a school bond proposal, but the concern was, by some, of encumbering that debt right now," said House Speaker Tim Moore (R) on the last day of the legislative session. "We are putting more money into school construction now than at any time before, and I would like to see us continue to do that."
Moore noted he expects the bond proposal to draw more support when the legislature reconvenes in January following the November election.
Cooper said the bond proposal would not lead to a tax increase.
School construction was one of many issues that brought teachers and their supporters to Raleigh during the large rally May 16.
Mark and Kelly Williamson have two kids at Stough. They listened to Cooper discuss the bond proposal and said they support it.
Kelly Williamson said, "It certainly has to be paid for somewhere. But, it's important for our children and the future. And, I'm glad to see it. In my opinion, how quickly can we get it to the ballot?"
In an email, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger (R) noted that lawmakers included funding in this year's budget for school construction.
"Longstanding state law provides that local governments are responsible for school construction expenses. However, we understand there are counties in North Carolina that are struggling financially, which is why the budget Republican lawmakers recently passed sets aside $241 million next year, and additional recurring dollars in future years, to build or upgrade school facilities, with much of that funding going to economically struggling, rural counties," wrote Shelly Carver.
Wake County voters likely will have a chance to decide on a $548 million school construction bond specifically for the county in November. Voters will also weigh in on bonds for Wake Tech and for open space and parks.