July 31, 2011; Source: Salisbury Post | It is hard to find an educational program in North Carolina as widely popular as the Governor’s School, which offers summer enrichment programs for intellectually gifted students. Until last year, the program had been free for students, but when the budget was cut by the North Carolina legislature from $1.35 million to $849,000, the Governor’s School began charging a $500 fee. Without government funds, students would have to pay $2,100 to attend the program. That may be one of its futures, as lawmakers just eliminated the $849,000 line item for the school. 

Governor’s School supporters have already raised $154,000, and the Governor’s School Foundation expects to reach $200,000 shortly. This fundraising effort apparently started when the State Board of Education challenged supporters to raise $100,000 by early August, toward keeping the school open next year. However, the state superintendent, June Atkinson, has already weighed in with a recommendation to close the program “until such point that we can have adequate funds to support its offering to students across the state”—which means raising much more than $200,000 if the legislature is not going to restore some of the government dollars. It will take at least $500,000 to keep the contracts with the two colleges where the program is held. 

It is a huge dilemma for advocates of the school. Offering the program tuition free to some 800 kids would require a budget of about $1.5 million. Tuition and other expenses, even of a moderate amount, tend to preclude the attendance of poor and working class students. Given the relatively short window to raise enough to keep the program going, if advocates keep the program open through private fundraising it might mean some tuition payments. Moreover, if they do raise the needed funds, the legislature will have succeeded in shifting a governmental burden to the charitable sector. Charitable fundraising should supplement—not substitute for government commitments. 

If the legislature thinks that the Governor’s School—one of the many initiatives of one of North Carolina’s most famous governors, the late Terry Sanford—is a worthwhile venture but feels constrained by the state’s precarious revenue situation and economic picture, at a minimum it should consider matching the charitable revenues on a dollar-for-dollar or two-to-one basis until such time as the state’s budget situation improves. Otherwise, one part of Sanford’s enormous legacy to North Carolina might be lost.—Rick Cohen