Governor’s School Hopeful for Return of State Funding
For 55 years, the Governor’s School of North Carolina (GSNC) has enriched the state’s most skilled and gifted high school students with innovative courses and the chance to engage with other bright young minds. But after this summer’s session concludes, the Governor’s School ‒ the first program of its kind in the country ‒ is at risk of being shut down.
In May, the state Senate passed a budget that called for defunding GSNC. The announcement took the school’s board and staff aback, said Governor’s School Foundation President Lee Conner:
“It was very surprising to us, especially considering that the state’s budget surplus, depending on whose numbers you use, is somewhere between 500 and 600 million dollars,” said Conner. “We feel strongly that the evidence supports Governor’s School and the money it gets.”
GSNC is meant for rising high school seniors, but exceptions are made for rising juniors who are gifted in the visual or performing arts. Students spend five and a half weeks living and learning on campus at the school’s two host locations, Salem College in Winston-Salem and Meredith College in Raleigh.
“You’ll receive a level of instruction that is simply not available in high school,” said Conner, who attended the NCGS mathematics program in 1991.
There are ten specializations that can get a student nominated for Governor’s School: English, foreign language (French or Spanish), social science, natural science, mathematics, art, choral music, instrumental music, theater, and dance. There are no tests, no grades. Students meet within their specialty for twice daily classes, but some periods are devoted to discussions with students from other disciplines.
“In those classes you’re mixed up with everybody,” Conner explained. “You get a lot of different perspectives and ideas. You get to challenge people and be challenged in turn, to expand what you know about yourself and the world around us.”
Governor’s Schools encourage not only the gaining of knowledge, but how to effectively share ideas with others.
“One of the things I loved about Governor’s School was that no one pushed you to a certain conclusion,” said Conner. “People pushed you to come to your own conclusions, and to think about why you think what you think. That was really refreshing and rewarding.”
Just being around other bright students is a gift, especially for Governor’s School attendees who come from rural areas. The connections forged in these summer sessions create the potential for lifelong friendships or collaborations down the road.
“The return on investment at Governor’s School is staggeringly good,” said Conner.
The Governor’s School receives an $800,000 in state funds for every five week session. That divides down to roughly $30 per student, per day. Even when the $500 in tuition provided by each student is added in, the total cost per day increases to just over $40. In addition, the benefits of the program stay close to home: A poll of GSNC graduates from several years ago showed that 70% of them still lived in North Carolina.
“For that small investment of $30 a day by the state, you’re giving an incredible academic experience to some of your best and brightest kids, and over 70 percent of those kids stay in North Carolina. That’s a great investment,” said Conner.
Conner and other Governor’s School officials have presented this information and more to the State House and Senate, and Conner said the mood is hopeful that funding can be restored.
“Everyone I speak to is still very optimistic that this will get fixed,” he said. “We don’t know, of course, but we feel good about the dialogue we’ve had with the House and how responsive they’ve been when we shared the story of Governor’s School.”
The House should release its budget for the coming year sometime after Memorial Day, after which the House and Senate’s individual budgets will go to a conference committee to iron out their differences. Conner is hopeful that the House’s budget will include funding for Governor’s School, and that it will carry over to the final, statewide budget. The announcement will likely be made in late June, while the 2017 Governor’s School is in session.
The decision date is near, but Conner explained that there are still things people can do to ensure Governor’s School gets funded into the future.
“They can reach out to the legislators who represent them, particularly members of the Senate, and let them know how important it is to keep Governor’s School in the budget,” he said. “Another thing we’re asking people to do is to write letters to the editor of their local paper and share their experience about Governor’s School and how it impacted their life. It’s important for everyone to understand how widespread the impact of Governor’s School has been.”
For more information about the Governor’s School of North Carolina, visit www.ncgovschool.org.
Mia Osborn is a Greensboro-based freelance writer who hails from Birmingham, Alabama.