Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide Through Education: 3 Governors From Very Different States Say They Face the Same Issues of School Funding, Safety & Dropouts
An education forum was recently held in Washington, featuring three governors with diverse backgrounds – John Hickenlooper, a former brewer and current governor of Colorado; Roy Cooper, a former Sunday school teacher and current governor of North Carolina; and Jeff Colyer, a former plastic surgeon and current governor of Kansas. The event, titled "Raising the Bar: A Conversation on Education in America," was moderated by Mike Allen from Axios and was presented by and the Walton Family Foundation.
During the forum, Allen asked the governors about the lessons they learned from their previous professions and how those lessons help them in their current roles. Despite the political divisions in their states (Republican vs. Democrat, affluent vs. poor, urban vs. rural), all three governors emphasized the importance of finding common ground on controversial issues like gun violence and education funding.
Hickenlooper, who has been considering a potential presidential run in 2020 and has been traveling with Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio, stated that governors are generally less partisan. He shared that his experience as a restaurant manager and the first brewer to govern a state since 1792 taught him the significance of avoiding enemies and listening to even the most unreasonable people.
This mindset is particularly valuable in Hickenlooper’s home state of Colorado, known for its political purple status. As someone dubbed "The Middleman" by The New Yorker, he has navigated the unique politics of a swing state where marijuana is legalized and taxes cannot be raised without public votes.
All three governors have faced challenges related to education funding and inequities. They have dealt with litigation surrounding school equity, with disparities not only between urban and rural areas, but within cities as well, where students in economically depressed urban centers struggle to receive the same quality education as their more affluent suburban counterparts.
Cooper, after becoming governor of North Carolina, took action on a two-decade-old case that aimed to ensure every child the opportunity to receive a quality education as guaranteed by the state constitution. In Colorado, Hickenlooper witnessed his state’s Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that funding cuts did not violate the constitution, despite persistent issues. In Kansas, Colyer, who took office only a few weeks ago, inherited a long-standing school funding battle. The state Supreme Court ruled in October that the new funding system did not meet equity standards.
Despite these challenges, Colyer is determined to move forward, adopting a surgeon’s work ethic and engagement style to tackle the issue. He aims to put an end to the litigation that has plagued the state for over 50 years. However, time is of the essence, as he faces a potential tough Republican primary in August to secure his predecessor’s seat.
Colyer’s chances of success are seen favorably by many, including David Kensinger, who managed Sam Brownback’s 2010 campaign. Kensinger believes that Colyer’s background growing up in rural Kansas and his successful surgical practice in Johnson County give him broad appeal across different geographic regions of the state.
In conclusion, the education forum provided an opportunity for these governors to share their experiences and insights on education issues in their respective states. Despite their different backgrounds, they all emphasized the importance of finding common ground and working towards a better education system for all students.
In the state of North Carolina, there is a clear division between the prosperous urban areas such as Charlotte and the Research Triangle, where major companies like Bank of America and Pfizer are located, and the rest of the mostly rural state, which has been suffering from a declining economy. The rural areas face high rates of school dropouts and a significant skills gap.
Governor Cooper recognizes that education is a crucial factor in bridging this gap. However, a major obstacle is the fact that many states are prioritizing tax cuts for individuals and corporations over investing in education. Cooper believes that this approach is unsustainable and points to examples like Kansas, where similar tax cuts resulted in severe budget deficits.
At the national level, the divide between urban and rural areas is most evident in the debate over gun control. Small-town residents, for whom hunting is a way of life, often clash with urbanites who are increasingly concerned about gun violence. The recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida reignited this debate.
Governor Hickenlooper sees this shooting as a potential turning point, not only in the discussion surrounding gun violence, but also in how people from different parts of the country perceive and understand each other. He believes that the urban and suburban elites need to be more receptive to the concerns of rural areas, as everyone relies on agriculture for their food supply.
While Hickenlooper acknowledges that his own state of Colorado has a strong Western heritage, he is witnessing a shift in attitudes, even there. He believes that the recent tragedy might lead to a reconsideration of the need for assault weapons in everyday life.
In conclusion, there is a significant divide between urban and rural areas in North Carolina, driven by disparities in economic opportunity and education. The debate over gun control further highlights this division at the national level. To address these issues, leaders like Governor Cooper and Governor Hickenlooper are calling for greater investment in education, as well as a willingness to listen and understand the concerns of different communities.