North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for the state’s public schools after the General Assembly passed a universal voucher bill.

Universal vouchers provide a public subsidy to every student in the state, no matter what their family income or where they go to school. In other states, most voucher recipients already are enrolled in private and religious schools. North Carolina adopted a plan that ensures public money for rich kids in private and religious schools.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper declared Monday that “public education in North Carolina is facing a state of emergency” in the face of “extreme legislation” being promoted by Republican state lawmakers.

In a video posted online Monday, Cooper said GOP lawmakers will “starve public education” and “drops an atomic bomb on public education” with plans to further cut taxes and increase funding for private school vouchers.

He said the public needs to speak out against the changes before they’re adopted in the state budget. “It’s clear that the Republican legislature is aiming to choke the life out of public education,” Cooper said. “I am declaring this state of emergency because you need to know what’s happening.

“If you care about public schools in North Carolina, it’s time to take immediate action and tell them to stop the damage that will set back our schools for a generation.”

Cooper’s speech comes as Republican legislative leaders are negotiating a state budget deal for the next two years. The GOP has a legislative supermajority, so it can adopt a spending plan and other legislation without needing Cooper’s support.

The governor will hold public events across the state in the days ahead to call on parents, educators and business leaders to speak against the GOP proposals, the Associated Press reported.

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Cooper said extreme GOP legislation could cost the state’s public schools hundreds of millions of dollars, exacerbate a stubborn teacher shortage and bring political culture wars to classrooms.

He lashed out Senate Bill 406, a bill to expand the state’s school voucher program. Under the proposal, even the state’s wealthiest families would qualify for what are known as “opportunity scholarships” to help pay for private schools. The voucher program was created a decade ago to help low-income families escape low-performing districts and schools.

“Their private school voucher scheme will pour your tax money into private schools that are unaccountable to the public and can decide which students they won’t to keep out,” Cooper said. “They want to expand private school so that anyone, even a millionaire, can get taxpayer money for their children’s private academy tuition.”

Voucher critics complain that the private schools that receive taxpayer money engage in religious indoctrination and exclusion, discriminate against LGBTQ students and parents, and are not held accountable for academic outcomes the way charter schools and traditional public school are.

They also contend that vouchers divert money and other resources from already underfunded public schools. Under the proposed legislation, annual spending on private school vouchers would steadily increase until it reaches $500 million by the 2031-32 school year.

The voucher legislation was defended by turncoat legislator Tricia Cotham, who switched parties to give the hard-right Republicans a super-majority in both houses of the General Assembly:

Meanwhile, voucher supporters such as Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, contend that expanding the voucher program will help families that decide that public schools aren’t the best fit for their children. Cotham, a former Democrat who switched parties in March, co-sponsored a House bill with the same language.

On Monday, Cotham tweeted that Cooper is “advocating for systems rather than students themselves…”

Cooper also took aim at the Senate’s teacher pay raise proposal, which he said will only increase veteran teachers’ salaries $250 over two years. There are currently 5,000 teaching vacancies, he said.

“Two hundred and fifty bucks,” Cooper said. “That’s a slap in the face and it will make the teacher shortage worse.”

The Senate recently released a budget calling for a 4.5% average teacher pay raise over two years. The budget would bump starting teacher pay to $39,000 annually. First year teachers currently earn $37,000 a year.

Cooper’s budget includes an 18% teacher raise over the biennium. The budget approved by the House in April called for raises of 10.2% over the two-year budget cycle. Teachers would receive a 5.5% pay increase the first year, with the remainder coming in year two.

Cooper also said Republican lawmakers want to accelerate tax cuts that are projected to cut North Carolina’s state budget by almost 20%, which will hamstringing the state’s ability to pay for public education.