Former Gov. Jim Hunt electrified a crowd of more than 200 -- regardless of their political persuasions -- as he discussed the significance of investing in public education to North Carolina's economic future, on the UNC Charlotte campus on Thursday, Oct. 3. Hunt was the featured speaker for at this year's Distinguished Speaker Series.
In his remarks, Hunt pointed to the intrinsic connection between education and economic prosperity. He laid out the state’s long tradition of supporting public education, starting with the establishment of the nation’s first public university system.
“Public education is vital for economic growth in North Carolina,” he said. “It’s not a small part of the state budget that is subject to negotiations in the state legislature. It’s the heart of our strategy.”
Hunt, a Democrat, is the longest-serving North Carolina governor. He held the position from 1977 to 1985 and 1993 to 2001. He was joined by Chancellor Philip L. Dubois at the event, which was held in the Anne R. Belk Theater in Robinson Hall.
In 2006, Hunt was named one of the 10 most influential people in American education. He chairs the board of the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, which was established in 2001 as part of the University of North Carolina system.
Hunt has been at the forefront of educational reform in North Carolina and in the nation. One of his main initiatives was the early childhood education program, Smart Start, which became a model for the nation.
When he ran for his fourth term, Hunt campaigned on a promise to raise teacher salaries across the state to the national average. The cost was more than $1 billion, he said, but it was well worth it.
Another seminal event was the passage of a $3.1 billion bond issue to fund higher education in 2000, which captured 73 percent of the vote and was approved by voters in all 100 North Carolina counties.
Throughout the speech, Hunt tied better education to an increase in the number of high-paying jobs and economic prosperity. He said other states are committing more funds to education as part of their economic strategy.
“Today, things have changed in North Carolina,” he said. “Spending on education is down and so is funding for our public universities.”
|Gov. Hunt with (from left) Chancellor Emeritus James Woodward, |
Chancellor Dubois, Lisa Dubois
Earlier in the day, Hunt attended a dedication ceremony for Hunt Hall, the first suite option in the new South Village residential area of the campus. Hunt Hall is being named in honor of the former governor.