North Carolina has a proud history of leading the way in public education.
In that same spirit, the North Carolina School of Science of Mathematics was launched in 1980 as the nation’s first public residential high school providing academically talented students across the state with innovative educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and research that prepares them to become leaders and innovators in STEM fields.
Embracing the arts and humanities and employing dedicated educators at the top of their field, NCSSM has offered thousands of students from all over North Carolina a world-class education. Every rising junior in North Carolina is invited to apply to the two-year program, which remains completely free to attend, and the school hopes to open this educational experience to even more of the state’s best and brightest students through an additional campus in western North Carolina.
When state leaders first began exploring the idea of building an NCSSM campus in western North Carolina, North Carolinians overwhelmingly voiced their support for the idea.
Nearly two-thirds of voters approved the Connect NC Bond referendum, which provided funding for the construction of a new NCSSM campus in Morganton, originally scheduled to open in fall 2021.
While $81 million in approved state and privately raised construction funding is being used to erect new buildings and renovate historic ones on the 62-acre site adjacent to the N.C. School for the Deaf, opening the school also requires operational funding to begin hiring administrators, teachers and support staffers to ready the campus and its programs.
The physical structure will be ready on time, but the classrooms will remain empty because of the current state budget impasse. With no operating funds to hire faculty and staff members, the opening of the western campus of NCSSM has been delayed for at least a full year. The campus will eventually employ nearly 100 people, requiring an extensive search and selection process followed by orientation and training programs. Construction money cannot be used for recurring expenses such as paying staff salaries.
The new target date of August 2022 for welcoming the first residential class at NCSSM-Morganton assumes a state budget for the current biennium would be enacted by this summer and that a budget for the 2021-23 biennium is enacted on time in next year’s legislative session.
The effects of the budget impasse are felt across the 17 campuses in our system as the lack of funding has prohibited vital construction and renovation projects from getting off the ground or continuing, but the toll taken on our state’s top educators and prospective students should not be overlooked.
In the absence of the new budget, not only have these educators gone without well-deserved adjustments to their compensation, but additional development and design of the world-class educational experience aimed at serving more of our state’s exceptional young minds has come to a halt.
We should still be excited about what the Morganton campus can bring. The system and the school remain hopeful that state leaders will find a path forward that funds this and other crucial university priorities. It is important to stress that our concern is not a partisan one. It is, pure and simple, a desire to see our state’s institutions fully supported and fully funded.
If anyone here needs a vivid reminder of the value of what we do, look no further than astronaut Christina Koch. Leaving her hometown in Jacksonville to attend NCSSM, Koch has described her experience at the school as a pivotal moment in realizing her calling in the sciences.
Koch, who went on to study electrical engineering at N.C. State University, just returned to Earth on Feb. 6, after spending a record-breaking 328 days in space.
Her success embodies so much of what we work for every day. Very few of our students will venture into space, but the teaching and research opportunities we provide will help each one chart a course toward uniquely remarkable achievements.
It’s our hope that state leaders will find a path forward that funds these important priorities so more students can pursue their dreams, just as Koch has done. Our state’s future leaders and innovators are depending on it.