Governor's School weighs tuition to replace state funds

North Carolina's oldest residential summer program for academically gifted students could disappear next year because of state budget cuts.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina's oldest residential summer program for academically gifted students could disappear next year because of state budget cuts.

Lawmakers dropped the nearly $850,000 in funding for Governor's School in the new state budget. The State Board of Education must now decide whether to charge students about $2,000 dollars in tuition to keep it going.

Until last year, the program was free for students. Because of 2010 budget cuts, students paid $500 to attend this year.

Shiana Thomas, 16, of Buckhead, is attending the program this summer.

“If I was to have to come next year and it was full tuition, there would be no way I would make it without a blessing from God,” she said Wednesday.

Michael McElreath, director of the program on the Meredith College campus in Raleigh, said he worries that another significant tuition increase will limit many students who qualify for Governor's School but can't afford it.

“Governor's School has always been an institution that serves those in the state who are qualified and interested and engaged, without regard to their means,” McElreath said. “We'd like to see that continue.”

State Superintendent June Atkinson is also concerned about charging students full tuition and said she wants to put the program on hold instead.

“My recommendation is that we not operate Governor's School (until) the General Assembly can fund it again,” Atkinson said.

House Republican Majority Leader Paul Stam said that lawmakers followed the governor's request to prioritize protecting teachers and teacher assistants when deciding on education cuts in the budget. Doing so required lawmakers to cut funding to extra programs such as Governor's School first, he said.

“That's just being prudent in a time of difficult financial situations,” Stam said.

He also noted that Governor's School is a very small piece of the overall budget and said that it does not have to shut down.

“The state Board of Education can use other money to do that next year or raise money from some of the other alumni who are upset,” he said.

The school's alumni association and some current students are already working on a plan to do that. They recently held a rally on the Meredith College campus and will continue to reach out to others for donations.

Jim Hart, president of the alumni association, said their message is simple: Keep the doors open.

"Even if we don't have funding from the state, give us the opportunity to show that the alumni can fund this on their own," Hart said.

Atkinson said she admires their effort, but they would have to raise about $1 million by mid-August to make it work. 

The six-week program is housed on the campuses of Meredith College and Salem College in Winston-Salem each summer. It started in 1963 and has about 31,000 alumni.


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