Although former North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt (D) spent four terms as Chief Executive of the Tar Heel State and one term as Lieutenant Governor, his passion hasn't been politics -it has been education.
Maybe it was because his mother was an English teacher, or because his father taught farmers about conservation that Hunt drove such aggressive education initiatives through his state legislature. Regardless of the reason for his commitment, Hunt was deemed the "Education Governor."
Now he is launching the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy. The Chapel-Hill based organization will school Governors, State Representatives and School Chiefs in education policy and politics.
In a Stateline.org interview Gov. Hunt talks about the nation's education leaders and the challenges states are facing while trying to improve the schools.
STATELINE.ORG: In your opinion what states are doing a good job with their schools?
Hunt: Well there are a lot of states doing a good job with their schools. North Carolina has been one of the nation's leaders with the greatest increase in test scores in mathematics. Texas is right up at the top in terms of improving scores and improving schools. Ohio is doing a good job... Kentucky. There are many states that have received excellent leadership from governors and legislators and business leadership and they are improving their schools.
The good news is schools are getting better in America. Now with the new goals of the Leave No Child Behind Act (Federal Education Law) we have got a lot bigger challenge in continuing to make progress and that is going to require excellent leadership and some additional resources.
STATELINE.ORG: Are there any candidates for governor in the upcoming election (November 2002) that you think are clearly education candidates?
Hunt: Well, there are several of them, but I'm not going to name them. There are some good candidates in both parties around the country running for governor and talking about education. I would hope they would be bold in their proposals, that they would be committed to the goals of the Leave No Child Behind Act, which is to get every child to grade level in performance and to have a quality teacher for every child. I think that that structure, those specific goals are going to help us focus the debate during the elections and after people are elected as to how high we should reach and then we have to figure out how to get there together.
STATELINE.ORG: Now, before you were governor, whom did you look to as a solid education leader?
Hunt: My main mentor was Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina, back in the 1960s, he later was a US Senator and President of Duke University. But there have been many outstanding leaders who've been my colleagues. One of them was Richard Riley (former US Education Secretary and South Carolina Governor), one of them was Lamar Alexander, (former) Gov. Bob Graham of Florida, (former) Governor Roy Roemer now heading Los Angeles schools, these were my friends and I did look up to them. Gov. Paul Patton in Kentucky has been outstanding, Senator from Ohio and former Gov. George Voinovich, and I would say (Gov.) John Engler in Michigan.
STATELINE.ORG: Do the tough economic times make it more difficult for the states to implement these education reforms?
Hunt: Surely. They make it harder for states to stick with the progress they are already making. But that is the time when you figure out whether or not people are really committed (to education). And that is when you separate the states in terms of which ones are going to stick with it (education reforms) and which ones are gonna give up when times get tough.
One of the things that was very important about the progress in Texas, is that Texas committed to increasing resources and accountability and stuck with it through different administrations, through changes in parties -they stayed committed to improving their schools. That is an example that every state should follow.
STATELINE.ORG: Do you foresee any state opting out of the federal education plan, the Leave No Child Behind Act, because of the funding (level) or the number of strings attached?
Hunt: I don't think you can opt out of it. You shouldn't be able to. The answer is no, this is a goal that all of America must have.
STATELINE.ORG: Would you tell us a little bit about your new institute?
Hunt: This is an institute that is focused on education leadership and policy. It will be different from other kinds of institutes in that it will involve working directly and closely with the very top officials in every state, the governor, state superintendents, top legislative leaders and top business CEOs.
We will be helping them master two things, one becoming deeply grounded and knowledgeable about what we must do to change schools and make them work. Second, unlike any place in America, we will focus heavily, in a bipartisan way, on how you make these changes happen politically. How do you get a majority of votes for these things? How do you change policies and to increase appropriations?