CHAPEL HILL – Governor Pat McCrory unveiled two new plans Thursday that he says he hopes will improve education standards and quality throughout North Carolina.

“Today, I am proposing the formation of the Education Innovation Fund,” McCrory says. “It will fund innovative schools and new digital learning initiatives. Our starting point is an additional $30 million for this innovation fund.”

Gov. McCrory was the keynote speaker who opened the North Carolina Conference on Education at the Sheraton Hotel at One Europa Drive in Chapel Hill.

He says this fund, which first needs to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education, will select teachers in the state, selected by “their peers,” to receive a $10,000 stipend for outstanding performance as a teacher. The Governor says he hopes that this will also give other teachers and school administrators examples of how to achieve success in teaching.

“The top teachers in our schools should be equal to what we’re saying our principals are,” McCrory says. “We should be treating them just as our top administrators.”

Gov. McCrory also unveiled a plan to focus on improving student’s skills in subjects he says are critical to staying competitive in the global job market.

“I will not lower standards in any way. In fact, I want to raise them in two critical areas. And those two critical areas haven’t changed in the last century,” McCrory says. “That is reading and math.”

The Governor embraced the Common Core standards, a national set of school standards for state schools, but says the problems others have faced are in the way the core is taught.

“Common Core reading and math standards are good, but we must come together and improve the execution,” McCrory says.

The importance of this focus on education and improving reading and math literacy stems from conversations Gov. McCrory says he has with businesses in the state who say they are looking for people to hire but cannot find enough qualified workers.

“If we can’t produce educated, skilled workers for your businesses, then businesses won’t be successful and pay the needed revenue that government needs to fund education,” McCrory says.

Protesters by McCrory's Thursday speech

Protesters outside the Sheraton Hotel prior to Gov. McCrory’s arrival

North Carolina’s education budget is in both state and national headlines and Gov. McCrory took time in the beginning of his speech to respond to criticism.

“At $7.8 billion, this is the largest K-12 budget in North Carolina history,” McCrory says.

Gov. McCrory says he initially created a budget that would raise teacher’s salaries, but was forced not to by unforeseen costs in other areas.

“Since I made that budget, there has been approximately $500 million spent on unbudgeted Medicaid expenses,” McCrory says. “Had we not had that, that money alone could have paid for nearly a 3 percent raise for teachers and state employees.”

Protestors at the education speech, like Heidi Carter, chair of the Durham board of education, say they feel differently about the budget’s handling of education.

“I think that per people funding is too low and our teacher salaries are too low,” Carter says.

Jeff Bryant, another protestor, says the cuts to “pre-recession levels” are being done arbitrarily.

“It’s not to balance the budget; it’s to purposefully harm education,” Bryant says.

Gov. McCrory signed the state budget into law Friday.