News

Next week, the Department of Public Instruction will release for the first time letter grades for each school in North Carolina. The letter grades will largely represent how well a school’s students performed on standardized tests at one given time (that will be 80 percent of the grade), and, to a lesser degree, how much students’ performance on those tests has improved over time (20 percent of the grade).

When the A-F school grades website goes live (it will be accessible at www.ncpublicschools.org/src on February 5), you can view any school’s letter grade as well as a detailed explanation of how the grade was calculated.

This is a screen shot (built with dummy data by staff at DPI) of how the grades will appear.

school grades

If you’re wondering why North Carolina has joined 15 other states on the A-F school grades bandwagon, you can thank Senate leader Phil Berger, who began championing this legislation back in 2011. And you can also thank former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who pioneered A-F school grades in the late 1990s.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Forty years ago, President Gerald Ford signed into law a tax policy that would support working families earning low-wages. That policy, the Earned Income Tax Credit, would later be expanded under President Ronald Reagan. Today, it has proven to be a powerful anti-poverty tool supporting the economic security of more than 30 million Americans in last year alone.

The credit does more than just fight poverty though. It supports the shared goal and urgent need for economic mobility. Here’s how:

The federal Earned Income Tax Credit is working hard to make work pay. However, it cannot alone address the greater barriers to economic mobility in states like North Carolina and thus should get a boost from a state version of the credit. North Carolina had a credit for working families until last year when lawmakers allowed it to expire under tax changes passed in 2013. Read More

Commentary

Today should be a national holiday.

No, not because of EITC Awareness, although the post below this one highlights that important issue as well. Because of Fred Korematsu, who was born on this day 96 years ago.

Korematsu was born in Oakland, Calif., but his U.S. citizenship didn’t keep him from being arrested for refusing to be relocated to an internment camp in 1942. He challenged his arrest in court, and two years later the case made its way to the Supreme Court. Korematsu challenged the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, the decree that forced the relocation of people of Japanese descent to internment camps. The court ruled in favor of the government and against Korematsu in what is now widely considered one of its worst decisions. The majority of justices claimed the detentions were not based on racial discrimination but rather on suspicions that Japanese-Americans were acting as spies.

After World War II, Korematsu was released. But the conviction remained on his record for 40 years until it was finally overturned in 1983.

California was the first state to make Jan. 30 a holiday. Four states now honor Fred Korematsu on this day, and we should expand that number. He was a hero who believed in the U.S. Constitution, earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and continued to advocate for civil rights until his death in 2005.

 

Commentary

EITC_ncToday marks a little known “holiday”: Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day. The IRS-led national event is intended – as the title implies – to spread awareness about this modest but vital tax credit and make sure that all qualified workers receive it. The day is as much about educating people as to what exactly the EITC is as it is about directing individuals to sites where they can get free tax help to claim the credit. For those that do, often for just two or three years, it can mean the difference between struggling for another year and getting back on your feet.

In North Carolina, however, the day isn’t so simple. In fact it’s hard to find cause for celebration in the only state in the country to have eliminated the credit.

There are plenty of individuals who are fully aware of what the EITC means for their own lives as well as those of their neighbors, despite its absence in the Tar Heel state. Last year, NC Justice Center staff spoke to individuals across the state that had been directly impacted by the credit and acutely felt the loss of the EITC.

They talked about how the EITC arrived at the perfect moment in their lives: when they gave birth to a child with medical needs and struggled to pay hospital bills; when they were stuck in a low-wage job that wouldn’t allow them to save enough to pay off their debts; or when they were hoping to finally become a homeowner after relying on family and friends for shelter. These were all working North Carolinians. Their stories were familiar and at times heartbreaking. Some are still struggling, and others saw their families lifted out of poverty thanks in part to the ETIC. They are the individuals who once relied on the EITC and urge policymakers to reinstate the credit – not only for themselves, but so that other families can feel the benefits.

A few basic facts on the state EITC that bear repeating: Read More

News

When the former Secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources sought a way to boost employee’s morale last summer, his agency ordered up several hundred commemorative coins engraved with both his and the agency’s name.

DENR commemorative coin

DENR commemorative coin

The environmental agency spent $1530 in June buying 500 coins engraved with former DENR Secretary John Skvarla’s name etched on them, in addition to the agency logo and the state seal on the back.

The coins, also referred to as challenge coins, were outdated within a few months.

Skvarla left the agency in December at Gov. Pat McCrory’s behest to lead the N.C. Commerce Department. Donald Van der Vaart, a longtime DENR employee, how heads the state environmental agency.

John Skvarla

Commerce Sec. John Skvarla (formerly DENR)

A number of the coins, but not all, were handed out to DENR employees as a way for Skvarla to recognize exemplary performance, said Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the agency.

Elliot said he did not know how many of the coins remained. N.C. Policy Watch has requested, but not yet received, a copy of a spreadsheet detailing how the coins were distributed under Skvarla’s leadership.

The $1,530 purchase of the coins this June comes as the agency has had to trim many of its programs and lay off environmental regulators in response to deep budget cuts, including 225 jobs lost between 2011 and 2014, according to this February 2014 news article. Some environmental groups say the cuts have left the state unable to protect its natural resources and prevent future disasters like last year’s toxic coal ash spill in the Dan River.

Challenge coins like the ones ordered by DENR are a well-known tradition in the nation’s military branches, as explained in this Mental Floss article. The coins are sometimes handed out by secret handshakes, as they were during a 2011 visit to Afghanistan by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates who passed them out to servicemen and servicewomen.

Probably one of the most popular uses of the coins in the military is to settle up bar tabs.

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