Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

Budget cuts1. Locking in North Carolina’s decline
The 2017 budget promises nothing but more distress for North Carolina 

Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore love to boast that North Carolina is in the midst (or, perhaps, on the cusp) of a rousing economic “comeback.” Hardly a day goes by anymore in which one or more of these men isn’t issuing some kind of release claiming that conservative fiscal policies have somehow turned around the state’s economy and “unleashed the private sector” to create all sorts of new jobs and development.

Recently, the mantra has been all about how North Carolina was rated the third best state in the country “for business” by yet another “CEO” magazine. Never mind that it won virtually identical (if not more glowing) plaudits throughout the Perdue and Easley administrations and even during the Great Recession. [Continue reading…]

LGBT equality2. HB2 makes me feel less welcome, but the fight against it gives me hope

Six years ago, I moved to North Carolina to accept a one-year teaching position at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro. My wife, also named Angela, and I, had just made the final repair on our home in Florida, where we planned to live for the rest of our lives. But during my year in North Carolina, I fell in love with the state, and I began looking for a job that would allow Angela and me to relocate here permanently.

Fortunately, North Carolina Central University School of Law was looking for someone to teach courses that I taught and they extended an offer to me to join the faculty. The pull of North Carolina was so strong that Angela left a teaching job that she loved in Miami, and I tendered my resignation to the law school where I had taught for almost 20 years.

In North Carolina, and particularly in Durham, we found more than a home; we found a community. We live in the cul de sac of a small neighborhood and we’re a part of that community. We’re friends with our neighbors, we go to their kids’ birthday parties, and we watch each others’ homes when someone is on vacation. Our neighborhood is exactly the kind of neighborhood we hoped to find.  We are not the only African American family, nor are we the only LGBT family. [Continue reading…]

virtualschool23. State lawmakers poised to loosen rules for virtual charter schools
Move would come despite high dropout rates, big questions about academics

In the space of one day last week, North Carolina’s virtual charter schools saw their controversial plans for overhauling attendance requirements axed, and then, mostly, restored.

Such is the often rapid-fire speed of amendments lobbed in state House and Senate committees as North Carolina lawmakers wrangle over their budget plan this month.

But as House leaders approved their spending plan last week and Senate budget chiefs prepared to unveil their proposals this week, one thing is clear, according to the state’s public school advocates: The virtual charters, besieged by high dropout rates and nationwide concerns about poor academic performance, are bound for relaxed regulations in North Carolina anyway [Continue reading…]

virtual24. Virtual charter schools are a bust. So why did the NC House loosen state regulations even further?

Public school students in North Carolina are expected to be able to weigh evidence and make sound, logical decisions based on that evidence. Should we expect the same from our legislators?

That was the question before the General Assembly during the recent House Budget debate, as legislators argued whether to pull the plug on virtual charter schools. Virtual charters, authorized as part of the 2014 budget, are for-profit, online schools. With grim results in other states, it’s unclear why North Carolina’s policymakers are pushing us down the same path.

The educational results are truly grim. The most careful, comprehensive study of virtual charter schools, from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that virtual charter students achieved the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading than students in traditional public schools. In the words of lead researcher Margaret Raymond, the math results are “literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”  Not surprisingly, the average graduation rate at online schools is 40%, less than half the national average graduation rate of 82%. [Continue reading…]

Payday loans5. Feds to issue new rules on “payday” and “car title” lending; Here’s why North Carolinians should be paying very close attention

Payday loansNorth Carolinians can be forgiven if they haven’t thought a lot about the predatory “payday lending” business in recent years. Indeed, it was one of the great accomplishments of our state government in the early part of the last decade when it officially ended North Carolina’s four-year experiment with the business and made these inherently predatory loans illegal. The last of the payday shops was chased out of the state in 2006.

Since that time, there have been periodic efforts to bring the practice back into North Carolina, but consumer advocates have repeatedly succeeded in beating them back. A few years ago, an Alabama bank attempted to exploit a loophole in federal law that allowed banks to evade state usury caps and reintroduce a form of payday lending into the state. Amidst sustained protests, however, the bank backed down and North Carolinians have since remained blessedly free of this deceptive and destructive “product.” [Continue reading…]

***Upcoming event on Monday, June 6th: Crucial Conversation — A year after the Charleston tragedy: Growing hope for saner anti-gun violence policies.

Commentary

Rick Glazier: NCGA’s “never mind” budget lacking — fails, hurts North Carolina

Rick Glazier, Executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center, wrote an editorial that appeared in the News and Observer yesterday saying the budget from N.C. legislators falls short of not only meeting the needs of the state but also departs from a history of commitment to public investments like the state’s university system and neglects foundations for a strong future. (Note: N.C. Justice Center is the parent organization of N.C. Policy Watch.)

From the News and Observer:

The state is about to adopt a budget for the coming year based not on what our state needs and what it will reasonably take to meet those needs but on a number lawmakers pretty much picked out of thin air.

Instead of considering how to help communities thrive, give all kids a top-flight education or invest in a strong future, they opted to let a formula take the place of reasoned deliberation. Judgment is giving way to rigid numbers. For no common-sense reason, they decided the state’s public investments over the next year couldn’t exceed the percentage growth in the state’s population plus inflation.

Why? That’s what happens when you so deplete public resources through a string of tax cuts that benefit mostly the wealthiest that you lack the revenue to meet actual needs. That’s what happens when you try to permanently cap the income tax at 5.5 percent to further limit resources.

Never mind that the number of North Carolina children and elderly will likely grow faster than the population as a whole.

Never mind that some important expenses — like health care — often grow by far more than the relatively low inflation rate these days.

Never mind that many dedicated public workers have gone a long time without real salary increases, leaving them to struggle to meet rising costs for the basics.

Never mind that some students in North Carolina are trying to learn from frayed, out-of-date text books.

Never mind that our courts are stretched and can no longer ensure all have access to representation or that the delivery of justice is efficient.

You could say North Carolina is about to adopt a “never mind” budget. And that’s a shame.
[Read more here]

News

Research shows negative effects of school vouchers on student performance

Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution pointed to recent research of voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana suggesting that students with vouchers to attend private schools perform worse on math and reading tests than their peers in public schools. Lack of adequate accountability may be one factor. Excerpt and link to full report below.

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.

[Read more here]

Commentary

Not again: Lawmakers unveil yet another polluter protection bill

Those who might have hoped that North Carolina corporate polluters and their political apologists had run out of basic environmental protection laws to raze should have known better. In this release from yesterday afternoon, Dustin Chicurel-Bayard over at the NC chapter of the Sierra Club explains how they’re back at it yet again:

Revised bill would allow electronics in landfills

New regulatory bill emerges in Senate committee

Earlier today, the N.C. Senate Commerce Committee approved a substitute bill for H 169, Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016. One of the many provisions of H 169 eliminates the ban on electronics in landfills and the manufacturer-funded electronics recycling program.

Upon the committee’s approval of H 169, Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for the NC Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“After years of study, North Carolina in 2010 created a statewide electronics recycling program that is comprehensive, free to the public (manufacturers pay), and convenient. Keeping electronics out of landfills helps prevent lead pollution and saves valuable landfill space.”

“In addition, the ban on putting electronics into landfills has created jobs. There are five major electronics recyclers in the state with many smaller companies involved in the collection and processing of electronic materials creating at least 600 jobs in the state. Allowing computers and televisions to be thrown into landfills undermines an important industry as well as our environment.”

 

Commentary

Will House move to eliminate minimum wage and overtime protections for seasonal workers?

In a surprise move yesterday, the House Finance Committee voted to eliminate state minimum wage and overtime protections for certain seasonal workers and amusement park employees. But a glimmer of hope remains for workers after key Republicans on the panel pledged to address concerns over the minimum wage and the bill was kept off the House calendar for today.

As WRAL reported yesterday, the Committee debated a proposed committee substitute for SB 363, legislation that originally regulated food carts but was stripped and replaced by entirely new language that changed the state’s wage and hour laws for certain seasonal employees. Under the new version considered by the committee, employees of seasonal camps and amusement parks would no longer be eligible for minimum wage and overtime protections under North Carolina’s Wage and Hour Act—likely a response to the US Department of Labor’s recent announcement raising the eligibility of salaried overtime workers  from those earning $23,660 to $47,476 per year.

And since these workers are already exempted from federal protections—a loophole in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act created specifically to benefit circus operator Barnum & Bailey—the proposed change in the state’s law effectively ensures that these workers will no longer have any legal entitlement to earn a minimum wage or overtime.

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