If you missed it over the weekend, PNC Bank Regional President Jim Hansen penned an excellent op-ed highlighting the importance of investing in early learning. Hansen writes in the Raleigh News & Observer about a recent poll that finds voters of all parties believe early childhood education should be a top national priority:

North Carolina has high-quality early-learning programs that produce good results. Duke University researchers found that N.C. third-graders had higher reading and math scores and lower special education placements in counties that spent more money on Smart Start and NC PreK. Unfortunately, far too few children benefit. Only 21 percent of our 4-year-olds are enrolled in NC PreK.

By 2020, 67 percent of jobs in North Carolina will require some post-secondary education. Yet the majority of our fourth-graders are not proficient in a key predictor of future academic success: reading. Raleigh groups such as Wake Up and Read are working on this issue, but there is an urgent need for community consensus and action.

N.C. employers say they have trouble finding people with the right skills. Six out of 10 N.C. employers reported communications skills gaps among job applicants, and close to half reported deficiencies in critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

The most effective way to address these challenges is throughout a child’s early life, when 85 percent of brain development occurs. As Nobel Laureate Professor James J. Heckman says, “Human capital begins at birth. The foundation for school, career and life success is largely determined through the development of cognitive and character skills beginning in children’s earliest years.”

It makes sense. Children’s earliest experiences determine how their brains are wired. Brain development is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Harvard University pediatrician Jack Shonkoff puts it this way, “Brains are built, not born.”

We need to know what our community, corporate and political leaders are doing to support quality early education. With the stakes so high and with such clear results from the poll, it’s important for each of us to do all we can to support the education of our youngest citizens.

Read Hansen’s full op-ed here.

For more on the lasting benefits of high-quality pre-k programs, listen to NC Policy Watch’s recent interview with Tracy Zimmerman, executive director of the NC Early Childhood Foundation. Click below to hear an excerpt of Zimmerman’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon. The entire podcast can be accessed here.

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State Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry told members of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations Wednesday that he was repeatedly reminded of the political donations made by a McCrory supporter, but said he did nothing to show favoritism to Graeme Keith Sr.

Sec. Perry told legislators that the $3 million private prison contract awarded last year to Keith was an effort to find savings in the budget, not a “quid pro quo” arrangement based on past campaign contributions.

Asked to explain the governor’s role at an earlier meeting with Keith in Charlotte, Perry said McCrory served to mediate “as he should do in bringing jobs, and more private sector jobs. I saw it completely proper and good of him.”

Still Sec. Perry made it clear his own staff did not feel the extension of the private maintenance contract would save the state much money, or improve safety at the correctional institutions.

As for his own actions, Perry, a former FBI agent, told the commission he did not feel a duty to report Keith’s comments seeking payback or favoritism for his political contributions:

“I know where the line is. I’ve worked those cases.”

The FBI continues to interview state officials about the contract. Perry declined to comment further about their investigation.

Click below to watch a portion of Sec. Perry’s exchange with House Minority Leader Larry Hall.

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Governor Pat McCrory is among more than a dozen governors urging the Obama administration to cease the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States.

Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said:

“Some politicians have attempted to fabricate a link between the tragedy in Paris and the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States. Making policy based on this fear mongering is wrong for two reasons. It is factually wrong for blaming refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it is legally wrong because it violates our laws and the values on which our country was founded.”

Click below to hear McCrory’s comments regarding the refugees during a Monday press conference in Charlotte.

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#1 Charter Schools – The North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board is meeting in Raleigh this afternoon and again on Tuesday.

Members have scheduled a policy discussion on charter school funding and evaluating charter school educators. Learn more here.

#2 Living Wage – Wake County Commissioners will discuss amending the County’s Wake CommissionersPersonnel Ordinance to  provide  for  a  minimum  living-wage  standard  for  regular  employees effective December 1, 2015. If approved the  minimum-salary  for  regular  employees would be established at $13.50 an hour, which would yield an annual salary of $28,080.

Why is a living -wage so important? Well, just to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment, the typical worker in North Carolina would need to earn $14.68 per hour.

To date, eight local governments across North Carolina have already adopted living-wage ordinances.

Wake County Commissioners meet at 2:00 p.m. on the 2nd floor of the Wake Co. Justice Center to discuss and vote on the living-wage ordinance.

#3 Fracking – Lee County Commissioners could decide as early as this evening whether to okay a two-year moratorium on fracking.

Chatham, Stokes an Anson Counties have already taken steps to ban fracking in their regions.

Read Lee County’s proposed resolution here.

#4 Race-based policing – A recent front page article in the New York Times once again shined a bright light on a troublesome and longstanding problem in North Carolina – discriminatory policing that targets people of color for unfair treatment.
On Tuesday, NC Policy Watch will presents a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon on race-based policing.

Join us as we hear from Professor Frank Baumgartner of UNC Chapel Hill, Orange and Chatham County Public Defender James Williams and Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock.

Want to attend? We have a few seat remaining.

#5 Prison contracts, open meetings, and health care mergers –  Wednesday brings the highly anticipated meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, where members will hear from Department of Public Safety Sec. Frank Perry and state Budget Director Lee ff-1103Roberts about the private prison contract extended for Governor McCrory’s political donor Graeme Keith, Sr.

Keith reportedly said at a meeting called by McCrory that he expected something in return for his campaign contributions.

Reports in the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer show that Roberts worked hard to make sure Keith kept his prison contract, over the objections of Sec. Perry.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda, members will hear from:
•    Members of the the UNC Board of Governor on Compliance with Open Meetings Law.
•    DHHS Sec. Rick Brajer on the merger process for Managed Care Organizations (LME/MCO)

A complete agenda can be found here.

Want to go?  Wednesday’s Gov. Ops. meeting gets underway at 10:30 a.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building.

#6 Race relations on college campuses – Finally, on the heels of recent student protests in Missouri and New Haven, UNC-Chapel Hill will host a town hall meeting on campus Thursday to engage with students, faculty and staff on the issues that continue to hamper the ability of the campus to be inclusive, inspiring and safe. The event runs from from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Find more information here.

Commentary, News

McCrory_berger_moore1. Lessons from the disappearing budget provision in McCrory’s pay to play scandal

The newest revelations in the pay to play scandal now swirling around the McCrory Administration don’t make the governor look any better but they are a reminder of how concentrated power has become in the General Assembly and how absurd the state budget process remains.

Reporters with the Raleigh News & Observer and Charlotte Observer broke the story more than a week ago of how Gov. McCrory convened a meeting last year between his political donor Graeme Keith, Sr. and officials in his administration about Keith’s $3 million prison maintenance contract that was about to expire.

A memo prepared by officials in the Department of Public Safety says that McCrory turned the meeting over to Keith who said that he had given money to politicians and it was time he received something in return. [Continue reading…]

VETERANSDAY2. Veterans deserve more than parades
Steps we should take if we’re really serious about helping those who’ve served our country

American politicians have a strange relationship with those who serve in the military. On the one hand, most love to pay lip service to the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Today, across the country, politicians of all stripes and ideologies will appear at parades and other events to issue solemn pronouncements that lift up and salute veterans.

Last night, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s office distributed a video of this ilk in which, to the accompaniment of soft piano music, the Governor talked of his family members who served in the military, lamented the lack of respect accorded to some Vietnam vets decades ago and listed a couple of modest steps the state has taken in recent years to promote the employment of veterans.

Unfortunately, that will be about as far as things go. [Continue reading…]

pv-POVERTY11-123. North Carolina’s hunger problem: Set to get worse just in time for the holidays

As many of us plan and prepare for family gatherings and celebratory meals in the upcoming holiday season, here’s a startling and disturbing fact to consider: Only a handful of U.S. states have higher hunger rates than North Carolina. The weak and uneven economic recovery hasn’t reduced hunger in our communities: the share of North Carolinians who don’t have a consistent supply of food has actually not budged since 2009, evidence of the state’s large job shortage and boom in low-wage jobs that make it difficult to buy food.

Next year, this harsh reality will get even worse for many North Carolinians who are very poor and struggle to find work in communities where job opportunities are scarce. That’s when, thanks to the recent action of the General Assembly and Governor McCrory, a three-month time limit for food assistance returns for childless, non-disabled adults.

As a point of reference, the average income of the people who will lose their food assistance is just $2,236…per year. [Continue reading…]

domestic_violence4. Want to reduce domestic violence? Then expand Medicaid

Speaking at a recent press event on North Carolina’s failure to expand Medicaid, I highlighted the fact that October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m sure many were initially surprised to hear me make the connection between these two subjects. It’s clear that many important state leaders who often pay lip service to the issue of domestic violence don’t see it.

Having personally spent more than a decade providing support to victims of domestic and sexual violence, however, I can affirm that they are linked on multiple levels.

How can expanding Medicaid benefit victims of domestic violence? There are many ways, not the least of which is making healthcare more affordable to the approximately 500,000 North Carolinians who currently do not have access to quality health care, some of whom are surely experiencing domestic abuse. [Continue reading…]

WB-11-10-UNC5. University leaders or superstar CEO’s?
Five reasons why giant salaries for UNC bosses are not the answer

North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson is very clearly a good guy. He is also, by many accounts, a fine chancellor and, if the recent gift that he and his wife gave to N.C. State to establish a scholarship fund is any indication, a person who cares about those less fortunate than himself.

All of that said, Professor Michael Behrent of Appalachian State was absolutely correct in a Progressive Voices column he wrote for N.C. Policy Watch last week in which he called on 12 UNC chancellors including Dr. Woodson to return the money they were recently awarded in massive pay raises.

Simply put, however excellent a chancellor Woodson is, it is simply wrong for the people of North Carolina to be paying him $590,000 per year. (A “stipend” from the private N.C. State Foundation actually raises Woodson’s overall compensation to $790,000 annually.) The same is true for the $570,000 UNC Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt now pulls in – not to mention the near $1 million per year package bestowed upon new UNC system president Margaret Spellings. [Continue reading…]