Commentary, News

1. House education budget boosts teacher pay and school vouchers, falls short on classroom needs

House lawmakers unveiled a draft biennial budget Monday that includes pay raises for all teachers and a patchwork of funding initiatives aimed at improving leadership and instruction — but what’s not in the budget is what some say will prove to be the biggest challenge ahead for North Carolina’s classrooms.

“The proposed House budget does not go far enough to ensure every child will receive a quality education in North Carolina,” said North Carolina Association of Educators’ president Rodney Ellis in a statement released Monday afternoon. “If we are serious about every child’s future, we must provide students with modern textbooks and technology, more one-one-one attention, and a quality educator in every classroom.” [Continue reading…]

2. Seven (of many) reasons the House budget falls short

Every state budget is a mixed bag of decisions that make sense and decisions that don’t, vital programs that receive needed funding and vital programs that are underfunded or even ignored.

Many budgets, including the version before the House this week, unfortunately also make policy changes that have never been considered before on the House or Senate floor or even debated in a committee.

Some of them are good ideas and some aren’t but most of them have no business in the budget where members can only vote yes or no. They deserve separate hearings and debates and votes. [Continue reading…]

3. Koch-onomics: On the march in NC
The Right’s shameless, myth-based attacks on renewable energy

There are, of course, dozens of ways in which the current political powers-that-be in North Carolina are trying to roll back the hands of time in the world of government and public policy. From voting rights to reproductive freedom, public education to tax policy, gun violence to the social safety net, the war on modernity and progress is being waged on numerous fronts.

If there were an award for the “most outrageous and destructive, greed-based attack of 2015” however, it would be tough to top the ongoing effort of conservative legislators and their supporters in the right-wing, Koch Brothers-supported “think tanks” to scuttle North Carolina’s fast-growing solar energy industry.  [Continue reading…]

4. For voting rights, a blockbuster summer ahead

Just as the U.S. Supreme Court wraps up its term with decisions in several high-profile cases expected in late June, state and federal courts here will be gearing up for what promises to be a long hot summer for voting rights – with more to follow.

Several constitutional challenges to the sweeping voting law changes enacted in 2013 head to trial starting in July and the state Supreme Court rehears the redistricting case in August.[Continue reading…]

5. Controversial online college on its way to North Carolina?

A controversial online university that credits students for their existing skills and knowledge could soon have a larger role in North Carolina, with a funding stream carved out in the state House’s version of the budget.

The Utah-based Western Governors University, which tends to compete with for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix and Strayer University, is a non-profit that was founded in 1995 by a bipartisan group of governors from the western part of the country. [Continue reading…]

News

The NC House voted to approve a $22.1 billion budget in the early hours of Friday morning, sending the spending plan off to the Senate where it will most certainly face more changes.

One of the dozens of amendments debated prior to the passage of the spending plan would have eliminated an extension of renewable energy tax credits.

Wake County Rep. Marilyn Avila said she would not support a tax credit for the solar industry, while so many areas of the budget went underfunded:

“We lacked adequate child care for at-risk kids, we lacked money to address the needs of traumatic brain injury patients, we lacked money to provide services to the mentally ill who have been sent back to their communities for treatment that isn’t there.”

Cabarrus County Rep. Larry Pittman chimed in that he had “great concerns” about subsidizing solar farms that are displacing traditional farmland.

But Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County urged his colleagues to support the latest compromise on solar tax credits –  a one-year extension, with a scaled-back credit for the second year of the budget.

“Never again will I stand on this floor and ask the members to extend the credit,” pledged Rep. Lewis.

In the end House members voted (38-77) to defeat Avila’s amendment.

For more on the highs and lows of the House budget, read Friday’s Fitzsimon File: The Follies (of celebrating a budget that doesn’t make things worse).

YouTube Preview Image
News

When state lawmakers get ready to tackle Medicaid reform this year, they’ll be working with a new state Medicaid Director.

DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos announced Thursday that Robin Gary Cummings will step down from the post in June to become the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.RichardandCummings2

Dr. Cummings,  who assumed the duties of  North Carolina’s Medicaid director just 13 months ago, said he’s looking forward to changing directions to focus his attention on higher education.

“It’s the highest position I can go home to,” said Cummings. “Serving under the leadership of Secretary Wos as the state’s Medicaid Director has been an honor and one of the most valuable experiences of my career.

“This has given me a better understanding of our citizens’ needs and has prepared me to be an effective leader in my next role as the chancellor of UNC-Pembroke.”

Taking over as the state’s new Medicaid director will be Dave Richard, Deputy Secretary of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Services.

From DHHS’ media advisory:

Richard has extensive experience with the Medicaid program throughout his 33-year career. In his work with The Arc, he was involved in advocacy and policy development related to the Medicaid program at the state and national level. In his tenure as executive director of The Arc of North Carolina, he led The Arc’s effort to become a provider under the Medicaid program and provided leadership for its successful programs.

Since joining DHHS as director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services and in his current role as Deputy Secretary, he has been directly involved with the oversight of the Local Management Entities and Managed Care Organizations (LME-MCO) system, which is responsible for more than $2 billion of Medicaid funding in a managed care delivery system.

Richard will become North Carolina’s third Medicaid director since January of 2013.  Progressive Pulse readers may recall the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) initially brought in Carol Steckel from Louisiana to manage the Medicaid program.

Steckel resigned from the post eight months later to take a position with WellCare Health Plans in Tampa, Florida.

Cummings’ last day on the job is June 5.

Commentary, News

The state House convenes at 10:00am Thursday where members are expected to debate dozens of amendments before voting on their version of the state budget.

On the plus side, the $22.1 billion spending plan includes a two percent pay raise for all teachers, with starting salaries for the state’s newest teachers rising to $35,000 a year. The budget also earmarks $100 million to handle school enrollment growth, which will accommodate an expected 17,000 additional students next year.

But what this budget fails to fund is just as important, according to Amber Moodie-Dyer with the NC Budget & Tax Center.

Moodie-Dyer notes the spending plan fails to restore funding for teaching assistants and underfunds textbooks, while opting instead to reduce the corporate tax rate.

Moodie-Dyer joins us this weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss the budget process. For a preview of that radio interview click below:
YouTube Preview Image

The NC Budget & Tax Center is not alone that assessment of the House Budget. The editorial board of Greensboro’s News & Record writes:

…there still aren’t enough investments. North Carolina must restrengthen its universities and community colleges and do more to make sure children are ready for post-secondary education. Quality early childhood learning is still unavailable to many children, and high numbers never get on track in the primary grades.

The $400 million revenue windfall for the current fiscal year gives budget writers some hope that revenues will continue to be strong. They are wisely investing a little more in people, infrastructure and savings.

Yet with more corporate tax cuts coming, it’s questionable whether revenues will continue to grow enough to pay for further needed investments.

It would be better to freeze corporate tax rates and make sure a lush, green spring doesn’t dry up in a summer drought.

Read the full editorial here. For more analysis from the NC Budget & Tax Center on the House plan, click here.

News

In case you missed it, comedian Stephen Colbert delivered both on the punch lines and in his advice to Wake Forest University’s class of 2015.

Colbert told graduates on Monday to find the courage to set their own standards, hold high expectations, and then make the world better.

“Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done – like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions,” explained Colbert. “Your job – Pro Humanitate – is to prove us wrong.”

For a clip from Monday’s speech at Wake Forest, click below. The entire ceremony is available here.
YouTube Preview Image

Colbert, left the “The Colbert Report” in December after nine years on Comedy Central, and will take over the helm of the “Late Show” later this year.