McC709Governor Pat McCrory is now answering questions about how he came to choose Valerie Macon as North Carolina’s newest poet laureate.

The governor defended his decision Wednesday saying the little known self-published poet from Fuquay-Varina would bring a new voice to the position:

“One of my objectives is to open up the availability of all appointments to people that typically aren’t inside the organized groups,” McCrory said. “We’ve got to open up opportunities for people that aren’t always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long time.”

McCrory acknowledged he was unaware of a N.C. Arts Council website that spelled out the process for selecting the state’s top poet:

“Well, we must have missed that web site, sorry,” he said. “Listen, I’m reviewing the entire process.”

The Associated Press reports Valerie Macon has also clarified the initial press release from the Governor’s office:

In naming Macon, McCrory noted her self-published books “Shelf Life” and “Sleeping Rough.” His original statement said she also had served as a regional distinguished poet in North Carolina.

Macon has since confirmed she wasn’t the distinguished poet but was mentored by a poet who had won that honor.

For its part, the N.C. Arts Council says it looks forward to working with Macon. Sarah Ovaska has more on how others in the arts community have responded to the appointment.

You can read some of Macon’s work here. Click here to learn about the state’s past poet laureates.

State senators offered a new budget proposal Tuesday – one that included 8% raises for teachers and would fund second-grade teaching assistants. But teaching assistants in the third-grade, they would not be funded in this latest proposal.

And there’s another wrinkle, as Rep. Nelson Dollar discovered when seeking clarification on the Senate’s new numbers:

“If I’m reading that correctly, this offer would still cut TAs of that allotment roughly in half, and in addition to that…the funds that remain there, are those largely non-recurring funds?” asked the Wake County Republican.

“That is a non-recurring compromise,” responded Sen. Harry Brown.

Rep. Dollar noted that relying on one-time funding for thousands of second-grade teaching assistants would certainly create a problem next year.

But Sen. Brown said his side has made ‘key concessions’ from their initial budget proposal.

Senators and House members also remain about $30 million apart on Medicaid spending, meaning that aged, blind and disabled patients would see some services cut.

House budget conferees are mulling over the Senate’s latest plan, and are expected to come back with another proposal from their side later in the week. To hear some of Tuesday’s debate, click below:
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Changes made to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system a year ago have caused pain for North Carolina workers and communities, according to a new report by the NC Budget & Tax Center. Center analysts project things will get even worse for many jobless workers because of new limits to how long anyone can receive insurance that took effect this month. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Two changes—lowering the maximum duration of weeks and a new formula that significantly reduces average weekly insurance amounts—fall most heavily on jobless workers in areas of the state’s highest unemployment, and primarily in rural counties. The cumulative effect of these changes is a double whammy for people out of work through no fault of their own – the amount of money they can collect has gone down and so has the number of weeks they can collect it.UIweekly

As of July 1, North Carolinians who have lost their job through no fault of their own will be able to receive a maximum of only 14 weeks of unemployment insurance compared to the previous maximum of 26. No other state offers fewer weeks. Meanwhile jobless workers qualifying for unemployment insurance will get nearly $300 less on average each month.

The combined result will be a significant reduction in the capacity of jobless workers to afford the basics for their families, let alone put gas in their cars to get to job interviews. And the ripple effect of these policy changes suggests the potential to slow the state’s economy.

The report also notes that the recent decline in North Carolina’s unemployment rate has been caused in part by people leaving the labor force, rather than finding work. In other words, the state still has a huge jobs deficit.

The average weekly unemployment insurance payment in May 2014 was less than $228, the 44th lowest weekly benefit in the nation.

To read the BTC’s full report, click here.

House and Senate budget conferees head back to the bargaining table this afternoon.

Last week, senators made it clear they were sticking to their position of an average 11% pay raise for teachers, even if it could result in deep cuts to Medicaid and other areas of education spending.

House members are pushing for a six-percent increase for teachers, but have also talked about heading home without a revised budget in place.

As for teaching assistants, with thousands of jobs potentially on the line, they would like both sides to revisit the remarks from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison who spoke eloquently last week about the need for TAs in the classroom:

“Teacher assistants allow schools to address personalization; they allow us to differentiate to the level of need of the child,”explained Morrison to House budget conferees. “They allow us to advance more rigor for those students who are coming ahead, and they allow us to catch up those students who are behind. Teacher assistants have been fundamental in some of the most important legislation that our state has already enacted, Read to Achieve.”

Last week several Senators questioned whether teaching assistants really had an impact on results in the classroom.

Today’s Conference Committee gets underway at 4:30 p.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building.

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The Wilmington Star News notes that the federal judge who will decide whether North Carolina’s voter suppression law should be placed on hold for the 2014 midterm elections has a lot to consider following last week’s testimony in Winston-Salem. But the editorial board concludes it would be foolish to enforce the law before a full trial. Here’s more from Monday’s Star News:

Voter IDSupporters say they just want to make sure that only properly registered voters have a say in our elections process. The integrity of our elections process is indeed important. But so is ensuring that citizens have the right to participate in that process without facing unnecessary or politically motivated obstacles.

The new voting laws are likely to discourage or exclude many qualified voters. Other states have adopted tough voting laws, but North Carolina’s is said to be the most exclusionary. It does not, for example, provide an alternative to people who do not have photo identification and would have financial or logistical difficulty retrieving a certified birth certificate required to get a government-issued photo ID. That would be a reasonable addition.

Voting is a constitutional right for U.S. citizens 18 and older. It is not a privilege, as is getting a driver’s license or boarding a flight. The government should have to clear a high bar before denying the vote to any citizen.

Kim Strach, the state elections director – whose husband is among the lawyers defending the voting laws – confirmed in a video deposition that the type of fraud North Carolina’s laws purport to prevent is exceedingly rare. Only one case was prosecuted in 10 years. In addition, Strach pointed to a double standard: No photo ID is required for voters who file absentee ballots, a method that tends to be used more by Republican voters.

Democratic voters, on the other hand – and especially black Democrats – are more partial to early voting. But early voting is popular across all demographics. In the 2012 general election, 56 percent of North Carolinians who went to the polls voted before Election Day.

The court has a lot to decide. It would be foolish to put these laws in place before the full trial, where both sides have the ability to lay out all their evidence and prove their case. The most restrictive of the provisions, including the photo ID requirement, do not take effect until 2016 anyway.

Delaying implementation of the voting restrictions until after the District Court-level ruling is the prudent course of action. That also would give the Honorables time to reconsider how to better ensure that in stopping fraud – a legitimate government goal – the law does not – inadvertently or deliberately – disenfranchise any voting-age citizen.

You can read the full editorial here.