News

State lawmakers won’t be making any major decisions on Medicaid reform before next year’s long legislative session, but Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos wants to make it clear she opposes any plans that would move Medicaid outside her agency.

Secretary Wos reiterated Wednesday that such a move would sidetrack her agency from the work that has been done over the past 19 months.

“Such a decision would be disruptive. It would divert resources and human capital from the ongoing day- to-day operations of the division,” said Dr. Wos.

Earlier this month, Dr. Wos found herself defending the hiring of outside contractors to assist her agency with reorganization while she promoted plans that “flattened” the structure of the state Medicaid program, which provides healthcare for more than 1.5 million North Carolinians.

Click below to hear part of Wos’ remarks, or watch Wednesday’s full hearing here.
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News

There have been plenty of polls in the news lately, and here’s one that really caught our attention:

A High Point University/News & Record Poll released Monday found that 58 percent of likely North Carolina voters believe the raises that teachers received from state lawmakers this year are too small.

Fewer than one-third (29%) said the raises were of an appropriate size; six-percent said the raises were too big. Read more about the findings here.

NC Policy Watch education reporter Lindsay Wagner has an excellent rundown of the first meeting of the North Carolina Academic Standards Review Commission.

And if you have wondered just how hard it may be to replace North Carolina’s Common Core Standards with something new, check out this video with commission co-chair Andre Peek. Peek suggests that even before they can get down to the bulk of their work, they first need to settle on what is meant by the word ‘standards':

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Finally, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog has a great story on new research that found ‘even when people have access to the same kind of care, educational achievement still played a huge role in whether people are in good health.’

Here’s more from Jason Millman’s piece:

There’s a number of factors at play here. People with more education have lower disease risk factors, such as smoking and obesity; better education means better jobs with higher earnings and health insurance; and it means better access to healthy food and other services enabling healthier lifestyles. Past research shows that white men and women with 16 or more years of education have a life expectancy about at least 10 years longer than those who didn’t graduate high school.

Learn more about that research here.

Commentary

It’s been about a month since North Carolina’s legislature wrapped up the short summer session and headed home to begin campaigning ahead of November’s election.

Former Governor Jim Hunt writes in a must-read editorial that lawmakers need to stop boasting about the modest pay raise afforded to teachers this year, and worry about whether North Carolina will be able to attract and keep high-quality teachers in the future.

The four-term governor notes in Saturday’s News & Observer:

Jim_HuntIt’s not just poor pay, but working conditions for teachers have deteriorated with rising class sizes, fewer textbooks and supplies, cuts in teaching assistants and political leadership that too often disparages teachers.

While both political parties deserve to share some of the blame, the fact is that as our economy improves, the current state leadership continues to keep our public schools on a bare subsistence diet and makes education policies that are an affront to teachers, especially experienced ones.

Teachers are a smart bunch. The recent pay raises have been sold as 7 percent – but that’s not what many teachers are seeing in their paychecks. Young teachers are getting a modest raise, but those veteran teachers who have worked and sacrificed to give our children a good education have seen the longevity pay they counted on abolished. And the new salary schedule treats them very unfairly. A teacher in Clayton wrote that she got a raise of only $47.60 per month. One Wake County teacher told WRAL-TV that when she saw her increase was only 1.39 percent she “sat down and cried.”

Not surprisingly, many North Carolina teachers are voting against education cuts with their feet. States like Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Texas are actively recruiting them. (The Houston School District just hired 28.) Other teachers are retiring early, and many top teachers are going into better paying jobs in business and science.

I think we should be especially alarmed by the message current policies and low teacher pay is sending to the young people of North Carolina who should be our “future teachers.”

Enrollment in Schools of Education on our University of North Carolina campuses has dropped precipitously. I received my undergraduate degree in the School of Education at North Carolina State University. Over the last several years new enrollment in my alma mater’s program has gone down every single year – a drop of 52 percent in four years.

At UNC-Greensboro (my teacher mother’s alma mater) total undergraduate enrollment in the School of Education has gone down 44 percent in the last six years.

Where will our future teachers come from? Will we even have enough to teach our kids?

Once North Carolina had a Teaching Fellows Program that attracted “the best and brightest” of our students with four-year scholarships if they promised to teach for four years or more. Now the legislature has abolished it.

I believe the status of our public schools and teachers is the No. 1 concern of North Carolina’s resident today. Some say we don’t have the resources and can’t do any better. I know that we can.

Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser believed we could when he supported the establishment of public kindergarten in 1973 and raised teacher pay to 27th in the nation.

In 1996 I campaigned for governor on a platform of raising teacher pay to the national average. In 1997 we built a bipartisan coalition with support from Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, education advocates and teachers to support the Excellent Schools Act. And over the next four years we increased teacher pay by almost 33 percent, raising pay to the national average and 20th in the country.

It is my hope that when the General Assembly convenes in 2015, there will be a new sense of cooperation and a firm commitment to do three things:

First, respect veteran teachers by restoring longevity pay and giving them the minimum 5.5 percent raise they were sold.

Second, increase salaries for all teachers, moving North Carolina to the national average in the next four years.

Third, improve working conditions for our teachers and send the message that North Carolina values its teachers.

That will show the real respect that North Carolina teachers deserve.

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Commentary

As Governor Pat McCrory travels the state this week touting a billion dollar bond proposal for highway improvements and transit investments over the next 25 years, the Charlotte Observer reminds readers that the state is facing a serious revenue problem.

The editorial board doesn’t hold back in Thursday’s column entitled: Become Alabama in 12 easy steps.

Here’s an excerpt:

(News item: State revenues in North Carolina decreased by more than $200 million in July and August, the first two months of the fiscal year, when compared with the same months in 2013. That’s also $50 million short of state budget projections, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reports.)

Twelve Easy Steps to Becoming Alabama:alabama-close

1) Slash taxes, as N.C. Republicans did last year when they cut both the corporate tax rate and the personal income tax rate, with the most significant benefits going to wealthy North Carolinians.

2) Tell citizens this is tax “reform,” not simply tax cuts.

3) Explain, too, that this will help “job creators” grow our state’s economy, despite the fact that history shows there is little to no link between tax cuts and economic growth. The reason for this is that businesses add jobs when they believe doing so will help them grow and make more money. They do not need a tax break to want to make more money, and they won’t add jobs until it’s economically advantageous to do so, regardless of tax breaks.

4) Do not explain that last part to voters.

5) Cut spending, as N.C. lawmakers have had to do to offset the hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue. These cuts can be made in a number of ways, such as trimming health and welfare benefits for poor people, or cutting unemployment benefits for those without a job.

6) Subtly blame these poor and unemployed people for needing government “handouts.”

7) Bonus Tip: One especially fertile target for spending is education. Freeze higher education pay and cut education budgets, despite increases in enrollment. Cut the money that’s spent per student in classrooms and raise teacher pay only after it’s politically destructive to ignore it. Then cut critical education needs like teacher assistants to help pay for those salaries, and fund the rest of the permanent pay increase with one-time only sources of state revenue.

8) Hope no one notices that last thing.

9) Wave off signs of trouble, as new state budget director Lee Roberts did this week when asked about the state’s alarming two-month revenue shortfall. Roberts said it was too early to worry, despite the N.C. Budget and Tax Center estimating that revenue will be down $300 million in 2015 and at least a half-billion dollars next year, when new tax cuts go into effect.

Read the full editorial online at The Charlotte Observer.

News

New polling data by American Insights shows Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan with a nine point lead over Republican challenger Thom Tillis among likely voters this November. Elon University’s poll shows the race closer – with Hagan enjoying a 45 to 41 percent margin over Tillis, with nine percent of likely voters saying they would vote for someone else. (Libertarian Party candidate Sean Haugh will be on the ballot, but was not mentioned by name in the Elon poll.)

Catawba College political scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer says what’s interesting from his perspective is that the tens of millions of dollars in advertising that has flooded the airwaves has really had little impact on voters.

Bitzer joined us last weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss how Hagan and Tillis connected with voters in the most recent debate, and how undecided voters may ultimately decide how they will vote based on their impressions of the N.C. General Assembly and Congress.

What impact could Governor Pat McCrory have on the race?  Check out today’s Fitzsimon File.

To hear our full radio interview with Dr. Michael Bitzer, click below:

For an excerpt, click here:
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