News

Earlier this week, health care advocates across the nation marked a milestone: the 50th anniversary of the Medicaid and Medicare programs.

To mark the occasion, the good folks at North Carolina Health News have put together a useful interactive map, demonstrating how Medicaid benefits the residents of each county in our state.

Here’s a snapshot of how the program benefits Rockingham County, the home county of Senate President Phil Berger:

nchealthnewsmapClick here (and scroll down) to view the full map and read more about how Medicaid provides lifesaving health care to the most vulnerable people in North Carolina.

This weekend, NC Policy Watch will discuss Medicaid expansion on its weekly radio show, News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon.

Joining Chris will be Joan Alker, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Alker discusses CCF’s new report on how parents and kids benefit from closing North Carolina’s Medicaid coverage gap.  (CCF recently traveled to North Carolina to release the report in partnership with NC Child and the NC Health Access Coalition.)

Below Alker talks about why Governor Pat McCrory is overdue in presenting  a state-specific plan for Medicaid expansion:

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Commentary

A week after the state Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers were constitutional, the Rocky Mount Telegram writes it’s time for parents to ask some hard questions about the enacted “Opportunity Scholarship” program.

The editorial board writes in Friday’s paper:

School vouchersPublic schools in the Twin Counties alone have plenty of kids who would benefit from a $4,200 per-pupil stipend every year to attend a private school. Almost 70 percent of the 16,000 students in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools and 85 percent of the 7,500 students in Edgecombe County Public Schools are on a free or reduced price lunch program. If just a quarter of all of those students applied for vouchers, where would the state find money for them? And how would a financially decimated public school system pick up the pieces and move on to educate the rest of our kids?

Those are real issues that school boards and superintendents in systems all over the state will have to wrestle with in the very near future.

While those folks are struggling with finances, parents would be smart to ask some questions, also. For example, how does academic performance at the private school I’m considering compare to performance at the public school where my child is currently enrolled?

Good luck finding an apples-to-apples answer to that. Private schools don’t have to test kids by curriculum standards required of public schools by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Educators in private schools don’t even have to be certified by anyone to teach.

If the N.C. General Assembly is going to require standardized testing in public schools as part of its accountability policy, shouldn’t it require the same of private schools where voucher recipients are spending public tax dollars?

The Supreme Court might have cleared the air on vouchers in North Carolina, but the remaining questions are likely to leave us in the fog for a while to come.

For more on the recent voucher ruling, listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s Friday radio commentary:

Commentary, News

Today’s must read comes from  Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times. In his latest piece, A Dream Undone, Rutenberg takes readers back to 1956 when Henry Frye (who later became North Carolina’s first black Supreme Court chief justice) was subjected to a literacy test and barred from registering to vote.

Rutenberg then fast-forwards us to 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, eliminating such tests and seeking to end the disenfranchisement of black voters. His story goes on to explain:

In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to NYTactively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements.

Rutenburg’s article covers five decades of the struggle to expand voting rights, right up to the the federal trial (North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. v. McCrory) in Winston-Salem that could wrap-up later this week.

Read A Dream Undone here in The New York Times.

For more on the voting rights trial continuing in Winston-Salem, listen to Policy Watch’s recent radio interview with Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina.

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Commentary, News

Governor Pat McCrory’s Transportation Secretary caught many in the state government world by surprise Tuesday with the announcement that he would leave the office immediately.

A press release from the governor’s office explained Tony Tata’s departure this way:

…Tony Tata has resigned as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) to focus on personal and family matters in addition to pursuing his passion as an author.

“Tony Tata has been a valuable partner in our efforts to reform and modernize North Carolina’s transportation system,” Governor McCrory said. “His dedication to the people of North Carolina is in keeping with his long career of service to his community, state and country.”

Tata’s resignation takes effect today. Chief Deputy Secretary Nick Tennyson will serve as Acting Transportation Secretary.

Tata has been one of the more visible members in the McCrory administration, most recently traveling the state with the governor to promote the Connect NC bond proposal.

NCDOT Sec. Tony Tata and Governor Pat McCrory discuss Connect NC bond proposal in late June at Hammocks Beach.  (Photo: Governor's flickr account.)

NCDOT Sec. Tony Tata and Governor Pat McCrory discuss the Connect NC bond proposal in late June at Hammocks Beach. (Photo: Governor’s flickr account.)

Here’s what others on social media are saying about Tata’s departure:

Commentary, News

School-vouchers1. State’s highest court upholds school voucher program despite lack of accountability and standards

In a 4-3 decision that defies principles of accountability to taxpayers and students alike, the elected Republican justices of the state Supreme Court today upheld a school voucher program that allows taxpayer dollars to fund tuition for private schools having virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.” [Continue reading…]

Tillman_edu2. Senate bill proposes ending DPI control of charter school oversight

Administration and oversight for public charter schools has been handled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for years — but Senator Jerry Tillman, a longtime supporter of charter schools, wants to change that.

“DPI was never in love…with charter schools,” Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph) said in a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday as he introduced to fellow lawmakers a gutted version of House Bill 334, which would transfer the Office of Charter Schools out of the Department of Public Instruction, placing it under the State Board of Education. [Continue reading…]

ff-723153. Still no urgency in Raleigh with budget almost a month late 

At first glance, it seemed like just another disturbing week at the General Assembly.

A Senate committee approved a plan to give homebuilders a tax break that will cost local governments millions of dollars a year, another Senate committee passed a bill to weaken the state’s already anemic gun laws, and another panel considered a proposal to block state environmental officials from developing plans to cut carbon emissions in response to forthcoming rules from the EPA.

That’s all sadly business as usual these days in the legislative halls. And it didn’t stop there. [Continue reading…]

budget-pie4. State government shutdown ahead? Budget office gets ready for possibility

A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.

The July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.[Continue reading…]

wb-721B5. A $60 million rip-off
The state Treasurer combats a stunning money grab by the insurance industry

If there’s a single most maddening and nonsensical argument regularly advanced by the far right, so-called “free market” think tanks funded by the Art Popes and Koch Brothers of the world, it’s probably this: the ideology-over-common sense contention that the “genius of the market” makes most consumer protection laws unnecessary.

Whether it’s airplane pilot rest, meat inspections or 400% “payday” loans, it’s generally the position of the market fundamentalists that “the market” and “consumer choice” will pretty much take care of everything. Put bluntly, once a cut rate airliner or two goes down (or a few hundred folks contract salmonella or Mad Cow Disease) consumers will wise up and take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading…]