N.C. Poet Laureate Valerie Macon (Provided by N.C. Arts Council)

N.C. Poet Laureate Valerie Macon (Provided by N.C. Arts Council)

Less than a week after being appointed North Carolina’s newest Poet Laureate, Valerie Macon resigned from the post on Thursday. The self-published poet from Fuquay-Varina said in a letter to Governor Pat McCrory she appreciated his confidence in her, but she did not want to distract from the Office of Poet Laureate.

Macon’s appointment drew criticism from the arts community as the governor bypassed the traditional selection process with the N.C. Council of Arts to choose a relatively unknown writer. Past poet laureates also questioned bestowing the honor on someone with just two self-published books.

McCrory defended his choice Wednesday, but pledged to review the appointment process.

In her resignation letter, Macon said she would still like to encourage everyone to read and write poetry:

They do not need a list of prestigious publishing credits or a collection of accolades from impressive organizations – just the joy of words and appreciation of self-expression.

To read Macon’s letter click below:

Macon_Letter

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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