Commentary, Education, News

NC voucher program should follow Maryland’s lead, end funding to schools that discriminate

The Baltimore Sun reports this morning that a religious school, with the aid of a right-wing legal organization, is suing the state of Maryland over the decision of education officials to deny it school voucher funding because of its discriminatory policies. Oh, that North Carolina leaders had the courage to adopt and implement a similar policy.

As the Sun reports:

Maryland’s education leaders decided to deny vouchers to Bethel Christian Academy in 2018 after it read the school’s handbook, which says that it believes marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that God assigns a gender to a child at birth.

“Therefore, faculty, staff and student conduct is expected to align with this view,” the handbook states. “Faculty, staff and students are required to identify with, dress in accordance with, and use the facilities associated with their biological gender.”…

Maryland’s voucher program, begun in the 2016-2017 school year under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, offers students a taxpayer-funded scholarship to attend a private school. Called Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students, or BOOST, the program’s $7 million budget is enough to support more than 3,000 students. The scholarships go to low-income students who want to attend a school where the tuition is less than $14,000.

After the first year of the program, the BOOST board learned that a Harford County religious school had what it called discriminatory language in its handbook and banned the use of vouchers there. It also launched a complete review of the handbooks of all 176 participating schools. The board said 22 schools had questionable language in their guides. Nine of those schools were ruled ineligible. Another 10 schools were disqualified and required to refund payments they had already received from the state. Of those 10 schools, six revised the language in their handbook and were approved to participate.

Some Christian academies said they would not accept students who were homosexual and would expel them if they exhibited “homosexual conduct.” The schools say they believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

After it rescinded Bethel’s approval, the BOOST board told Bethel to pay back the $106,000 in state funds it had received. In the lawsuit, Bethel asks the court to both reinstate the school in the voucher program and not require it to pay back the money.

The story goes on to explain the legal theories of the competing parties and the fact that the very existence of a voucher program remains highly controversial.

Let’s hope the defendants prevail, that the policy to deny vouchers to schools that discriminate remains in place and that North Carolina officials follow Maryland’s lead in the near future.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

Prescription to apply for health insurance with personal computing tablet and stethoscope.

In case you missed it the Wilmington Star-News hit a home run with an editorial entitled “Top 12 reasons N.C. needs to expand Medicaid.” After explaining the current conflict between Gov. Cooper and the divided Republican caucus in the General Assembly (some of whom say “no way, no how” while others are looking to compromise) it provides the following list:

1. Too many North Carolinians fall in a coverage gap — they have jobs but don’t have access to or can’t afford employee-based or individual coverage, and earn too much to qualify for federal subsidies. You probably know some of these folks. This may be your own situation.

2. Medicaid expansion would give coverage to more than 500,000 uncovered Tar Heels.

3. Of the uncovered North Carolina residents, an estimated 30,000 are ex-military. Rep. Holly Grange, a Wilmington Republican, is one of the sponsors of House Bill 655. “One in four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in North Carolina have no health care coverage and no access to the Veterans Administration,” she noted. We agree with Rep. Grange — our veterans deserve better.

4. In expansion states, more babies lived to their first birthday.

5. In expansion states, fewer women died during pregnancy.

6. In expansion states, the percentage of people with uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension dropped.

7. Expansion was associated with earlier cancer diagnosis, improved access to cancer treatment and fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease.

8. We all are paying more for health care because people are uninsured. The uninsured often receive care in the most expensive way possible.

9. On average, Medicaid expansion states see private health insurance premiums 7-11 percent lower than in non-expansion states.

10. States that expanded Medicaid did not see any significant changes in employer offering of health insurance.

11. Expansion would require zero dollars in new state taxes. The federal government would pay 90% of costs, and the remaining 10% would be funded by hospitals and health plans.

12. There is energy on both sides of the aisle for expanding Medicaid. Now is the time to find a bipartisan way to expand Medicaid that is best for North Carolina.

One could easily come up with another dozen reasons, including the simple fact that it would, quite literally, prevent thousands of premature deaths, but this one ought to suffice.

As arch-conservative Republican state lawmaker and Third District congressional nominee Greg Murphy put it earlier this year:

“I’m not only a legislator but I still practice medicine. So I see on a daily basis individuals who are caught in that coverage gap – people who put off coming to see physicians, people who put off coming to our emergency department, with life-threatening conditions, often-times with cancer. Cancer doesn’t care if you have an insurance card or not.”

Click here to read the rest of the editorial.

Commentary, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. The budget chess match: Cooper offers compromise; Berger, Moore offer pork to woo Dems for veto override

Gov. Roy Cooper released a proposed budget compromise Tuesday as Republican legislative leaders continued to search for the votes to overturn his veto.

The proposal offers compromises on areas of disagreement from teacher raises and State Capital and Infrastructure Fund money to tax cuts and school vouchers. But on the conflict’s central issue – the expansion of Medicaid for as many as 600,000 North Carolinians without work requirements or premiums – Cooper is holding fast.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senator President Pro Tem Phil Berger both declined Cooper’s invitation to meet Tuesday along with Democratic leaders, but took differing stances on Medicaid. [Read more…]

Bonus read: Governor Cooper’s budget compromise is a reasonable way forward

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2. Cooper offers revised teacher pay raises, hybrid approach to funding school infrastructure needs

Senate leader slams proposed budget compromise, appears to reject further negotiation

North Carolina teachers would see an average 8.5 percent pay raise by the second year of the biennium under a compromise budget proposal offered by Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday.

Cooper’s compromise would replace the 9.1 percent average increase he proposed in his initial spending plan released in March. His offer also tops the 3.8 percent average increase proposed in the conference budget passed by both legislative chambers. [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

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3. Latest GOP trial balloons confirm Cooper has been right to keep pushing for Medicaid expansion

It’s going to happen eventually. It may not be right away and it may not look exactly like it ought to look at first, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, North Carolina is going to expand its Medicaid program.

The momentum to move forward is too strong and the arguments against doing so are just too weak. Consider the following:

  • A growing and overwhelming majority of states – including many dominated by Republicans – have already taken the step and enjoyed extremely positive results. [Read more…]

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4. North Carolina partisan gerrymandering trial could provide roadmap for other states

All eyes will be on North Carolina next week as partisan gerrymandering takes center stage, once again.

The trial in the case of  Common Cause v. Lewis – the state constitutional partisan gerrymandering challenge – will begin at 10 a.m. Monday and could take up to two weeks to conclude. It’s the last chance before the 2020 redistricting cycle that partisan considerations in the mapmaking process can be reined in.

“Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has slammed the door on federal partisan gerrymandering cases, the battleground moves to the states,” said David Daley, the author of Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count. “North Carolina will be the very first test of whether a state-by-state strategy focused on state supreme courts might help curb this scourge on our democracy.” [Read more…]

Bonus read: Author: 2021 will bring ‘unfettered festival of partisan gerrymandering’ after SCOTUS ruling

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5. Environmentalists scoff as Burr joins conservation club

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Wednesday joined his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill in announcing the formation of a new conservation caucus.

The kickoff of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus comes after President Trump gave a speech this week touting his administration’s environmental record and as Republican lawmakers appear increasingly eager to herald their green credentials.

But environmentalists are accusing Burr and others in the group of attempting to “greenwash” their records. [Read more…]

Bonus read: PW exclusive: Neither Burr nor Tillis is calling for Acosta resignation

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6. Under pressure, superintendent agrees to second enviro study at Moore County school site

More than 10 pollution sources, including two Superfund sites, are within a mile of the new Aberdeen Elementary School

Moore County Schools Superintendent Robert Grimesey has ordered a Phase II environmental assessment of the new Aberdeen Elementary School site, but insists the area is safe.

“My decision to proceed is based solely on persistent and unsubstantiated assertions by some critics that the school board and its administration have failed to ensure the groundwater and soil composition meet standards that are safe for students and staff,” Grimesey said.

Grimesey announced his decision and offered the comments during his superintendent’s report at a public school board meeting July 8. [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

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7. Listen to our latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield


 

Click here to listen

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8. Weekly editorial cartoon:

 

Commentary, News

Marijuana reform legislation gaining bipartisan support in Congress

Getty Images photo

Our States Newsroom colleagues at the Florida Phoenix  are reporting that the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security advanced the cause of bipartisan marijuana law reform this week. The story highlighted the fact that conservative Trump Republicans are, increasingly, joining with progressive Democrats to support marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts. This is from reporter Allison Turner’s story:

Six U.S. Reps from Florida – Democrats Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Darren Soto and Ted Deutch, along with Republicans Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube – have signed on to bipartisan legislation to overhaul federal marijuana laws.

The U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a congressional hearing on the issue this week. The hearing, which marijuana legalization advocates called historic, focused on racial disparities in marijuana laws.

Gaetz, who represents the Pensacola area,  urged his fellow lawmakers to view reform as a multistep process, starting with the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would protect states’ rights to enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

Gaetz and Florida U.S. Reps. Steube and Crist are original co-sponsors of the legislation, and Lawson, Soto and Deutch have also signed on to the bill.

The STATES Act legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate in each of the last two sessions of Congress. Last year, the only North Carolina lawmaker to sign on as a co-sponsor was Republican Walter Jones, who died late last year. The new version features 56 co-sponsors (38 Democrats and 18 Republicans) in the House and nine (five Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate, but none from North Carolina.

As Turner reported, this week’s hearing represented an historic event:

[Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project] says that comprehensive reform is needed, but until then, she says, the proposed federal STATES Act would be “far better than nothing.”

Even holding a congressional hearing on the issue is “a huge, huge step forward,” O’Keefe said. “It’s wonderful that Congress is finally taking a serious look at how unequally marijuana laws have been enforced, including that prohibition was borne out of racism. It’s great to hear members of Congress on both sides of the aisle looking for a path forward that doesn’t criminalize people for using a substance that’s safer than alcohol.”

Though subcommittee members disagreed over the details, they voiced a rare degree of partisan unity over the general call for federal marijuana reform.

Though none of of the 15 members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation is a co-sponsor of the STATES Act, the Cannabis Voter Project reports that all three of the state’s Democratic members — Representatives Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price — have  previously taken stands in favor of liberalizing marijuana laws.

Commentary

Lawmaker under DV order gets another delay in criminal case, skips House vote on DV bill

Rep. Henson and Speaker Moore

The good people at Carolina Public Press are continuing to report on the disturbing case of a western North Carolina lawmaker who faces criminal cyberstalking charges for actions taken toward his estranged wife.

This is from the latest story by reporter Kate Martin:

Rep. Cody Henson, R-Transylvania, abstained from a House vote on a bill on domestic violence protection orders in Raleigh on Wednesday afternoon.

His nonvote came a day after he received a continuance in a criminal cyberstalking case against him. “They needed him in Raleigh,” Henson’s attorney, J. Michael Edney, told Carolina Public Press outside the Transylvania County courthouse in Brevard on Tuesday.

The state House of Representatives unanimously passed Senate Bill 493, which modifies existing law about domestic violence protection orders.

It is a topic Henson is personally familiar with, as a judge awarded his wife, Kelsey Henson, a yearlong domestic violence protection order against him in February.

Henson now faces the cyberstalking charge related to his alleged conduct in that matter, according to Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office and court records.

Henson voted on other bills throughout the day Wednesday, according to legislative records. He did not respond to an emailed question from CPP regarding his abstention.

Yesterday’s abstention on the domestic violence legislation vote serves to confirm an observation/forecast I made in a commentary back in April that Henson’s pending criminal case makes it impossible for him to properly represent his constituents in the 113th District. As I noted at the time with respect to Henson’s membership on a committee charged with preventing violence in our schools:

How in the world will that work out? What is Henson going to do – recuse himself from taking a position on the legislation due to a potential conflict of interest? And how is a constituent – say, a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence – going to feel any degree of safety and peace of mind when she tries to speak to the lawmaker on such an issue?

While Henson has announced he will not seek reelection next year, this is clearly not an adequate solution. Yesterday’s skipped vote confirms that.

The continued silence of House Speaker Tim Moore and other powerful Republican lawmakers and corporate contributors who’ve previously backed Henson is also unacceptable. Moore and other House GOP leaders should demand Henson’s overdue resignation immediately.