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Commentary

Tuition2For years, the denizens of the think tanks funded by right-wing power broker Art Pope have been making two rather remarkable arguments with respect to higher education: 1) that too many North Carolinians go to college and 2) that tuition and fees should be much higher in order to place more of the cost of attendance directly on students and their families.

It’s essentially the Ebeneezer Scrooge, no-free-lunch, pick-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps  argument. Indeed, if you tilt your head and cup your ear you can almost hear a gaggle of grumpy old white guys sitting around and lamenting how today’s younger generation has no respect and doesn’t have to sacrifice like they did when they went to college.

All of this would be easy to dismiss as so much absurd, conservative blather except for the unfortunate fact that these people and their buddies are, for the time being, running the state. Hence the rapid increases in college fees and tuition in North Carolina in recent years and the disturbing moves to downsize the UNC system.

Fortunately, more and more people are catching on to what these folks are up to and are pushing back. The lead editorial in yesterday’s Greensboro News & Record did a good job of giving voice to the views of those who believe that widespread higher education is a necessity for any state that wants to thrive in the 21st Century. Here’s the N&R:

“Last year, a solidly Republican state launched the Tennessee Promise, which provides last-dollar scholarships for first-time students at community and technical colleges.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. It’s raising tuition for community colleges and may add significant surcharges decided on a campus-by-campus basis. The surcharge, up to 10 percent of tuition, would generate revenue strictly for needs on the individual campus where the money was raised.”

After highlighting the fact that many conservative states (besides Tennessee) are actually following President Obama’s urging by pushing to lower costs (and lamenting North Carolina’s move in the opposite direction) the editorial puts it this way:

“North Carolina should make it easier for students to attend community college, not more expensive.

The Tennessee Promise, when implemented last year, immediately boosted enrollment by 6 percent.

Other states, including Indiana, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, are considering similar plans….

Which makes it frustrating that North Carolina wants to shift more costs to the students, at both community college and state university campuses.

A 10 percent tuition surcharge would yield more than $2 million a year for Guilford Technical Community College, according to system estimates. The money could be well spent, providing better educational experiences. But putting more state resources into community colleges would be a wiser strategy.

The $2 billion bond proposal is a sound investment in a state that has fallen behind in building 21st century infrastructure. But human capital is lagging, too. Providing community college training at less cost to students, not more, could pay big dividends.

If North Carolina doesn’t, competing states will leave us behind.”

Commentary

One of the best newspaper editorials of the week in North Carolina can be found in The Technician — the student paper at N.C. State. It’s a take down of the Walton family of Wal-Mart infamy (and its many predations) entitled “Save money, exploit the poor.” After highlighting the fact that the company is closing hundreds of stores around the country, including 17 in North Carolina, the authors say this:

“So why is Wal-Mart closing so many stores all at once?

Looking at Wal-Mart’s stock prices for the past year, they do seem as though they have significantly decreased. However, when you look at trends for the past five years, they seem fairly typical, especially considering that shares peaked at $91.35 per share in January 2015. Another indicator that Wal-Mart isn’t closing stores due to financial difficulties? They still plan to open 300 new stores in the coming year. 

Wal-Mart as a whole is not suffering, though the Walton family would have you believe otherwise. The Waltons, with more wealth than the lowest 42 percent of American families combined, is the richest family in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine that the company ranked No. 1 in Fortune 500’s 2015 list of largest companies by revenue is hurting so badly. An annual revenue of $482 billion, Wal-Mart’s economic weight is comparable to the GDP of Norway.

In an effort that seems like damage control, Wal-Mart released the news that it will be substantially raising its minimum wage, with more than 1.2 million employees receiving pay raises. Assuming this does more than account for the inflation of the past few years, such an upgrade is long overdue, considering the employer’s past discrepancies, such as eliminating healthcare coverage for many part-time workers and raising the premiums for health plans in 2014.

Wal-Mart’s actions likely come from a place of fear that its top spot is in danger. It’s anxious to revitalize the business that has shown possible signs of slipping. 

If the company had executed these actions with any sort of grace, then it would have seemed marginally human. What Wal-Mart has instead indicated is how completely it regards its employees as disposable — almost as disposable as those local business owners who suffered from those now-closing stores being established in the first place.”

Commentary

N.C. Policy Watch presents the first Crucial Conversation luncheon of 2016:

A conversation with Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling

Click here to register

With the 2016 election campaign already well underway and early voting for the March 15 North Carolina primary scheduled to commence March 3, this is an excellent time to get fully up to speed on where things stand and what’s likely to happen. Please join us as we discuss these issues and more with one of America’s premier pollsters, Tom Jensen of Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling.

jensen

Tom is the Director of Public Policy Polling and oversees its day to day operations. During his time at PPP he has been a frequent guest for television and radio stations across the region and has been called on for expert analysis by publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and U.S. News and World Report. He writes for PPP’s blog and Twitter account in addition to crafting the content for most of its surveys. He is an honors graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where he wrote his senior thesis about black candidates for statewide office across the country in the early 21st century.

Don’t miss this very special event!

Click here to register

When: Wednesday, January 27 at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

Unemployment insurance[This post has been updated to include the link to Conway’s research paper at the bottom.]

This morning’s “must read” is Professor Patrick Conway’s op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer: “Not exactly a Carolina Comeback.” As Conway, who is Chairman of the Department of Economics At UNC Chapel Hill, explains, the the supposed economic revival for the state’s unemployed workers touted by Gov. McCrory, legislative leaders and their cheerleaders in the Pope/Koch empire simply hasn’t happened:

“Evidence from the Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the average working-age unemployed individual in North Carolina is actually less likely than an unemployed worker in the rest of the U.S. to be re-employed in the following month.

At the beginning of 2011, North Carolina unemployed workers were equally likely to find a job in the next month when compared with other states’ unemployed workers. From 2011 through mid-2015, unemployed workers in North Carolina were less likely to find a job.

It was February 2013 when state lawmakers approved unemployment insurance reform, which reduced the average payment and reduced the maximum number of weeks that the involuntarily unemployed could collect those payments. When Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation, he said this reform ‘will help provide an economic climate that allows job creators to start hiring again.’ About 170,000 North Carolina workers receiving insurance payments when the law took effect in July 2013 lost $780 million because of the reform.”

But that’s not all. Again, here’s Prof. Conway:

“There is one area in which North Carolina’s experience is significantly different from that of the rest of the country. Beginning in 2013, North Carolina’s unemployed workers were significantly more likely on average to leave the labor force rather than continue searching for jobs. By the middle of 2015, an individual unemployed worker in North Carolina was 30 percent more likely not to search for jobs in the next month than the average unemployed worker in the rest of the U.S. Those leaving the labor force are the “discouraged workers,” and the reform seems to have given them a strong push toward leaving.

To ensure that those results are not caused by North Carolina’s abundance of college students and individuals past retirement age, I redid the calculations using only individuals between the ages of 25 and 60. The specific percentages differ a bit, but the general findings are the same. The likelihood that an unemployed individual will find a job in the next month in North Carolina has been below that of the average for the rest of the U.S. throughout the insurance reform period.”

Conway’s bottom line:

“The reform has not had the effect on job creators that McCrory forecast. If there is to be a Carolina Comeback, it will begin by bringing our residents back into the labor force and providing our youth with the skills necessary to compete for and win available jobs. A policy that discourages workers should be reformulated or scrapped. Left in place, it creates an economy in which only some gain and many others are left behind.”

You can read the background paper on which Conway’s op-ed is based by clicking here.

Commentary, News

This was announced this afternoon by the good people at the ACLU of North Carolina:

Rep. Duane Hall to Advance Student Data Protections as Part of National Focus on Privacy Issues
North Carolina Joins Nationwide, Bipartisan Effort to Empower Americans to #TakeCTRL of Their Privacy

RALEIGH — Today, Representative Duane Hall (Wake County) asked his legislative colleagues in North Carolina to focus on the issue of student data privacy and to support legislation, which Rep. Hall plans to introduce during the 2016 session, that would prohibit school officials from forcing or coercing students or applicants into providing access to their personal social media accounts, except under a limited set of specifically defined circumstances, such as investigating specific allegations of harassment.

“In the twenty first century, social media platforms have become some of the most important and vibrant forums for people to exchange ideas and exercise their right to free speech with a selective audience,” Hall said. “When school officials demand access to an individual’s social accounts, it constitutes a significant violation of personal privacy, and it would have a chilling effect on free speech. That’s why it’s important that school officials be prohibited from forcing or coercing students to provide access to their social media accounts, except under a very narrow set of circumstances.”

The announcement in North Carolina is one of 16 taking place simultaneously throughout of the country — from Hawaii to North Carolina, from Alaska to Alabama, and from New Hampshire to New York to New Mexico — with a diverse, bipartisan coalition of elected officials and citizens coming together to tell the nation they care about their digital privacy and are willing to join together to fight for it. The message from these collective actions by the states is clear: where Congress is unwilling or unable to act to protect Americans’ privacy, or takes actions that are insufficient, the states are more than willing to step up and fill the void. Together, these states have introduced a range of new legislation that includes protections for student privacy, location tracking and personal data.

The multi-state effort is using the Twitter hashtag #TakeCTRL.

The bipartisan actions by the states, which are intended to highlight the strong and diverse nationwide support for legislation that empowers people to take control of their privacy, are mirrored by the results of a recent poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, which found that 90% of Americans believed (73% of them “strongly”) that the next president should make “protecting privacy so we have more control over our personal information” a policy priority.

The 16 very diverse states, plus the District of Columbia, making announcements represent more than 30% of the nation’s states; their bills have the ability to impact nearly 100 million people; and they collectively account for 169 electoral votes.