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A bill that would address some sticky points in governance of the state’s 127 public charter schools is calendared for a Senate vote today.

(Note: The bill passed out of the Senate and went to the House floor Thursday afternoon. That discussion can be heard here.)

The charter school modification bill, Senate Bill 793, coming out of conference committee would prevent the public schools from discriminating on the basis of “ethnicity, national origin, gender, or disability.”

Missing are specific protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and gone is House language that would have kept the discrimination protections in line with various federal laws that include LGBT protections.

It also would only make public the salaries of charter school staff directly employed by the non-profit board of directors.

That gives an out to set-ups like the Roger Bacon Academy chain of public charter schools run by Baker Mitchell., a charter school founder who now owns a management company that has a contract to run the four schools in the Wilmington area. (Click here for a Wilmington Star-News article that digs deep into the school’s profits.)

Mitchell, who has contributed to the campaigns of several Senate Republican’s campaigns, has been vocal about his resistance to releasing the salary data of administrators on his payroll as well as teachers.

Charter School Mod by NC Policy Watch

 

 

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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will wait until February for a jury trial on charges of stealing $300,000 from two federally-funded economic development groups he ran.

LaRoque-PC

Former N.C. Rep. LaRoque

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, was scheduled for an October trial in a federal criminal courtroom in Greenville. The trial was pushed back to Feb. 2 because of delays in getting transcripts from a previous trial, according to an order filed in federal court this week.

A jury had convicted LaRoque in June 2013 of a dozen charges related to the theft, but U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard set aside those verdicts and ordered a new trial after finding out a juror in the case did home Internet research, a violation of court rules.

LaRoque, a former co-chair of the powerful House Rules committee and a self-declared “right hand man” for N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, has maintained he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and said he was owed the money federal prosecutors contend he stole.

He resigned from the state legislature in 2012, after an indictment of federal charges accusing him of taking $300,000 from two federally-funded nonprofits he ran and using the money to buy cars, a Greenville skating rink, expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs for his wife.

The federal investigation began after N.C. Policy Watch published a 2011 investigation into LaRoque’s non-profit work, which found that he was paid generous salaries as high as $195,000 a year to run organizations that for years only had one or no other employees. The boards of his non-profit were also stacked with immediate family members and he signed off on giving low-interest loans of federally-sourced money to close business and political associates.

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June’s jobs numbers are out for North Carolina, showing that the state has held on to its unemployment rate of 6.4 percent for the second straight month.

Jobs-buttonThe national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent for June.

The North Carolina numbers for June released by N.C. Commerce Department show a much lower unemployment rate than a year ago, when unemployment was at 8.3 percent and one of the highest rates in the nation.

This month’s job report (click here to read) also shows the state’s labor pool is still shrinking, with 8,577 less people working in June than May.

Over the last year, the state’s labor force has shrunk by nearly 12,000, while the ranks of unemployed dropped by about 90,000 people, according to North Carolina job numbers.

That difference (a shrinking labor pool corresponding with a much larger drop in the numbers of the unemployed) has lead some economists to attribute North Carolina’s drop in its official unemployment rate not to a healthy economy, but to large numbers of long-term unemployed people dropping out of the workforce completely after last year’s cuts to unemployment benefits.

“There is zero evidence that cutting unemployment benefits in North Carolina did anything to spur job growth,” wrote Washington-based economist Dean Baker in an editorial in the News & Observer earlier this month. “There is much evidence that it led those who saw their benefits end to give up looking for work and to drop out of the labor force.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/11/4000035/zero-evidence-that-benefit-cuts.html#storylink=cp
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/13/3619704/benefit-cuts-pushed-people-out.html#storylink=cpy

Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders disagree, and say those changes to the unemployment system and North Carolina’s subsequent rejection of federally-funded long-term unemployment help has put North Carolina in a better economic position.

“Yes, there are some people who probably took jobs they didn’t want instead of staying on unemployment,” McCrory said earlier this week in an interview with Charlotte’s WFAE radio program (discussion begins at 35:00).

“By the way, in my career, I’ve taken jobs that I don’t want,” McCrory said.  He added, “but it gets you in the door, it gets you working and it gets you off the government payroll.”

Click here to read the entire release on North Carolina’s jobs report for June.

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The state Senate pushed its most recent proposal in committee today to move North Carolina’s complicated and massive Medicaid program to a new structure outside of the state’s health agency.

MedicaidThe Senate’s Medicaid plan  would also open up the state’s $13 billion health care program for poor children, the disabled and elderly to privatization by managed care companies, by phasing out the current fee-for-service payment system in preference of paying for a set price-per-patient (called capitation).

Today’s Senate proposal (introduced Wednesday as a committee substitute for House Bill 1181) comes closer to what House members have wanted, but still has some significant differences.

Provider and doctors’ groups voiced criticism of the Senate proposal (click here to view a summary), saying that opening up the $13 billion government health care program to privatization could lead to out-of-state companies siphoning off profits at the expense of patient care.

“The Senate’s new proposal to upend North Carolina’s Medicaid program would harm our state’s most vulnerable patients,” said Robert Seligson, the director of N.C. Medical Society, in a statement released Wednesday. “The Senate preference for corporate managed care disregards the hard, productive work over the past year to craft a consensus Medicaid reform plan that provides more financial certainty for the state without compromising patient care.”

The new Senate proposal would shift the Medicaid program out from under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to a new Department of Medical Benefits headed by seven board members appointed by the governor and legislature.

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Gov. Pat McCrory is facing scrutiny over his decision to name a fairly unknown Fuquay-Varina woman as the state’s top poet.

Valerie Macon was named Friday as North Carolina’s poet laureate, and has self-published two collections of poetry through a small Sylva-based publisher, Old Mountain Press. (Click here and here to read some of her poems).

The state poet laureate position is largely ceremonial but past poet laureates have received stipends of up to $15,000 from the N.C. Arts Council for proposed work over a two-year period.

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

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

As the Charlotte Observer’s Dannye Romine Powell first reported Sunday, McCrory bypassed a route favored by his predecessors to consult and seek recommendations from the N.C. Arts Council, a state-run group under the state’s cultural resources department.

The arts council, which consists of board members appointed by the governor, sent out a statement Monday backing McCrory.

“While past appointments included a selection committee, it is not required as part of the selection process,” the statement from the council states. “It is the Governor’s appointment and the prerogative of his office to select the state’s Poet Laureate. The North Carolina Arts Council is looking forward to working with Ms. Macon in her term.”

Past poet laureates told the Observer while they would support Macon in her new role, that  McCrory’s decision would hurt the state’s strong literary tradition.

Greensboro’s Fred Chappell, who was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2002,  described McCrory’s appointment of Macon to the Observer as an “arbitrary seizure of power that’s liable to result in unfortunate circumstances.”

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/14/5043559/former-poets-laureate-take-high.html#storylink=cpy

It’s unclear how McCrory came to select Macon, who also works for the N.C. Department of Heath and Human Services as a disability determination specialist.

Rick Martinez, a McCrory spokesman, said the governor generally asks for recommendations and input for appointments to boards and commissions. Martinez said he did not know how what happened in the poet laureate nomination.

McCrory was not required to consult the N.C. Arts Council, Martinez said.

“That’s the governor’s prerogative to make the appointment,” he said.