Commentary

President Trump reveals the small-minded beliefs behind his immigration agenda, again

If you’ve already thrown your neck out shaking your head at the cavalcade of divisive vitriol emanating from the Trump administration, it’s probably best to stop reading now.

Multiple outlets are reporting that, during an Oval Office meeting on immigration, the President wondered aloud “why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here.” The disgusting remark was made in reference to people from Haiti, El Salvador, and several African nations that seek Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to work and reside in the United States because of natural disasters or other dangers in their home countries.

While you may have already heard about the President’s disrespectful comment, many people do not fully realize the importance of TPS to North Carolina. There are over 13,000 TPS holders in North Carolina, many of whom have American-citizen children, own homes, and have become deeply integrated into the social fabric of our state. Ending TPS could cost North Carolina’s economy over $570 million annually, break up families, and undermine communities across the state.

Sadly, this kind of invective is nothing new from a President who stokes racial hatred like it’s his favorite party game. It’s particularly easy in this case to see how the President’s uncharitable attitudes translate into policy decisions that hurt people that don’t fit his definition of what makes America great. It was only a few days ago that the Trump Administration decided to end TPS for people from El Salvador, thereby putting thousands of lives at risk and ignoring Salvadorans’ many contributions to our nation and our economy.

If you are fed up with shameful attacks on immigrants and their families, please respond to this action alert and tell our leaders in Washington DC to enact rational and humane immigration policy.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Haven’t read Tuesday’s 205-page partisan gerrymandering ruling? We’ve got you covered

Three federal judges agree: North Carolina Republican lawmakers drew a congressional map that intentionally discriminated against voters and entrenched their party’s power.

They struck down the 2016 map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and ordered the state not to hold an election until a remedy is enacted. The legislature has until 5 p.m. Jan. 24 to redraw the congressional map, and with a candidate filing deadline looming, the court said it also intends to appoint a special master to help draw an alternative plan.

It’s the first time a federal court has blocked the use of a congressional map because of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.[Read more…]

*** Bonus read:

2. Senate ghosts the House on GenX bill, leaving $2.3 million and DEQ directives in limbo

On the House floor last night, Rep. Jimmy Dixon — a colorful Duplin County turkey farmer whose personality crosses an endearing grandpa with a shotgun-toting crank running kids off his lawn — reiterated a point he had made at least four times in two committees over the past two months: Environmental advocates had warned lawmakers and state environmental officials 10, 15 years ago that North Carolina’s water was in peril, but those admonitions “fell on deaf ears.”

Now, though, the deaf ears are mounted on the head of Senate.

A hard-fought measure, House Bill 189 would direct the Department of Environmental Quality to tackle the statewide problem of emerging chemical contaminants in surface, groundwater and drinking water. DEQ would do this by analyzing its permitting process, sharing data about emerging contaminants with other states and study statutory and reporting requirements.

Alone, these provisions are a start, but still not particularly impressive. But unlike other GOP-driven unfunded mandates, this bill is backed by money. Real money, by modern standards of GOP stinginess. The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved $1.3 million in one-time funding, siphoned from an ill-advised and stalled project to chemically treat Jordan Lake. Plus another million to buy a high-resolution mass spectrometer, necessary for detecting unknown chemicals at extremely low levels, and to pay for the DEQ scientists to master it.[Read more…]

3. See for yourself: The math clearly shows that 2018-19 class size requirements remain unfunded

Somehow, legislative leaders remain under the false notion that they have fully funded the 2018-19 K-3 class-size requirements. Recently, Sen. Phil Berger has claimed that since 2014, local school districts have received roughly $222 million to lower class sizes, and that this additional investment is sufficient to meet next year’s smaller class sizes.

Senator Berger is very wrong.

Additional funding from the legislature has allowed North Carolina school districts to hire an additional 1,966.5 teachers, as compared to the 2013-14 school year. However, as compared to the 2013-14 school year, the new class-size requirements necessitate the hiring of 6,678.5 additional teachers. There remains an unfunded gap of 4,712 teachers, or approximately $304 million.

The funds mentioned by Sen. Berger have nothing to do with meeting next year’s change in class sizes. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:

4. Five myth-busting truths about the North Carolina economy
Conservative happy talk doesn’t change several important basics

The mantra from conservative North Carolina politicians and pundits these days is that North Carolina’s hard right policy turn of recent years somehow provides “a model for the nation.” If you spend any time on policy-oriented social media, you can hardly refresh your browser without being pummeled by the claim that North Carolina’s economic outlook is amazingly bright and that it’s all the result of conservative decisions to slash taxes and “get the state’s fiscal house in order.”

Never mind that the North Carolina’s post-Great Recession economic recovery – such as it has been – basically mirrors the national trends. Never mind that the recovery has left vast swaths of the state behind. Never mind that conservative disinvestment in essential public services and structures leaves the state increasingly ill-prepared to compete in the long run, much less lift up struggling regions and socioeconomic groups. [Read more…]


5. Trove of emails provides a window into conflicts at UNC

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Louis Bissette began the New Year by penning a column urging his own board to avoid internal conflicts, refrain from political partisanship and avoid micromanaging UNC leaders and administration.

The move came as a surprise to some. Many members of the board had spent 2017 dismissing stories of conflict and partisanship on the board as overblown by the media.

But those paying close attention to the board were well aware that the recently concluded year was racked with controversies and internal strife.

“I think you could read it as a dressing down of the board,” said board member William Webb. “I wasn’t offended by it. I think [Bissette] has been frustrated because the tenor of the board has changed and some members are more aggressive.” [Read more…]

Commentary

Trump administration pushes for wasteful, ineffective work requirements in Medicaid

Yesterday, health care advocates in North Carolina and across the U.S. were officially alerted to yet another fight to ensure that people retain health coverage and access to care. While officials in the Trump administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services (CMS) are framing their new “Dear State Medicaid Director letter” as “new policy guidance for states to test community engagement for able-bodied adults,” the real purpose is to create work requirements and other barriers for people seeking to enroll in and keep their Medicaid coverage.

As North Carolina has not expanded Medicaid, the only adults who are eligible for coverage are pregnant women with incomes of up to 196 percent of the federal poverty level, parents and/or caretakers with incomes up to 44 percent of the federal poverty level, and the aged, blind and disabled.

However, North Carolina currently has a pending Section 1115 Waiver proposal before federal officials that would transform Medicaid. The amended waiver application has language referencing Carolina Cares or HB 662, which would increase access to Medicaid to adults up to 138 percent federal poverty. While Carolina Cares is awaiting legislative action from the General Assembly, it should be noted that Carolina Cares has language to impose work requirements if it should be enacted.

The idea of formal, bureaucratic work requirements for Medicaid recipients has been shown time and again to be of no real value. Indeed, there is significant research from another safety net program (TANF) that debunks the CMS claim that work requirements somehow lift people out of poverty. The research shows that the impact of work requirements was actually very minimal and did not reduce poverty.

What’s more, as a practical matter, such requirements are unnecessary. Research shows that 80 percent of Medicaid enrollees already belong to working households and that 60 percent are working themselves. Considering these data, it appears that states will have to deal with the administrative burden and cost of tracking adults’ working status unnecessarily. Not surprisingly, when it comes to cost and administrative burden, CMS is not planning on providing federal resources to implement or administer work requirements or other related activities.

The bottom line: Medicaid work requirements are wasteful and ineffective. If North Carolina lawmakers move forward to close the coverage gap with such a requirement appended on, it’s essential that they consider factors such as the availability of jobs or even likelihood of being able to establish skills training programs in some of the more low-resource communities in the state. All that said, lawmakers should also note that, even when it’s implemented imperfectly, Medicaid can bring jobs across the state, help families become more financially stable as they avoid medical debt, and help them stay healthy so that they can contribute to their communities.

Commentary

New study calculates charter schools’ negative financial impact on North Carolina school districts

A new report from Duke University’s Helen “Sunny” Ladd and University of Rochester’s John D. Singleton uses North Carolina data to conclusively show the negative impact charter schools have on the finances of traditional, inclusive public schools.

The report confirms what traditional, inclusive public school advocates have been saying for years: charter schools drain resources from our public school system. School districts face a number of fixed costs such as utility costs and central office administration. When a student leaves the traditional public school system for a charter school, the school district loses the average funding for a student. But the district still incurs these fixed costs.

For schools, even many variable costs are rather fixed in the short term. A district losing funding on account of a student’s departure can’t fire 1/20th of a teacher; the school bus may still have to run the same bus route.

Importantly, the researchers are able to use detailed balance sheet data to put a dollar figure on that drain. The report estimates that increasing charter enrollment in Durham has reduced per-student funding by $500 to $700. These costs have become more pronounced as the share of charter students in Durham now approaches 16 percent.

The report also looks at the fiscal impact of charter schools on five rural districts where the charter enrollment figures range from 3 percent to 14 percent. For Iredell and Orange Counties, the report estimates a negative impact of between $200 and $500 per student. Estimates are slightly smaller for Buncombe, Cabarrus, and Union Counties.

The research is particularly important given the rapid growth of the charter sector since the state lifted the charter school cap in 2011. Since then, the number of charter schools has increased from 99 to 173, and the number of students attending charter schools has risen about 150 percent. This new report indicates that traditional, inclusive schools will continue to face added budget pressures if the charter sector grows further.

The report highlights the need for additional state funding to ease the fiscal burden charters place on inclusive public schools. One recommendation is for the state to provide “transitional aid” to mitigate the fiscal impact of charter school openings or expansions.

Of course, charter schools aren’t the only school choice policy creating fiscal pressures for public schools. Vouchers and voucher-like “education savings accounts” similarly reduce per-student funding for public school systems without providing relief on fixed costs.

Hopefully, this report, data on the weak performance of recently-opened charter schools, and further evidence that North Carolina’s charter schools are increasingly contributing to racial segregation will cause General Assembly leaders to reconsider their current appetite for additional charter school expansion.

Commentary

Winston-Salem Journal to legislative leaders: Stop wasting public’s money on gerrymandering

Be sure to check out this morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal. In “Wasting Public Money,” the Journal blast the endless efforts of state legislative leaders to defend (at public expense) their indefensible redistricting plans. Here are some excerpts:

“The GOP-led state legislature is running up quite a tab in court with taxpayers footing the bill. It has spent almost $7 million defending against lawsuits attacking its redistricting efforts, News & Record reporter Taft Wireback wrote last week.

And the tab keeps rising, in spite of court decisions against the GOP redistricting efforts, the latest coming Tuesday from a panel of federal court judges. But — of course — legislators plan to keep fighting.”

Fighting to maintain an unfair electoral advantage, no matter who initiates it or what party it serves, should upset all taxpayers. This is money that could be better spent for many better causes, like in our schools.

After noting that at least a couple of Republicans have expressed a willingness to support legislation to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission, the editorial concludes this way:

“We need more champions on both sides to step forward and fight for fair redistricting. Yes, Democrats played rough too, but this cycle has to stop somewhere.

Republicans have an opportunity to make a difference right now by cooperating with the courts and passing legislation calling for an independent redistricting commission to draw voting districts in the future.

We need to get past the heavy costs of these continuous court battles, not to mention the damage to the state’s reputation and to voter confidence. And the people would finally get something substantial: elections in which voters choose the candidates, instead of the candidates choosing their voters.”

Exactly.