Governor’s budget proposal is a cautious step toward rebuilding NC

The Governor’s budget proposal is a cautious next step as North Carolina begins the serious work of not just responding to this pandemic and downturn, but rebuilding afterward as well.

By focusing on people’s well-being now in several critical areas — boosting income, supporting access to health care, and committing to investments in public institutions — it demonstrates the potential of state dollars to support a more equitable recovery.

And it makes clear that current state dollars alone won’t get us to the North Carolina we could be. Federal dollars available from the American Rescue Plan are urgently needed to meet the scale of hardship and priority investments — but so is a long-term plan for our state to align our tax code to support the common good.

By passing on popular options to raise the tax rates paid by high-income taxpayers and profitable corporations, it misses a critical moment for getting NC on a sustainable path to more equitable outcomes. After a devastating year on top of a devastating decade, the harm to people, businesses, and communities of starving our public institutions of the resources they need to respond, innovate, and deliver is clear.

What the Governor’s budget does do on tax cuts is an important contrast to the proposals that have been introduced just this week by legislative leaders that would advance tax cuts for big companies and poorly targeted income tax cuts. The Governor’s budget would provide tax breaks for people who are struggling with income that isn’t keeping up with the cost of living, recognizing that the well-being of working families earning low wages can fuel a stronger recovery.

Governor Cooper proposed a series of bottom-up tax cuts for working families that will effectively drive support to those most hurt by the pandemic, who are currently being bypassed in a recovery that has already reached very high-income North Carolinians.

A state Earned Income Tax Credit will reach more than 850,000 families, primarily with children, and boost the value of the federal credit to ensure that the earned income in households is available to meet basic needs and support children’s healthy development. Read more

One obvious way to increase diversity in the state’s teaching force

Recent articles and government priorities have highlighted the need for teachers of color in North Carolina’s public schools.

The Foreign Language Association of North Carolina (FLANC) echoes wholeheartedly the critical need to create a more diverse teaching faculty across the state. The organization promotes opportunities for students develop competency in at least one language in addition to their own.

The NC Teaching Fellows Program inaugurated in 1986 in response to a critical need for teachers in the state is a viable option to address this need.

Past graduates of the former Teaching Fellows program in World Languages yielded extraordinary teachers for many years, many of whom are currently state and national leaders in world languages.

After a brief hiatus from 2015 to 2017, it was reinstated with only STEM and special education, eligible for the program.

Reinstating the NC Teaching Fellows Program in World Languages would be a very expeditious way to increase diversity, especially by being intentional in selecting high school students from the cultures of the students and language skills represented in our schools.

Did you know that North Carolina Public Schools K-12 currently offer 18 different world languages in traditional programs and over 200 dual language/ immersion programs in eight languages throughout this state?

About 262,100 students, approximately 17% of the total student population, report a primary language (approximately 339 languages) other than English spoken in the home. The top five languages (by percent of total student population) spoken in the home other than English are: Spanish (14%), Arabic (4.5%), Chinese (3.1%), Vietnamese (2.5%), and Hindi/Indian/Urdu (2.1%).

In addition, NC Public School graduating seniors can earn the Global Languages Endorsement (GLE) on their transcripts, which demonstrate proficiency in English and a World Language. The GLE is North Carolina’s version of the national Seal of Biliteracy recognition and is currently available in 42 states. For the Class of 2019, 9.1% or 9,564 public school graduates earned this distinction, according to NCDPI statistics.

These facts show us that we have the human capital resources in the pipeline to meet our intended diversity goals with the opportunity to eradicate current inequities and barriers in the educational system.

To move us in the right direction, we recommend the following three actions:

  • Expand the NC Teaching Fellows Program in several colleges and universities including the state’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
  • Expand the NC Teaching Fellows Program to include World Languages.
  • Implement intentional recruitment of high school graduates with language proficiency, of color, culturally diverse and from heritage communities for the NC Teaching Fellows Program.

These actions would move us towards cultivating globally competent citizens while ensuring equity, diversity and inclusion in our education workforce.

Christi Lea Osborne is immediate past president of the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina.

Child Tax Credit expansion in American Rescue Plan is a model for supporting child well-being, fighting poverty

The historic American Rescue Plan includes a major proposal to fight child poverty and support well-being with an expansion of the Child Tax Credit. An estimated 137,000 North Carolina children will be lifted out of poverty by the Child Tax Credit expansion alone at a time when families across the state are in crucial need of help.

The power of this provision lies not only in combatting poverty and hardship, but also in its design to address historic exclusions and demonstrate how providing households monthly support will help them meet their families’ needs.

Prior to the changes in the American Rescue Plan, the Child Tax Credit disproportionately blocked Black and Latinx children from the benefits of these dollars proven to boost developmental, educational, and lifelong outcomes. In North Carolina, 540,000 Black and Latinx children will now be able to access the Child Tax Credit. 

This is primarily because the tax credit will now be fully refundable, providing households whose earnings are too low to owe income taxes the full value of the credit. Through this design and its novel delivery — via advance payments in July through December — the expansion provides families with children the income to support their children’s well-being.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that more than half of the Child Tax Credit expansion will go to the poorest 40% of households whose incomes are below $35,000 a year.   

Time and time again, research has pointed to the benefits from the Child Tax Credit, and by extending the policy’s reach we can expect broad benefits:

  • From the Center for American Progress: “A $3,000 increase in annual family income for children under age 5 translates into an estimated 19 percent earnings increase in adulthood.23″
    Providing families with additional income supports during a child’s early development has also been shown to have substantial benefits for future health and educational attainment.24

The American Rescue Plan provides an important demonstration of how we can design policy that reduces child poverty. The Child Tax Credit expansion should be a permanent commitment. Investing in children’s well-being is worth it.

To find out about free tax preparation sites near you, visit this Internal Revenue Service listing of locations: https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/

 

Colorado mass shooting is latest assault on American freedom

Image: Adobe Stock

One of the most perverse things to happen to the American experiment in recent decades has the been the extreme right’s hijacking of the word “freedom.” In this bizarre, through-the-looking-glass view of the world that’s taken hold in many places thanks to relentless propaganda mills like Fox News, right-wing talk radio and the NRA, “freedom” is more about making money (mostly for rich people and corporations) and the “right” to own mass killing machines, than it is about the simple freedom to live one’s life without worrying about how one will afford basic healthcare, or walk into a grocery store without fear of being murdered by an assault weapon-toting madman.

This tragic perversion was on display yet again for the umpteenth time yesterday in Boulder, Colorado as yet another disturbed individual armed with AR-15 (according to CNN) caused 10 people to lose their lives in a supermarket.

Dear readers, this is utter madness.

As Becky Ceartas of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence wrote more than three years ago in the aftermath on the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas:

While the gun industry and its vast network of paid apologists love to cast their promotion of unfettered gun rights as somehow constituting a defense of freedom and liberty, the opposite is actually the case.

After all, which poses a greater threat to our nation’s freedom and liberty: the fear that now regularly grips tens of millions of Americans as they contemplate the risk of violence every time they enter a concert, sports arena or theater or the requirement that a small percentage of our citizens (gun owners and would be gun owners) endure the kind of limitations everyone endures when obtaining a driver’s license and/or registering an automobile?

As Newsweek reported, in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s horror, a number of important elected leaders issued statements on social media calling for new and commonsense gun safety laws.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” [Colorado congressman Joe] Neguse wrote. “There are steps we can take — and must take — to protect our community; common-sense, broadly supported proposals that will save lives. If we are truly invested in saving lives, then we must have the willpower to act and to pass meaningful gun reform. The time for inaction is over.”

In a tweet, Democratic California Representative Adam Schiff wrote, “Once again, a gunman has turned a public space into a site of tragedy. We don’t have to live in fear like this. We must pass commonsense gun reforms.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweetedThis Senate must and will move forward on legislation to help stop the epidemic of gun violence.

But, of course, we’ve heard this before.

And much as we might wish it otherwise, it seems all but certain that these calls will be ineffective. Much in the same way that North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger continues to cost thousands of North Carolinians their lives (and limit the freedom of hundreds of thousands more) with his cruel and senseless blockade of Medicaid expansion, Republican leaders will block reasonable gun control laws and continue their assault on the freedom of hundreds of millions of Americans by forcing them to put their lives at risk every time they enter a public space.

Editorial: It’s time for NC to help ditch the Electoral College

Be sure to check out this morning’s on-the-mark Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com. The subject is the United States’ obsolete and anti-democratic system for electing presidents. As the editorial explains, it’s past time for the nation to get rid of the Electoral College and we don’t have to amend the Constitution to do it.

This is from “Presidential candidate with most votes should win. N.C. should join the pact”:

When it comes to electing the president, North Carolina needs to go back to the future.

In 2007 the state Senate passed a bill directing that the state’s electoral college votes for president be cast for the candidate who received the most votes nationwide. Essentially, it rids the nation of the antiquated electoral college without the cumbersome process of amending the U.S. Constitution.

It will give EVERY voter in the state a stronger voice in determining who becomes the nation’s next president.

As the editorial explains, the state House never took the measure up so it did not become law, but the basic premise remains:

  1. States have the power to award their electoral votes however they choose — the U.S. Supreme Court recently affirmed this;
  2. If enough states (representing 270 Electoral College votes) enact a law whereby their votes are awarded to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, then the the old system of having to win state-by-state is effectively ended.
  3. North Carolina should join the growing list of states that have formed a compact to do precisely that. States representing 196 votes have already done so.

As the editorial notes, the phenomenon of candidates winning the presidency with a minority of votes five times in U.S. history, but twice in the century — 2000 and 2016. This is simply wrong.

Here’s the editorial’s fine conclusion:

The state and nation’s political landscape is changing yet we continue to hold onto outdated, outmoded and irrelevant practices of the past that weaken the voices of ALL North Carolinians in determining who they elect and how they are governed.

Rep. James Holland of North Carolina was right in 1803 when he said during a congressional debate: “The will of the majority in their election of the Chief Magistrate” must be “the first principle of our Government.” The state Senate was right when it voted to join the compact in 2007 and the time is right to revive that legislation and pass it into law now.

A national election system where the candidate who gets the most votes wins will give North Carolina a STRONGER voice in the selection of the president. Candidates will need to pay more heed to all the state’s voters and campaign more vigorously to win support. Writing off North Carolina because of current electoral college calculations, won’t be an option.

North Carolina must be heard in Washington. Joining the compact will give the state a stronger voice.

Click here to read the entire editorial.