Education, NC Budget and Tax Center

Does the state superintendent even know any teachers?

On Thursday last week Mark Johnson, N.C. Superintendent, commented that $35,000 is “good money” for young teachers.

According to the Living Income Standard, a measure that calculates the minimum amount a family needs to make ends meet, an adult with one child needs just over $35,710 a year to scrape by. That means no vacation, no extracurriculars, no eating out — only the basics. Add the potential responsibilities of an aging parent or a broken down car and it’s quite possible that many teachers may not be able to make ends meet on their teaching salaries alone.

Another major oversight on Johnson’s behalf?

The more than $3.1 trillion in crippling students debt today’s graduates bear. From 2004 to 2014, the average debt held by college graduates in North Carolina rose from $16,863 to more than $25,000. While college tuition and student debt rose, the North Carolina General Assembly ended the popular NC Teaching Fellows Program in 2011, which incentivized good teachers to remain in NC by forgiving student loans for those who committed to teach in the state. Although the state will bring back the program in the next school year, the program will only be available at five schools, none of which are Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCU), an issue which has been highlighted by those concerned with the diversity of North Carolina’s teaching pool.

While Johnson’s comments about “good money” were likely accurate for whom he envisioned as a “young” recent college graduate, it is far from reality for many.

This former teacher and husband of an educator knows just how hard teachers in North Carolina work. Going in early, staying late, talking students through homework help over the weekend, attending schools events in the evening, and paying for school supplies out of their own pocket is all something they commit to but are not paid for.

North Carolinian teachers — who work hard and are care takers, who have debt — deserve jobs that pay a real, living wage and a state superintendent who understands what that means.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

A community conversation about poverty and opportunity in Goldsboro

On Wednesday afternoon, January 17th Gene Nichol stood at a podium at the First African Baptist Church in Goldsboro, NC, cleared his throat and told an expectant community what it already knew, “that its city was uniquely gripped by poverty”.

What those 130 in attendance may not have completely grasped prior to this presentation was the contextualized nature of poverty and how this grip blocking the potential for everyone’s prosperity.

After 18 months of work in Goldsboro, Gene Nichol and Heather Hunt released a report titled “Goldsboro: Isolation and Marginalization in Eastern North Carolina” which not only highlighted statistically how poverty ravages the community, but gathered narratives from residents who experience it day to day.

With detail, after excruciating detail, Nichol’s talk illuminated the depths of poverty in this Eastern NC city.  Sometimes audible gasps from the audience followed revelations like the fact that more than half of African American children living in poverty or that the middle class in the city had declined some 12% from 2000 to 2014. These were the details that Nichol was able to share in the 30 minutes allotted for his talk, the report reveals much more.

Divided into five parts, the particularly revelatory sections were “People, Poverty and the Economy,” “Concentrated Poverty, Isolation and Crushing Hardship” and “The Centrality of Effective Education for All.”

People, Poverty and the Economy” paints the demographic picture of the city for the past 36 years and found that as the white population has dropped to 38% as the African American and Latinx populations rose to 51% and 6% respectively. The section also reveals the median household income as an indicator of the city’s economy compared to the state and Wayne County. The authors show that in 2016, North Carolina’s median household income was $48,256, Wayne County’s was $40,457 and Goldsboro’s was $32,148. Data reveals that the middle class in Goldsboro exposed a terrifying trend for the long-term prosperity of the city. As mentioned earlier, Nichol and Hunt reference research from Pew, that shows that from 2000 to 2014 the middle class shrunk 12% in Goldsboro. This represents a decline in the percentage of adults in the city in the middle class from 60% to 48%, while the lower income tier increased from 27% to 41%.  Using Census data, the authors explain that more than 46% of Goldsboro’s household earn less than $30,000 a year, 13% earn less than $10,000 annually. Nichol and Hunt argue that prosperity and poverty are intensely stratified by race. They present Census data that reveal that white families earn $20,000 more a year than black families, more than half of Black families earn less than $30,000, and while 13% of white families are poor, 34% of black families live in poverty.  Their data also show that forty percent of children in Goldsboro are growing up in poverty and that 50% or more of all Black children are growing in this circumstance. These data points only provide the tip of the iceberg as the authors use 25 measures of income and demography to assess the present and future economic condition of the city.

In the next section, “Concentrated Poverty, Isolation and Crushing Hardship” the authors turn to the words of the those living in or serving residents in the four census tracts with the highest concentrations of poverty to provide a more humanistic understanding of poverty’s consequences. Census tracts 14, 15, 18 and 19 each have poverty rates of 33%, 35%, 42% and 40% respectively.

Shirley Edwards, a retired mental health administrator, explained to the authors that the “poor who live there are separated off, segregated out. That breeds discontent and disconnection.” Nichol and Hunt discovered Tonya Robertson, who is a teaching assistant with six young children. Her marriage of fifteen years failed forcing her to live in one of the census tracts where poverty rates reach upwards of 40%. She described falling into poverty after being situated in the middle class as gut punch. The safety net intended to help her get back there is not working.  She states that where she lives gun shots are commonplace, day and night. Sadly, Tonya cannot afford to move because affordable housing is scarce. She has to work, and this retards her progress towards a degree in education that would qualify her to become a teacher. The authors recount that Tonya feels trapped in a situation deteriorating around her.

These stories are not the only ones. This section features eight such narratives from different perspectives, all illuminating the devastation that the weight of poverty has dealt the city and its people.

In “The Centrality of Effective Education for All” the report introduces the irony of Wayne County being the home of Charles B. Aycock, the education governor while at the same time being the white supremacist governor of North Carolina. Nichol and Hunt captured that this kind of duality has persisted and affects poor people’s access to education in Wayne County and Goldsboro from Shirley Edwards. She surmised that while the schools are present that quality education was never the goal or outcome for poor people in the county. “Entrenched poverty” were in her words the product of this purposeful policy.

This, of course, has tremendous implications for those who live in the city. Patricia Yates, former director of Literacy Connections of Wayne County, believes that the lack of literacy is just one of the outcomes of a school system that remains uncommitted to serving all. Yates argues that one in ten adults in Goldsboro is completely illiterate while 25% reads below a third-grade level and almost 60% read below a high school level. This by extension bounds a certain percentage of the population to life prospects that should not be acceptable for any community.

The authors of this report Gene Nichol and Heather Hunt provided a detailed analysis of the lived experience in Goldsboro and poverty through statistics and conversations. Such a complete assessment of a challenge afflicting people should and can inform solutions.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The possibility of a government shutdown was avoidable

For those of us digging out of the snow still, it may be surprising to learn that our country is facing a federal shutdown that could begin tomorrow based on the lack of progress on a long-term deal to fund programs and services, to ensure children have health care, and to make sure young adults have pathways to education and jobs no matter where they come from.

To avoid a shutdown, the House in Congress voted yesterday to approve legislation that would keep agency doors open and hundreds of thousands of federal employees at work through Feb. 16. It is now up to the Senate to decide today whether it will take the House bill and approve another short-term continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a federal shutdown.

Where we are now is not inevitable. It is the result of a failure to put together long-term plans for funding government and the preference for tax cuts that have grown the deficit.  Despite broad public support and bipartisan agreement that we should fund children’s health insurance and fix the temporary protections for immigrants who arrived in this country as children, these two issues are now caught up in this short-sighted deal-making. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina can afford smaller class sizes, but not with corporate tax cuts

The next wave of disruptions to children’s educational success will not be another recession — it is the result of the decision by policymakers to put tax cuts ahead of that goal.

Policymakers should not get credit for acknowledging that smaller class sizes are important to children getting to third-grade reading proficiency and succeeding in school until they put the resources behind it.

Instead, state leaders passed another round of personal and corporate income tax cuts in the final budget this summer that will reduce state revenues by $900 million when in effect for a full fiscal year.  The reduction of the corporate income tax rate from 3 percent to 2.5 percent alone will account for roughly $100 million in revenue that could otherwise have been a down-payment on their pledge to reduce class sizes.

Funding the class-size reductions mandated by the same General Assembly would require at least $300 million.

Here’s why stopping the 2019 corporate income tax rate cuts is an important first step for policymakers to take immediately to prove their commitment to children’s educational success. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Devastating consequences if Congress fails to replace DACA in three months

Ever since the Trump administration decided to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in September, tens of thousands of North Carolinians’ lives have been plunged into turmoil. It is now up to Congress to pass a viable long-term solution, or risk tearing families apart, undermining our economy, and throwing a wrench into public finances.

Dream Act would grow North Carolina’s Economy

The simplest solution is to pass the Dream Act, legislation that would codify the basic deal that DACA offers to undocumented immigrants brought here as children who commit to furthering their education and staying out of trouble with the law.

In addition to the stability and opportunity each “DACAmented” individual would obtain through a legislative fix, analysis by the Center for American Progress estimates that passing the Dream Act would increase North Carolina’s long-term economic output by at least $550 million per year, an impact that could grow to almost $2 billion annually if at least half of the people eligible for DACA pursue higher education.

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