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NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

Last Thursday, members of the Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee saw evidence that many “business climate” rankings overstate how well North Carolina is actually doing.Abernathy Slide - Rankings and Econ Performance

Respected economic expert Ted Abernathy, formerly the Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies board and now with Economic Leadership, an economic development and analysis consultancy, briefed the committee on a range of economic dynamics from growing wage gaps between urban and rural North Carolina to factors that influence our competitiveness on the global market.

Abernathy also examined how North Carolina’s economic performance compared with how we fared in several business interest group and media publications. This analysis shows that North Carolina’s economic performance has fallen short of its stature in many of the rankings. As can be seen in the graph, North Carolina is in the top 20% in performance (“Statistical Ranking”), but is a top 5 state in the “Best States” rankings. Our economy is doing better than many states, but not nearly as well as many state rankings would imply. Read More

News, Uncategorized
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Expect very little to change in the state’s controversial demographic assessment of North Carolina’s burgeoning charter school population if N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has her way.

Atkinson told Policy Watch Friday that, despite Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s objections this week to a report on the increasingly white charter population, her office has a responsibility to avoid massaging the data.

“I don’t see how (the report) could be different,” said Atkinson. “We have used the facts.”

During this week’s monthly State Board of Education meeting, Forest pulled a draft of an annual report on charter schools due for the N.C. General Assembly that included population statistics he deemed overly “negative.”

Included in the report, authored by DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, state staff noted that, while the charter student population is relatively similar to traditional public schools, they differ in a few major ways.

Most importantly, while traditional schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, charters are bucking the trend in North Carolina. More than 57 percent of the students in the state’s 158 charters are white, the report states, compared to more than 49 percent in traditional schools.

Additionally, only about 8 percent of charter students are Hispanic, about half the percentage reported in traditional schools.

Also, over the last 15 years, North Carolina charters’ share of minority students has declined. In traditional schools, it’s the opposite, the report said.

This week, Adam Levinson, interim director of the state’s Office of Charter Schools, attempted to assure state board members that the report is purely data-driven, but Forest, a charter advocate, worried aloud that the media and charter critics would use the numbers to fuel opposition.

Atkinson, however, tells Policy Watch that the report used data pulled from the system’s accountability statistics, numbers used to report students’ academic growth rate and proficiency.

So what should we expect from a Forest-approved version of the charter report? Atkinson says she’s not sure.

She says Forest has yet to relay any information to her office about what he would like to see changed. However, she pointed out, state board member Becky Taylor, chairwoman of the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, has asked each board member to send her their revisions for review next week, something certainly worth following.

Atkinson said she may suggest adding copies of the school systems’ accountability forms to the report in order to provide further confirmation of the data.

“We go the second mile of asking our schools to affirm that the information is true to the best of their knowledge,” said Atkinson. “That’s the way it is. In the report our goal was actually to not have much of a narrative other than stating the facts. There are no policy recommendations.”

One other interesting point from the state report. Since the state lifted its 100-school cap on charters in 2011, North Carolina has added another 58 operating charters, including two hotly-debated virtual charters, which seem to be facing a troubling dropout problem.

DPI staff expect to have a rewrite of their annual charter report prepared for the state board in February.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

The 2015 year brought plenty of budget missteps on Jones Street—from another round of tax cuts to state investments that are mired at historic lows. Here’s a look at the top 10 missteps that state policymakers should address in 2016.

  1. State lawmakers once again chose to cut taxes that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations over meaningful levels of reinvestment. The tax plan will reduce revenue by $1 billion annually when fully implemented, cutting off pathways to greater economic success like early childhood development, public schools, and community economic development while also failing to boost the economy or create jobs.
  2. State lawmakers failed to restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which benefited nearly 1 million families and their 1.2 million children. Yet, they chose to expand the sales tax to new services like maintenance, repair, and installation, effectively further shifting the tax load onto middle- and low-income taxpayers.
  3. The 2015 tax changes make our tax system more upside-down by asking even more from people who are already struggling to pay the bills. Under full implementation of the tax package, the lowest income working families will end up paying a tax increase of $7, on average, whereas millionaires are the big winners again with a tax cut of more than $1,800 on average.
  4. This budget doesn’t address falling wages, just as the last two budgets failed to do. In 2013 an hour’s work in NC earned around $2.50 less than the national average; now that gap has grown to almost $3.00. Allowing the state’s lowest-income families to keep more of what they earn through an EITC is a key way to build a stronger economy, along with a higher minimum wage and collective bargaining rights, but legislators failed to restore the tax credit and raise the minimum wage.
  5. State investment is at historic lows. State lawmakers passed a budget that keeps state spending as part of the economy below the 45-year average. That would be fine if needs have shrunk but they’ve grown. State budgets typically allow spending to grow as the population grows and the economy changes, especially after an economic downturn when revenues plummet and services are frozen or cut.
  6. State investments break an unwelcome modern record as they remain diminished. Lawmakers passed a budget that caps off the only period since 1971 in which state spending declined as a part of the economy for seven and eight straight years while the economy itself grew. Continuing on a tax-cut path means there simply won’t be enough revenue left over to repair critical investments or to position our state to compete.
  7. Eight years later, state investment remains below pre-recession levels despite more children to educate, more older adults to care for, and more citizens to serve and protect. Such long-term disinvestments have translated into significant unmet needs for our state’s growing population—a shortage of K-12 textbooks, school nurses, and community services for older adults.
  8. This budget continues to hold us back from ensuring educational success for every child. For the current school year, lawmakers invested more per student compared to the 2015 fiscal year budget but well below 2008 pre-recession levels—nearly $500 less per student. This will cause real harm to the classroom and educational outcomes. The number of students in North Carolina schools has continued to increase since 2008, yet the amount of funding per student— and, therefore, the resources available to educate each student—has not been state lawmakers’ priority over tax cuts.
    • For example, textbook spending is below half its 2010 peak level, leaving some schools with outdated textbooks or with no textbooks at all.
  9. Continuing down a tax-cut path is deepening cracks in NC’s opportunity structure—and it has left several vital areas of public programs and services inadequate.
    • For example, lawmakers kept year-over-year spending flat for the pre-kindergarten program that serves at-risk 4-year olds. They failed to restore the more than 6,400 slots lost since 2009 or give opportunity to the 7,200 children stuck on the waiting list.
    • For example, tuition at community colleges rose for the seventh consecutive year to $76 per credit hour from $72—an 81 percent increase since 2009—increasing the likelihood of a college education being out of the reach of many.
  10. This tax-cut path—and the revenue losses that come with it—also mean that some investments are completely missing from the budget.
    • For example, there is no cost-of-living adjustment for retired public employees like former state troopers and teachers despite their shrinking purchasing power due to changes in the economy.
    • For example, there is no Medicaid expansion, which means lawmakers denied affordable health care to about 500,000 North Carolinians.
    • For example, there is no support to ensure that all rural communities have reliable high-speed internet access that is increasingly essential to participating in the global economy—which leaves struggling rural communities further behind urban areas.

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Uncategorized

The latest Elon University poll shows support for real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired surgeon Ben Carson virtually tied among North Carolina Republican voters.

The poll released this week shows Trump with 22 percent of the vote, Carson at 21 percent, and Carly Fiorina trailing at 10 percent in their bid to capture the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Over the past several weeks, the candidates have spoken out strongly on the issue of immigration. Trump has advocated for deportation and suggested a review of birthright citizenship. Carson said this week that while anyone is welcome in America, immigrants cannot alter who we are. For her part, Fiorina has said she would not support a pathway to citizenship.

Local Latino advocates hope to tone down the negative political stereotypes aimed at immigrants this weekend as they celebrate the 22nd annual Fiesta del Pueblo.

“The political debate on immigration has taken a negative turn in recent months,” says Angeline Echeverría, Executive Director of El Pueblo.  “La Fiesta del Pueblo counteracts this rhetoric by helping Latino and non-Latino community members to come together and learn from each other in a fun way.  It also encourages community members of all backgrounds who value diversity to connect with local organizations and promote civic engagement.”

In addition to the art and cultural exhibits, more than 50 non-profit organizations and state agencies will share information and resources with festival-goers. El Pueblo will also register voters and recruit for its on-going leadership programs.

Click below to hear Echeverría talk more about the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the presidential race. The full radio interview with NC Policy Watch can be accessed here. For more on the Elon University poll, click here.

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Commentary, Uncategorized

The North Carolina Justice Center launched radio and digital ads this week urging people to ask Gov. Pat McCrory to release a plan that expands affordable health insurance in our state.

We have the opportunity to tap federal funds to extend affordable insurance coverage to more than 500,000 people struggling to pay for care. Our tax dollars are sitting in Washington waiting to be used to boost rural health care in our state and save more than 1,000 lives every year.

We can expand Medicaid with this money or we can develop a state-specific plan to experiment with new coverage ideas. Conservative Governors in Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Montana, Utah, Tennessee and elsewhere have proposed specific policies. Gov. McCrory told news outlets at the beginning of the year that he was considering doing the same. The hold up, he claimed at the time, was the latest Affordable Care Act challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court. He would announce his support, or opposition, to expanding coverage after the high court ruled in King v. Burwell.

King v. Burwell came and went and still no word from the Governor.

The Governor and legislators all have access to taxpayer funded healthcare so they can afford to delay a decision. Many others in our state aren’t so lucky.

These 500,000 North Carolinians are mostly the working poor with jobs in construction and food service that do not provide health insurance benefits. They don’t currently qualify for Medicaid because eligibility is restrictive in our state. They can’t afford to buy private insurance. Now they are stuck and just need action from their elected representatives.

It starts with the Governor. He can change the dynamic by showing leadership and proposing a plan. Go to NC Left Me Out and share your story if you or a loved one are in the coverage gap. And then use the phone number listed to contact Gov. McCrory and ask him, “Where’s the plan to expand coverage?” We can’t wait any longer.