News

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence launches action fund

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence is launching a new action fund in the wake of several high profile mass shootings of the last few years and the political fight over gun regulation in the state.

“Fighting for good policy alone is no longer sufficient to keep us safe from gun violence,” said Wesley McMahon, the Action Fund chairman, in a statement Thursday. “We all know some politicians will never change their mind on this issue. They won’t even meet us halfway to take steps to reduce gun violence that the majority of people support.”

The action fund will be a 501 (c)(4) nonprofit its organizers says will seek to better inform voters on the gun violence related positions and votes of state and local politicians.  Its charter will allow it to “support candidates committed to enacting sensible gun-safety measures and fight against those who would strip North Carolina of strong, effective gun laws.”

“The voting public is looking for ways to hold their elected officials, and the General Assembly, accountable on this issue,” McMahon said in the statement. “The Action Fund will allow for more information to be clearly available so that voters can make choices that align with their values.”

The action fund specifically cites last year’s HB 746, a proposal that would have allowed 18-year olds with no training and no background checks to carry concealed weapons in public.

As Policy Watch reported then, law enforcement organizations, prominent sheriffs and police chiefs across the state came out against the legislation. Ultimately, it didn’t come up for a vote – but its supporters vowed it would be back in some form in future sessions.

Education, News

North Carolina teacher makes Time cover in feature on underpaid teachers

Raleigh teacher NaShonda Cooke features on the September cover of Time. (Source: Time)

A North Carolina teacher is the cover star for Time magazine.

However, the educator features in a piece on American teachers’ struggles to make ends meet, The News & Observer reports.

The cover photo depicts NaShonda Cooke, a teacher at Carroll Magnet Middle School in Wake County.

Teacher pay has been on the front-burner in North Carolina politics in recent years, with more than 20,000 educators and advocates swarming Raleigh this spring to protest lagging K-12 funding under the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly.

From the N&O‘s story:

Cooke is on one of three different covers for the Sept. 24 issue of Time that shares the stories of various U.S. teachers talking about how hard it is to make a living. Cooke, 43, a teacher at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh, shares about how despite having 20 years of experience she skips doctor’s appointments to save on the copay and can’t afford to fix her car or save for her children’s future.

“My coworkers are just grateful that I’m speaking out in terms of teachers having a tough time financially,” Cooke said in an interview Wednesday. “Most of us still have a hard time taking care of our families.”

The Time article comes during a year where teachers around the country held marches, protests and in some cases strikes to protest working conditions.

On Wednesday May 16, 2018, the opening day of the legislative session, educators and their supports from across the state traveled to Raleigh to demand more funding for public education.

Cooke says she makes about $69,000 a year — which is higher than the $50,861 average salary for a North Carolina teacher estimated by the National Education Association. Cooke says her salary reflects all the extra duties she does at school, her extra pay from being a nationally certified teacher and how she’s grandfathered into a program that used to give extra pay to teachers who have advanced degrees.

“Before we judge that she doesn’t make enough, we need to acknowledge that there are millions of families in North Carolina that would love to make $69,000 a year and the benefits she receives,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh.

Cooke said that while she earns more than many teachers, she’s also a single mother who has to use 30 percent of her salary to pay her rent in Raleigh. She also has to pay a variety of other expenses, including student loans and rising health insurance costs.

Part of the reason she left the Durham Public School System in 2017 was that the Wake County school system paid more, Cooke said.

Cooke worries about saving enough to pay for her 14-year-old daughter’s college education. She also has to deal with the needs of her 11-year-old daughter, who has autism.

“I can’t tell you how many letters I got this summer that said final notice,” Cooke said in the Time article. “It’s not about wanting a pay raise or extra income. It’s just about wanting a livable wage.”

The Time article also comes as state Republican legislators have trumpeted five consecutive years of teacher pay raises as part of this year’s election campaign.

“While there is always more work to be done, the facts speak for themselves — teacher pay has increased dramatically under Republican leadership,” Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, said in a statement. “We thank Ms. Cooke for her service but it’s important that we put this in perspective; when Democrats last controlled the General Assembly, thousands of state-funded teaching positions were eliminated, teachers were furloughed and their pay was frozen.

“We’ve passed five consecutive teacher pay raises, giving teachers an average $8,700 — or nearly 20 percent — increase to their base salary since 2014, with close to half of all public school teachers in the state receiving at least a $10,000 pay raise. Even according to the national teacher union’s own rankings, North Carolina ranked #2 in the U.S. for fastest rising teacher pay from 2016 to 2017.”

But Cooke said the recent raises still leave teachers making less than what they did before the recession of the late 2000s, when adjusted for inflation.

Cooke is getting the national attention after a life of being what she calls an advocate for higher teacher pay and education spending. She spoke last year in Durham as part of “A Day Without A Woman” national protests and urged fellow educators to take part in the May 16 mass teacher protest in Raleigh.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The growth of income inequality in N.C. and how not to make it worse

North Carolina’s top 1 percent are doing quite well, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute that provides a unique view of income inequality by comparing the incomes of the top 1 percent to the bottom 99 percent in states and counties across the country.

Since the recovery began in 2009 until the last available data in 2015, the top 1 percent in North Carolina have captured more than all of the income growth.  How is such a thing possible?  When the income of the bottom 99 percent of North Carolinians declines over the same period.  Those two staggering facts should be enough to give us pause that something is truly wrong with how our economy works.

But there is more data from the Economic Policy Institute for a shorter time period (2010 to 2015) due to data availability at the county level that shows that income growth for the top 1 percent maps to geographic inequities in North Carolina.  In the state’s urban counties, the top 1 percent have incomes that are 23 times that of the bottom 99 percent, whereas in the state’s rural counties that ratio is 14 times.  Twelve counties saw the income of the bottom 99 percent of North Carolinians in those communities decline.  For these communities, the stabilizing force of people spending locally and building assets is weakened and, with it, the potential for the community to thrive.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  North Carolina’s recent history shows that income growth for the top 1 percent doesn’t have to be out of balance with what is happening nationally nor does it have to so significantly outpace that of their neighbors in the bottom 99 percent.

Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Hurricane Florence is exposing North Carolina’s racial and geographic inequalities

Hurricane Florence tore through the Carolinas, leaving entire cities devastated, claiming dozens of lives, and doing what will likely be billions of dollars in damage. But this hurricane has exposed much more than tree roots and the foundations of homes — it has exposed the gross and growing inequality embedded in our state.

For years, eastern North Carolina has been home to some of the state’s most impoverished towns and communities. In 2016, 19 of the 20 poorest counties in the entire state were all located in the east. In addition to poverty, eastern North Carolina is home to some of the state’s hungriest communities. In 2016, more than 300,000 people in the 18 counties declared disaster areas alone did not have enough food to eat each night.

In Robeson County, for example, one of the counties most impacted by flooding both recently with Hurricane Florence and two years ago during Hurricane Matthew, nearly 28 percent of residents and 38 percent of children live below the federal poverty line. In New Hanover County, where Hurricane Florence made landfall, more than 19,500 residents live in six neighborhoods that have poverty rates above 40 percent.

So how can the part of our state that has historically been the agricultural and manufacturing engine of our economy be suffering from both poverty and hunger today? Not by circumstance, but by policy choices, historic and present,… Click To Tweet

As a result of generations of redlining, racial housing covenants, and other forms of housing discrimination, many Black and brown communities in the east are often situated in lower-lying geographies and flood plains, making them especially susceptible to damage from powerful storms. In addition to being vulnerable to environmental disasters, these communities have yet to recover from the last economic downturn a decade ago. While the state is returning to pre-recession economic measures, much of eastern N.C. still lags behind.

Since the 2007 Great Recession, every racial and ethnic group in the state has returned to pre-recession levels of poverty except Latinx and Native communities, which make up a disproportionate number of residents in these affected counties. In fact, more than 38 percent of residents in Robeson are Native families while more than 21 percent of families in Duplin, another county hit hard by the storm, are Latinx. Poverty levels among North Carolinians of color across the state remain well above 20 percent, while the poverty rate for white North Carolinians has dropped to 10 percent.

Rather than enacting policies to strengthen our communities, policy makers have chosen to ignore them. Failing to expand health insurance, refusing to raise the minimum wage, attacking critical support programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and SNAP (formally known as food stamps) are all ways our leaders have neglected North Carolinians who need help the most. Instead, policy makers should ensure that recovery efforts and resources are applied in ways that are equitable, mitigate past inequalities, and focus on building communities that have the ability to be resilient. Proactively investing in hazard medication infrastructure, committing to common-sense environmental protection policies such as regulating hog waste and coal ash disposal, and investing in public education, jobs training, and wage increases for low-wage workers are critical next steps.

The linkage between race, poverty, and policy choices is clear. Our leaders have elected to neglect disenfranchised and oppressed communities. They now have the opportunity to do the right thing and commit to building a strong, and inclusive North Carolina.

Brian Kennedy II is a Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

News

Community forum in Chapel Hill on impact of criminal justice debt

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s coverage of court fines and fees, the for-profit bail industry and efforts toward reform, you’ll want to check out Thursday’s community forum on the impact of criminal justice debt in Orange County.

The forum, to be held at Chapel Hill Town hall at 6 p.m., will include presentations from academics, experts, advocates and activists looking at the real costs of interacting with the justice system, even for those who are eventually found not guilty or whose charges are ultimately dropped.