NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Trump administration turning its back on refugees, a moral and economic failure

The Trump administration is following through on its threat to bar America’s doors against people fleeing violence and persecution. Trump’s cruel words are matched with devastating deeds, snuffing out America’s light of liberty in many corners of the world.

A new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute shows how dramatically refugee resettlement has declined on Trump’s watch and provides compelling evidence that we are turning away the very people that have long made America the economic power of the world.

Beyond documenting how dramatically the Trump administration has reversed America’s history offering safe harbor to people facing persecution the world-over, the report shows that these policies will hurt the U.S. economy.

The report’s authors interviewed business owners about their experiences hiring and working with people who arrived in the United States as refugees, and the results show that Trump’s policies are cutting businesses off from precisely the kind of dedicated employees that proprietors love to find. For example:

  • Refugees tend to be more loyal employees: Most business owners reported that, once hired, refugees tend to stay in their jobs longer than other workers. As any employer will tell you, replacing good employees is expensive and challenging, so having reliable refugees as part of a workforce can be an enormous plus.
  • Successful refugee hiring can help employers find more reliable workers: Once companies figure out how to successfully support refugees as they become employees, these businesses often find it easier to recruit more people from refugee communities. Just as with retention, finding skilled and dedicated employees efficiently can be an enormous boon for businesses.

Turning our back on people facing war and torment is wrong, and this moral failing will come with economic ramifications now and into the future.

Commentary

Legislators should reject efforts to extend failed virtual charter school “pilot”

The General Assembly should reject any efforts to extend the authorization of the state’s two virtual charter schools, and should instead focus on winding down the two failing schools.

Since their creation, North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools, North Carolina Virtual Academy and North Carolina Connections Academy, have been among the worst-performing schools in the state. Advocates for these two schools have opposed meaningful accountability or evaluation measures, rushing forward to extend without any evidence that the program is working. The schools are based on a model that has failed spectacularly in several other states, and North Carolina’s laws offer no protections against the failures of other virtual charter schools. Finally, the schools fail to meaningfully expand enrollment options for students, as the state already offers a higher-quality on-line option.

Why is the General Assembly considering an extension?

Virtual charter schools are publicly-funded schools that are governed by an independent board and deliver instruction entirely on-line. The North Carolina General Assembly authorized two such schools to operate beginning the 2015-16 school year. The authorizing language (Section 8.35 of S.L. 2014-100) established the schools as a four-year “pilot program,” requiring additional legislation for the schools to continue operation beyond the 2018-19 school year.

At its May 1, 2018 meeting, the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee endorsed draft legislation to allow the two virtual charter schools to continue operating through the 2022-23 school year. The legislation, since introduced as HB 988/SB 731, also delays by two years the first of two required evaluation reports, pushing the reporting date from November 15, 2018 to November 15, 2020.

NC virtual charter laws eschew best practices, reflecting the aggressive lobbying efforts of for-profit corporations

Virtual charter schools came to North Carolina largely via the aggressive lobbying efforts of for-profit operators, particularly K12 Inc. Their efforts led to the authorization of virtual charter schools via a four-year “pilot” program – inserted into the 2014 budget bill to avoid debate and scrutiny.

Prior to the introduction of the authorizing language, the State Board of Education had conducted a study to develop a set of policy recommendations for how best to authorize virtual charter schools in North Carolina. These recommendations were ignored by the General Assembly in favor of language crafted by virtual charter lobbyists. The legislature eschewed the State Board’s recommendations on appropriate funding levels, grade levels served, teacher-student ratios, and allowable dropout rates.

Since authorization, the Fiscal Research Division supplied members of the General Assembly and the State Board of Education with policy options to address 16 weaknesses with the authorizing language included in the 2014 budget bill. The General Assembly has failed to address any of these identified policy weaknesses. The only change to the language so far has been a move to weaken oversight of these schools’ dropout rates, allowing more students to withdraw from virtual charters mid-year without facing state sanctions.

North Carolina’s virtual charter schools are arguably the worst-performing in the state, consistent with national research

North Carolina’s virtual charter schools have performed exceptionally poorly. In their first year of operation, both virtual charter schools ranked dead last in the state for student growth. The following year proved little better. Once again, North Carolina Connections Academy finished dead last in the state for student growth. North Carolina Virtual Academy raised itself off the absolute bottom, but still finished in the bottom one percent of schools on student growth, getting outscored by 2,443 of 2,464 schools with a student growth score. Read more

Commentary

NC Policy Watch Policy Prescription #9: Expanding opportunities for justice within the criminal justice system

As the 2018 legislative session gets underway in earnest in this, its first full week, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by A. J. Fletcher Foundation Fellow Samone Oates-Bullock. Last week, Prescription #1 addressed food insecurity in North Carolina. Prescription #2 took on the issue of early childhood investments. Prescription #3 analyzed the challenge of funding school adequately and fairly. Policy Prescription #4 called for racial equity in education. Policy Prescription #5 called for tackling the issue of environmental racism in North Carolina. Prescription #6 made the case closing the Medicaid coverage gap. Prescription #7 urged lawmakers to make North Carolina more worker-friendly. Yesterday, Prescription #8 called for new and transformative investments in affordable housing.

Today, the focus is on tackling the issue of second chances for those who have run afoul of the criminal justice system. The following is from Policy Prescription #9 – “Creating second chances: Expanding opportunities for justice within the criminal justice system”:

“While the U.S. crime rate has dropped steadily since its peak in the 1990’s, incarceration rates have continued to rise at an alarming pace. For this reason, the United States now accounts for almost a quarter of the world’s prison population while representing less than five percent of the total world population. The inconsistencies between crime and punishment highlight only one piece of the puzzle. In addition to incarcerating more people than any other country in the world, today’s justice system disproportionately targets and incarcerates African Americans. As of 2018, the U.S. population is 12.6 percent African American and 73.3 percent white; whereas the prison population is 37.9 percent African American and 58.4 percent white . This trend of widespread and disproportionate imprisonment has had detrimental impacts on our economy, communities, and the quality of life for people with criminal records. The fight for second chances is undoubtedly complex, but recognizes the need for a justice system that places rehabilitation, reentry, and morality at the forefront of its operations.”

Click here to read the entire report.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Another Policy Proposal Ignores Reality of Today’s Job Market

Leaders in the General Assembly appear poised to take health care away from parents with low income through a change to Medicaid,  and they plan to do it using a budget process where no amendments can be offered.

The change would likely take the form of what some other states have proposed, requiring a certain number of hours each month in order to maintain health care access.  This plan ignores the reality facing more and more working North Carolinians who don’t control their schedules and are often at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control.

For this reason, and given what we know about what has happened when implemented in other areas, rigid work requirements will not deliver on the intended goal of increasing employment.  Indeed, researchers have documented the ways in which this could actually reduce employment in the long-term and grow poverty.  It may also be too harsh to receive federal approval.

Here are key facts about today’s labor market that legislators should consider as they seek to take health care away from parents with low income:

  1. There are too few jobs for those who want to work. Despite the state’s employment growth since the national recovery began in 2009,  there are still 87 counties where there are more jobless workers than job openings. In many communities, finding work is still a challenge, regardless of whether elected leaders in Raleigh accept that fact or not.
  2. Work is increasingly unstable resulting in a lack of consistent work hours each month. Research by the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities finds that of low-income adults who have worked in the past year, at least 1 in 4 have less than 80 hours of work in at least month.  This threshold is the one used by Kansas to determine eligibility on a month by month basis and failure to meet it means the loss of health insurance for a period. The issue of unpredictable hours is prevalent in the labor market and has created increased income volatility and economic hardship.
  3. Temporary and contingent work means despite working in a year, many workers face unpredictable employment. Temporary work has grown by 52 percent in North Carolina compared to 32 percent growth in the national economy.  Temp workers in North Carolina earn well below the national average. Temporary workers have little control over how many hours they work in a given month, which could put their healthcare coverage at risk through no fault of their own.
  4. Work at minimum wage doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. A minimum age worker in North Carolina with one child who works just below the 80 hour a month threshold or 20 hours a week would qualify for Medicaid.  The annual income limit for Medicaid is 43 percent of the Federal Poverty level for an adult.
  5. Our labor market depends on public policies that make sure people can get by in low-wage work. One in five North Carolinians can’t afford to make ends meet in North Carolina based on work alone.  Food assistance and housing support, health insurance and child care subsidies aim to ensure people meet their basic needs and stay connected to the workforce.  Restricting access to these supports hurts employment outcomes and the well-being of families.  It also creates the wrong incentives by creating “cliffs” for working people where adding hours and income push them out of eligibility without ensuring that they can secure the needed benefit through work.  This is clear in North Carolina where those receiving Medicaid who could be subject to a new requirement to work a certain number of hours in the month and can’t meet it would be pushed into the coverage gap.  As a non-expansion state, North Carolina would be driving people out of a pathway to self-sufficiency.

On the heels of hundreds of business leaders, workers and advocates gathered in Raleigh on Tuesday to ask legislators to raise the state’s minimum wage from the current federal level of $7.25, it is clear our legislative leaders continue to miss the opportunity to advance policies that address the most pressing issues in today’s labor market.

Now they could consider a policy proposal that would actually make things worse for North Carolinians.

Let’s hope they reject including work requirements in the budget bill and taking health care away from low-income parents.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Analysis: Water Safety Act constitutionally suspect, could slow down enforcement, clean up

Rep. Ted Davis Jr., a New Hanover County Republican (Photo: NCGA)

It’s curious how two legislators, who, in their day jobs are attorneys, have co-sponsored bills that leak state and federal law like a sieve.

The Water Safety Act — Senate Bill 724 and  its identical companion legislation House Bill 972 — pretend to strengthen regulations and enforcement against Chemours, but in reality, make the state vulnerable to legal action by the company and do little to clean up GenX contamination.

The legislation could be folded into a larger budget bill, making it all but impossible to defeat.

Primary sponsors of the House version are Republicans Ted Davis Jr. (the lawyer of the bunch), Holly Grange, Frank Iler and Bill Brisson. They all are members of the House Select Committee on River Quality.

The Senate counterpart is co-sponsored by Republicans Mike Lee, an attorney, plus Bill Rabon and Wesley Meredith.

The Department of Environmental Quality and Gov. Cooper both issued statements and analysis critical of the bill today. But environmental lawyers, policy analysts and environmental groups, have also chimed in. They have noted the bills’ serious legal defects that could hamper cleanups, run afoul of current state and federal laws, and deprive Chemours and other polluters their constitutional right to due process.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from New Hanover County (Photo: NCGA)

The bills makes DEQ’s actions dependent on the governor, who is authorized to issue an administrative order to “require a facility to cease all operations that result in the production of a pollutant.” (In the bill, “pollutant” is not defined.)

“On its face, a governor’s order sounds like a quicker and more direct way to stop the release of these pollutants,” wrote former Assistant DEQ Secretary Robin Smith, now a lawyer and consultant in private practice, on her environmental blog. “In reality, any order could be appealed in an administrative hearing and the administrative law judge has the power to prevent the order from going into effect until there has been a final decision on the appeal.”

#GenX bill is divorced from reality Click To Tweet

Those appeals can take months; meanwhile, contamination could continue unabated.

On the other hand, DEQ can go directly (and quickly) to court for an injunction, which the agency has already done in Bladen County to stop Chemours from discharging GenX offsite.

While the legislation appears to target Chemours and its “discharge” of GenX and fluorinated compounds, DEQ pointed out that “discharges,” as defined in state law, exclude air emissions. GenX-related compounds are being emitted into the air from the Chemours plant and contaminating surface water, soil, groundwater and drinking water — topics also extensively discussed in the House River Quality Committee.

In addition, the bill sponsors seemed to go out of their way not to fund DEQ, other than $2.3 million worth of breadcrumbs. “While providing extravagant funding to those other entities, the bill fails to make a long-term investment in DEQ’s regulatory programs that have been subject to budget cuts since 2011,” DEQ said in its analysis.

By comparison, the bill serves as an ATM for other entities: the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority ($450,000), local governments ($2 million), the state health department ($530,000), and the NC Collaboratory at UNC ($8 million), whose research director is Jeffrey Warren, former science advisor to Sen. Phil Berger.

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