Commentary
Senator Tom Apodaca

Senator Tom Apodaca

It is becoming increasingly clear that the single, best thing that North Carolina lawmakers could do to aid public education in our state is this: nothing.

Seriously, lawmakers would do our young people, educators, public education officials, employers, and the state at-large an enormous service if they would simply pass one bill each year providing the funding that our schools really need and then get the heck out of the way and check back in five or ten years. No more “ABC’s” of this or that or “Excellent Schools Acts.” Nothing, nada, zip. Just give our professionals the money and the mandate and let them do their jobs.

Unfortunately, the urge to meddle, micromanage and pass half-baked ideas that some lawmaker heard something about over dinner or on Fox News assures that this will never happen. For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools.

What a great idea! Maybe this can even set a precedent for other parts the education system. For instance, Read More

News

MR_EducationA flurry of bills are being filed in the state Senate this week in advance of today’s deadline* for introducing public bills and resolutions. Here are five bills you may have missed that merit watching:

Senate Bill 384Increase Pay/Experienced Teachers – Senator Joyce Waddell may be a freshman in the NC Senate, but she knows veteran teachers deserve better pay. Her bill would appropriated more than $20 million from the General Fund to the Department of Public Instruction  to establish a new salary schedule that supports experienced educators:

salary schedule

Senate Bill 515Driver Education Funding – Senator Erica Smith-Ingram bill would restore funding from the Highway Fund for the Driver Education program administered by the Department of Public Instruction. Local boards of education would be permitted to charge up to $65 to offset the costs of providing the training. Read Lindsay Wagner’s piece on the challenge school districts face without this dedicated funding.

Senate Bill 463Increase Access to Education – Sen. Fletcher Hartsell’s bill spells out that an individual who has attended school in North Carolina for at least three consecutive years immediately prior to graduation and has received a high school diploma from a school within North Carolina (or their GED) would be accorded resident tuition status when applying for higher education.

Senate Bill 510NCVPS/Equal Access to Education – This bill would provide access for both public and non-public school students to the the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) program. Home-schooled children would not pay any more for access than students attending traditional public schools. Virtual education is a growing area of interest for state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 512Delay Law Implementation/VIVA/Paper Ballots.- Very simply this bill would delay full implementation of the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA) and the use of paper ballots until the court has issued a ruling in Currie v. North Carolina. You can read more about that case in this post by our courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey.

*The deadline for filing public bills in the state House is April 8th for bills that don’t involve Appropriations or Finance.

Commentary
Gerrymandering

Image: Southern Coalition for Social Justice

In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court took actually issued a promising 5-4 ruling yesterday in the challenge to Alabama’s racially gerrymandered redistricting plan.

Moreover, as the good folks at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice explain in the statement below, the decision could have a significant and positive impact in the challenge to the unconstitutional “Rucho plan” now in effect in North Carolina:

“U.S. SUPREME COURT’S DECISION IN ALABAMA REDISTRICTING CASE HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR NORTH CAROLINA’S REDISTRICTING PLANS

In a win for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court today put the brakes on using explicit racial criteria in redistricting. The 5 to 4 decision constrained the cynical use of the Voting Rights Act to justify race-based redistricting that minimizes the voting strength of minority voters—a strategy employed by several Southern states in the 2010 redistricting cycle.

The Court ruled that race predominated in the Alabama legislature’s redistricting of state house and senate districts when it moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining. Read More

Commentary

MarijuanaA bill to legalize medical marijuana, introduced by Representative Kelly Alexander, was considered by the House Judiciary I Committee today. Despite heart-wrenching testimony from veterans and others with serious medical conditions, the committee took less than thirty seconds to vote to give the bill an unfavorable report.

If passed, the bill would have allowed North Carolinians to obtain prescriptions and legally buy cannabis from licensed distributors. The distributors in turn would have purchased the plant from licensed growers, who would have been regulated by the Department of Agriculture. The bill would have taxed each sale of marijuana at 5% and created a revenue for the state.

Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Food assistance for vulnerable communities would be slashed deeply under budget resolutions that the US House and Senate budget committees approved last week. The cuts would likely increase hunger, thrust more people into poverty, and push families that are poor even deeper into poverty. Considering that North Carolina has the 5th highest level of food insecurity in the nation, the proposals would deliver a huge blow to North Carolinians living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to provide food to their families.

Under the House plan, the SNAP program—formerly known as food stamps—would be block-granted and cut by at least $125 billion, or one-third, between 2021 and 2025, according to experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). There is some flexibility in terms of how states would be able to carry out the deep funding cuts. If states decided to rely solely on benefits cuts, the average SNAP recipient would face a $55 per month cut in food assistance. For a family of 4 that cut is about $200 a month—or worth about one-quarter of a very low-cost meal plan. States could also turn to eligibility cuts and reduce income limits to achieve the cuts. Either way, cuts of this magnitude will bring harm to families, children, and other vulnerable groups.

North Carolina would lose at least $3.8 billion in food aid over those five years. That would force North Carolina policymakers to make some very difficult decisions about whose food assistance to reduce or terminate, impacting many Tar Heel families who already find it difficult to pay the bills and meet their most basic needs. Read More