Children’s experts: Investing in our state’s future starts with children not corporations

By Dr. Devonya Govan-Hunt, Muffy Grant and Dr. Iheoma Iruka

To build a thriving North Carolina, we need a multiracial democracy, an inclusive economy, and a commitment to ensuring people across the state have access to the health care, education, and social support they need. To realize this vision, our state needs equitable public investments, including funding for early childhood education that supports our youngest residents and their families. As our state lawmakers continue negotiations in an attempt to come up with a budget that the House, Senate, and Governor can agree on, they have a responsibility to create a budget which prioritizes North Carolina’s children over out-of-state corporations.

But the proposals that have come out of the NC Senate and House so far don’t meet this standard — the Senate’s budget proposal would eliminate corporate income taxes, and while the House’s doesn’t go quite as far, it includes multiple tax changes that will ultimately prohibit North Carolina from realizing its potential. Both proposals also include changes to income taxes that would primarily benefit the wealthiest families: under the House proposal, 56 percent of the value of these changes would go to households with annual incomes over $110,000. These changes would cost our state about $2 billion in annual revenue, limiting our ability to make the public investments our communities need.

As experts in childhood development and child care, we know we know that early childhood education presents one of the strongest cases there is for public investment. Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman conducted groundbreaking research showing that investments in high-quality early childhood education yield a robust return on investment of 13 percent per child per year. These benefits come from improved outcomes that children see throughout their lives, including in educational attainment, health, and employment. Public investments in early childhood education even impact future generations and reduce intergenerational poverty.

It doesn’t work to provide child care only through the private sector. Licensed child care providers operate on the thinnest of margins, because families cannot afford the true cost of high quality care. Even so, parents are left shouldering annual fees significantly higher than public university tuition. We have tried other models for years, and it hasn’t worked. Early childhood education is a public good that needs public funding — like parks, libraries, and K-12 education.

Investments in early childhood education are also an investment in racial and gender equity in North Carolina. The vast majority of early childhood educators are women, and over half are Black women and other women of color. These educators are paid an average of just $11 per hour to nurture our youngest children. North Carolina has some programs that boost wages for educators, but legislators have cut funding for these and so only a limited number of people can access them. The recent budget proposals ask these educators to subsidize corporate tax cuts with their persistently low wages.

North Carolina’s motto is “To be rather than to seem.” If we want to live up to that motto to truly be a state that cares about our children’s future, here are three key actions to take: Read more

To avoid possible legal action, Union County resumes COVID quarantine measures

Union Co. Board Chair Melissa Merrell

The Union County Board of Education reversed course Monday, one week after rescinding COVID-19 quarantine measures and contact tracing for students and staff.

Dr. Many Cohen, state Sec. of Health and Human Services, advised the school board last week that their action posed an “imminent threat of serious adverse health consequences.”

Dr. Cohen made it clear in her letter the district could face legal action if it failed to protect the public’s health.

On Monday, a more subdued board issued a statement clarifying that the district will adhere to the quarantine measures directed by the State and local health departments. The new policy also shortens the duration of quarantine, based on further testing or if they are asymptomatic.

Masks will remain optional for all students and staff.

Here’s an excerpt of the new policy:

According to state law, our local health department has taken over primary responsibility of contact tracing and has reduced the length of the quarantine period of asymptomatic individuals, I move that:

  • UCPS will continue to follow its legal obligations of reporting positive cases to the local health department and providing relevant information to the local health department;
  • UCPS will require students and staff who are symptomatic or who have tested positive for COVID-19 to stay home in accordance with state law;
  • UCPS will recognize quarantines, in accordance with state law, of students and staff who are considered close contacts with a COVID-19 positive case.

Based on this motion, UCPS will continue adhering to the quarantine measures directed by the State and local health departments. However, if a student or staff member has been identified as a close contact to a positive case, they will not need to quarantine for 14 days if they remain asymptomatic, rather their quarantine period will be shortened to 10 days and could be shortened to 7 days if the individual has received a negative antigen or PCR/molecular test on a test taken no earlier than day 5 of quarantine. During the quarantine period, students will not be allowed to come to school. When a student or staff member returns to school after 10 or 7 days, they will need to wear a face covering through the 14th day.

Rev. Jimmy H. Bention, Sr. was the only member to vote against the new policy.

“This motion will cause healthy children to be sent home. I vote nay.”

Union County has 352 active COVID cases involving students and staff with 1,822 in quarantine, based on the most recent data on school district’s dashboard.

Click below to watch the board make their decision:

Immigration reform blocked from reconciliation bill in Congress, but Democrats vow to try again

Best editorial of the weekend: Legislative leaders are wrong to defy the state courts

As a growing number of North Carolinians are becoming aware, our state appears to be headed for a constitutional showdown. At issue: whether the General Assembly can be compelled by the state courts to abide by the state constitution and provide schoolchildren with the sound basic education to which they are entitled under the landmark Leandro Supreme Court ruling.

Superior Court David Lee has approved a plan that was agreed to by the plaintiffs and lawyers representing the state in the litigation that lays out a spending/action plan to put the state in compliance with the mandate. Unfortunately and remarkably, GOP leaders at the General Assembly reject the authority of the judiciary to tell them what to do.

Yesterday’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer does a good job of summarizing the situation — both where things stand and, more importantly, why the lawmakers’ stance is so destructive and unreasonable. As it notes:

What should be a matter of simple decency and wise investment – adequate support for the education of children, especially those in low-income areas – is poised to become a constitutional collision between two branches of state government.

The defiance of legislators leaves a body to wonder just what other court directives regarding unconstitutional state action (or inaction) General Assembly leaders might be willing to ignore. After all, education isn’t the only area in which constitutional rights can necessitate additional state spending. What if the issue here was, say, prison overcrowding or access to public facilities for people with disabilities? Is it the position of legislative leaders that they can simply tell the courts of the state to go pound sand?

After exploring the takes of various constitutional experts on what might happen if lawmakers try to defy the courts, the editorial rightfully offers this assessment:

What’s particularly notable about this situation is the level of legislative defiance. There’s no need to confront the court like this. The remedial plan is well within the legislature’s capacity to comply.

The plan calls for the legislature to approve at least $5.6 billion in new education funding by 2028. The state has more than $6.5 billion in surplus funds in this year alone.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed two-year budget seeks to meet the plan’s initial cost, but budgets proposed by the House and Senate are well short. Legislative leaders are determined to hold that line, even as they propose more tax cuts.

A Republican-led legislature that has been quick to trim the powers of the governor and change the election of judges, now insists on the independence of the legislative branch. It’s another instance of Republican legislators who, rather than serving the law, expect the law to serve them, even at the expense of schoolchildren.

If Republican lawmakers defy Judge Lee, that should bring a verdict they can’t ignore from the court of public opinion.

Click here to explore the entire editorial.

FDA panel backs COVID-19 booster shots only for elderly and high-risk Americans