Commentary

As it has at the national level, North Carolina’s official unemployment rate continues to fall. And while there’s certainly some good news there, numerous analysts continue to explain why this recovery is especially tepid and shallow for a huge proportion of North Carolinians (and why the trickledown economic policies pursued by state leaders continue to fall short). The latest comes from the economic wonks at CFED. Here’s the release:

New Report Finds North Carolina Ranks Near the Bottom for Financial Security of its Residents
Overall Poor Performance Shows Persistent Financial Insecurity, Need for Comprehensive Public Policy Response

Washington, D.C. – Despite an improving national economy, new data released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) show many North Carolina residents are barely scraping by. CFED’s 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard ranked the state near the bottom among all states for its high number of low-wage jobs (ranked 41st), as well as its high number of low-income residents who don’t have health insurance (42nd) or a four-year college degree (44th).

The troubling data underscore the need for programs and policies that help more families achieve financial security, including reinstatement of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and expansion of Medicaid. Additionally, a Children’s Savings Account program would provide every child in the state with their own matched savings account for postsecondary education. Recent research has shown that these accounts dramatically increase college attendance and graduation rates. Read More

News

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger made good on his promise Wednesday to file legislation that would allow magistrates to refuse to perform marriages for same sex couples. Senate Bill 2 states:

Every magistrate has the right to recuse from performing all lawful marriages under this Chapter based upon any sincerely held religious objection.

Senator Jeff Jackson, a former prosecutor, told reporters such legislation undermine marriage equality and seeks to legitimize discrimination:

“In this nation, we as citizens don’t have to pass any government employees personal religious test in order to receive government service. And that’s exactly what a magistrate does – provide a government service. In the United States we do not condition government service on the religious agreement by the government worker,” said Jackson during a press conference.

“Government offices that are open to the public, must be open to everyone on the same terms, including the people who are gay or lesbian.”

Click below to hear Sen. Jackson’s remarks:

YouTube Preview Image
Commentary

Gay prideThe closed-door meeting to discuss the new “religious freedom” bill has been postponed, according to an email sent out by the North Carolina Values Coalition. The organization claims that they received an “overwhelmingly positive” response to the meeting and have had to reschedule out of concern that the facility could not accommodate the crowd.

Unfortunately, postponement of the meeting will be unlikely to slow down the momentum of the “religious freedom” crusade. This morning, Senate leader Phil Berger introduced a “religious freedom” bill allowing magistrates and registers of deeds to be exempt from performing their duties if it violates their religious beliefs.

The bill attempts to be impartial on its face. It allows magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from their duties if they are asked to perform an act that goes against their religious beliefs but then also prevents them from performing any of their duties for the following six month period. In other words, they won’t be allowed to pick and choose which marriages to perform. The bill adds that there must be a magistrate available to perform marriages for at least ten hours a week over three business days. While all this may seem fair in theory, the reality is that, in many places in North Carolina, finding a magistrate willing to perform same-sex marriages and a register of deeds willing to sign the marriage license under such circumstances could be difficult. Adding to the burden for couples, will be trying to get in during the small window of time three days a week that these officials will be available. The overall result will be that LGBT couples will have a much harder time getting married if this bill is passed—the exact effect that was intended.

The North Carolina Values Coalition has indicated that they plan to seek much broader anti-LGBT legislation, than this bill. On the other side, Equality NC has also indicated that they fear additional legislation that will provide a broader license to discriminate.

The absurdity of the bill itself was pointed out by State Senator Jeff Jackson, during Equality NC’s press conference held today in anticipation of the bill’s introduction and the legislative briefing originally scheduled for this afternoon. As Jackson rightly observed, “in this nation, we don’t have to pass any government employee’s personal religious test in order to receive government service.” Apparently, Senator Berger missed that lesson in civics.

News

Kinston Charter Academy closed its doors back in September 2013 after years of financial mismanagement. Today, the state auditor released a report investigating the school’s financial practices.

The audit reveals allegations of fraud and abuse that took place on the watch of the school’s CEO and Principal, Ozie Hall Jr. Some of the most eyebrow-raising findings include:

School overstated attendance estimate which inflated state funds received by more than $300,000.

School employed Chief Executive Officer/Principal’s (CEO) unqualified relatives, at a cost of $92,500 in the School’s final year.

Despite ultimately owing more than $370,000 in payroll obligations, questionable payments of more than $11,000 were made to the CEO and his wife.

Despite the School’s dire financial situation, the board approved several expenses already paid by cashier’s check and often with limited supporting documentation. These expenses included vacation leave payouts to the CEO and his wife, who was serving as the board chair, and a new laptop computer for the CEO.

Investigators also had trouble verifying Hall’s past experience running a school:

Although the CEO received degrees in education and administration, his background lacked key qualifications for the position as specified in the School’s 2004 charter. He told investigators that he “ran an alternative school” in Wilmington, Delaware from 1986 to 1990. However, the CEO provided no documentation (no information on students, teachers, curriculum, address, hours of instruction) to support that claim. The Delaware Department of Education and Delaware Public Archives could not verify the school’s existence.

And then there’s this finding:

The CEO’s daughter was hired as the School’s academic officer despite a lack of teaching or school administration experience. She received $40,000 in salary during the 2012-13 school year. The CEO said her duties included monitoring lesson plans for elementary school classes and helping with implementation of Common Core standards. The daughter was a recent college graduate with a degree in American Studies. The CEO told us that she had never worked in a school previous to her employment at the School. She replaced the associate principal who had over 20 years of experience in public schools with her most recent job as “an assistant to the Superintendent” according to the CEO.

Reached by phone, Hall, who is now head of Anderson Creek Club Charter School in Harnett County, said the auditor’s report reflects basic incompetence.

“The fact that they couldn’t find it [the Wilmington, DE alternative school] is another reflection of incompetence,” said Hall. “The report contains outright fabrications.”

State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey says the board will be seeking a legislative fix this session to allow them more authority in dealing with financially troubled charter schools.

Click here to read the full report.

Commentary

HisemugWell, that didn’t take long. Senate Bill 3 for the 2015 session is entitled: “AN ACT REPEALING PUBLIC EMPLOYEE PAYROLL DEDUCTION FOR PAYMENTS TO EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATIONS.”

The sponsor is Senator Ralph Hise (pictured at left). That would be the same Ralph Hise who was opposed by the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) in last year’s GOP primary.

Immediately after the election failure, the SEANC folks had this “no hard feelings” observation in one of their newsletters:

“Sometimes we win, as in the case of Erica Smith-Ingram of Senate District 3 who knocked off long-time, incumbent Sen. Clark Jenkins, and sometimes we lose as in the case of state Sen. Ralph Hise or Wake County District Attorney candidate Boz Zellinger. While we disagree on policy, we congratulate all of the winners and look forward to working to promote public services and YOU, the people who provide them, with a well-deserved pay raise and retiree COLA in the near future.”

Apparently, Senator Hise (read more about his interesting career away from Raleigh by clicking here) missed the memo.