Commentary, News

1. House education budget boosts teacher pay and school vouchers, falls short on classroom needs

House lawmakers unveiled a draft biennial budget Monday that includes pay raises for all teachers and a patchwork of funding initiatives aimed at improving leadership and instruction — but what’s not in the budget is what some say will prove to be the biggest challenge ahead for North Carolina’s classrooms.

“The proposed House budget does not go far enough to ensure every child will receive a quality education in North Carolina,” said North Carolina Association of Educators’ president Rodney Ellis in a statement released Monday afternoon. “If we are serious about every child’s future, we must provide students with modern textbooks and technology, more one-one-one attention, and a quality educator in every classroom.” [Continue reading…]

2. Seven (of many) reasons the House budget falls short

Every state budget is a mixed bag of decisions that make sense and decisions that don’t, vital programs that receive needed funding and vital programs that are underfunded or even ignored.

Many budgets, including the version before the House this week, unfortunately also make policy changes that have never been considered before on the House or Senate floor or even debated in a committee.

Some of them are good ideas and some aren’t but most of them have no business in the budget where members can only vote yes or no. They deserve separate hearings and debates and votes. [Continue reading…]

3. Koch-onomics: On the march in NC
The Right’s shameless, myth-based attacks on renewable energy

There are, of course, dozens of ways in which the current political powers-that-be in North Carolina are trying to roll back the hands of time in the world of government and public policy. From voting rights to reproductive freedom, public education to tax policy, gun violence to the social safety net, the war on modernity and progress is being waged on numerous fronts.

If there were an award for the “most outrageous and destructive, greed-based attack of 2015” however, it would be tough to top the ongoing effort of conservative legislators and their supporters in the right-wing, Koch Brothers-supported “think tanks” to scuttle North Carolina’s fast-growing solar energy industry.  [Continue reading…]

4. For voting rights, a blockbuster summer ahead

Just as the U.S. Supreme Court wraps up its term with decisions in several high-profile cases expected in late June, state and federal courts here will be gearing up for what promises to be a long hot summer for voting rights – with more to follow.

Several constitutional challenges to the sweeping voting law changes enacted in 2013 head to trial starting in July and the state Supreme Court rehears the redistricting case in August.[Continue reading…]

5. Controversial online college on its way to North Carolina?

A controversial online university that credits students for their existing skills and knowledge could soon have a larger role in North Carolina, with a funding stream carved out in the state House’s version of the budget.

The Utah-based Western Governors University, which tends to compete with for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix and Strayer University, is a non-profit that was founded in 1995 by a bipartisan group of governors from the western part of the country. [Continue reading…]

NC Budget and Tax Center

This week at Prosperity Watch, we featured analysis of the role that immigrants are playing in communities that would otherwise be experiencing population decline. Immigrants represent not only a benefit in changing the demographic picture in a county.  Since immigrants are more likely to be of prime-working age, participate in the labor force and own a business than the native-born population, immigrants can make a powerful economic contribution to North Carolina’s rural counties in particular. Research has shown that immigration supports employment growth, that immigrant integration into diverse occupations delivers greater resiliency to a region and that immigrant-owned businesses can have a powerful revitalization force in communities.

Now new analysis from the Center for American Progress finds that, not surprisingly given the work referenced above, that the Executive Orders on immigration that would provide temporary status to parents of children born in the United States (DAPA) and enhance the program for childhood arrivals would generate economic benefits for the country.  From their analysis: Read More

News

The NC House voted to approve a $22.1 billion budget in the early hours of Friday morning, sending the spending plan off to the Senate where it will most certainly face more changes.

One of the dozens of amendments debated prior to the passage of the spending plan would have eliminated an extension of renewable energy tax credits.

Wake County Rep. Marilyn Avila said she would not support a tax credit for the solar industry, while so many areas of the budget went underfunded:

“We lacked adequate child care for at-risk kids, we lacked money to address the needs of traumatic brain injury patients, we lacked money to provide services to the mentally ill who have been sent back to their communities for treatment that isn’t there.”

Cabarrus County Rep. Larry Pittman chimed in that he had “great concerns” about subsidizing solar farms that are displacing traditional farmland.

But Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County urged his colleagues to support the latest compromise on solar tax credits –  a one-year extension, with a scaled-back credit for the second year of the budget.

“Never again will I stand on this floor and ask the members to extend the credit,” pledged Rep. Lewis.

In the end House members voted (38-77) to defeat Avila’s amendment.

For more on the highs and lows of the House budget, read Friday’s Fitzsimon File: The Follies (of celebrating a budget that doesn’t make things worse).

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Commentary

A lot of people are justifiably outraged at the House budget provision that gives $1 million (and delegates public duties) to the conservative school privatization lobby group, Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina (PEFNC). As Rep. Rick Glazier — who tried to amend the budget to shift the money to fund teacher assistants — said yesterday (as reported by Raleigh’s News & Observer):

“This is the first time that I believe in the history of the legislature that we’ve done what this is asking. We’re giving $1 million of taxpayers’ money to an entity to then choose the charter schools to fund. … It is not our job to take away public funds and give them to a private entity to make public decisions.”

In addition to the idea of giving public money to a right-wing lobby group, however, the whole thing is rendered even more remarkable by the circumstances that surround PEFNC’s employment of its executive director, Darrell Allison. Mr Allison, who, according to his group’s website, directs a staff of five, including himself, brings home quite a handsome — even stunning — salary. As Lindsay Wagner reported in January in 2014:

“In 2010, Allison received $107,889 for his work running the non-profit; in 2012, Allison reported an income of $156,582—a 45 percent pay increase in just two years.”
A check of the PEFNC Form 990 tax return for 2013 reveals that his compensation for that year was $167,085. The 2014 report is not yet available. By way of comparison, Gov. Pat McCrory’s salary is $142,265 and State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson’s is $125,676.
Commentary
Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

At some point, you’d think it would have to catch up with Senator Bob Rucho. The quick-tempered Charlotte lawmaker who once resigned (temporarily as it turned out) as chair of the Senate Finance Committee in a huff and who infamously tweeted in December 2013 “Justice Robert’s pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis,Soviets & terrorists combined,” has run into trouble again this week. This time, however, the controversy involves more than just his temper and his virtual mouth — it involves how he is performing his official duties. As Brian Sewell of Appalachian Voices explained in a post entitled “A Crass Abuse of Power in the N.C. Senate” the other day, the latest offense involved Rucho’s failure to abide by Senate rules in ramming through a bill the other day to wreak havoc in the state’s renewable energy industry.

Now, this morning Charlotte Observer editorial page editor Taylor Batten lays out the grisly details in a post entitled “Do rules not apply to Bob Rucho?”:

“We’ve watched for years as Bob Rucho’s thirst for power has grown insatiable. With each bit of authority he was given, the state senator and retired dentist from Matthews became increasingly brazen.

Now, even some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate have had enough.

Rucho declared a bill had passed in his Senate Finance Committee Wednesday even though a voice vote suggested it had failed. Rucho may have violated Senate rules by not allowing a show of hands instead of the voice vote despite a request for one from a committee member.

Two of Rucho’s fellow Republicans on the committee objected. Craig Jarvis of the News & Observer reports that Sen. Jerry Tillman, a seven-term Republican from Archdale, told Rucho, ‘It wasn’t even close’ after the voice vote. And Sen. John Alexander, R-Wake, also voted against the bill and was frustrated with Rucho’s heavy-handedness. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, called Rucho’s act ‘a crass abuse of power.’ Read More