K12May9As regular visitors to N.C. Policy Watch are well-aware, the phenomenon of so-called “virtual charter schools” is an issue of great controversy these days. Proponents say they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread , but as several stories here (especially about the troubled for-profit virtual charter  company K-12, Inc.) have documented, the bread often gets sliced pretty thin by these outfits. Not all virtual charter companies are dishonest scammers, but enough are to render the entire concept highly questionable.

A Sunday editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal does a good job of reiterating this hard truth:

“Some legislators want North Carolina to jump into business with for-profit companies that would run the online charters. But this is a decision that should not be made rashly. The [state Board of Education's] preference of a go-slow approach makes much more sense….

Virtual charters raise a great many questions about their effectiveness, their impact on traditional public schools and other charters, their availability to students of all economic backgrounds and their quality.

Many educators fear that virtual charters are a scam, nothing more than a way for a for-profit business to siphon off some of the tax money being spent on public education….

The cautious approach that allows the state to learn how virtual charters work best is the right way to go.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

 

 

imageA popular theme on the Right is that having Medicaid health coverage is worse than having no health insurance at all.  After all the years I’ve spent traveling North Carolina and meeting people in poverty desperate for basic health care but with no way to pay for coverage I still can’t believe people can make this argument with a straight face.  Well, if you read one thing this weekend, read the incredibly moving story of the hardworking mom in Orlando, Florida who would have qualified for Medicaid but hasn’t because Florida, like NC, has refused to expand Medicaid.  She dropped dead – on a sales call for her vacuum cleaner sales job no less – of an existing heart condition she couldn’t adequately treat because she couldn’t adequately pay for coverage.

The last weekend before Tax Day is here and in the last minute rush to get your returns in, it can be helpful to reflect on why taxes matter.  Taxes are as some have said “the price we pay for civilized society” and more simply the way in which we invest together in building a stronger state through the creation of opportunity and establishment of a basic quality of life for all North Carolinians.

In the aftermath of the disastrous tax plan that passed last year, just how taxes play a role in our everyday lives has become clearer.  Taxes make it possible for our children to have a quality classroom experience, taxes fund monitoring and inspection that protect the quality of our water, taxes build the infrastructure that connect workers to jobs and support business in job creation.  And yet, the tax plan has created a self-imposed budget crisis that will undermine our ability to invest in these foundations of a strong economy.

Beyond that fundamental role of funding core public services, who pays under the tax code matters too.  And the tax plan passed last year makes an already upside down even worse: low- and middle-income taxpayers pay more as a share of their income than wealthy taxpayers.  This not only hurts families who are trying to make ends meet on falling or stagnating wages, it compromises the long term ability of the tax system to fund public services since it taxes where the income growth is not occurring, which creates a gap as needs increases but revenue can’t keep up. Read More

Photo credit: Think Progress

Photo credit: www.thinkprogress.org

As Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska has been reporting regularly of late, obtaining Food Stamps and the failure of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services to process applications in a timely manner remain big problems for lots of needy people.

One way to solve this problem, of course, would be for the McCrory/Wos administration to start doing its job and get claims processed properly. Another solution, however, that might have an even greater and more beneficial impact would be to raise incomes of people currently reduced to relying on Food Stamps — people like the workers at Wal-Mart.

Click here to read an amazing story and watch a compelling two-minute video about how the giant retailer (and the place where more Food Stamps are spent than anywhere else) could lift thousands of people out of poverty and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year just by paying workers a decent wage. And the impact on Wal-Mart prices of such a shift? Just over 1%!

Michelle Ford hasn’t received food stamp allotments since December, and the Greensboro mother says she’s out of options in trying to feed herself and her three children.

“We don’t have anything to eat,” Ford said. “This the way it’s been for the last two months, it seems like it’s just getting worse and worse.”

Ford usually receives $692 in food stamps a month to keep her family fed, but her January benefits never appeared. She said she’s neglected paying her light bill, car payment and other bills in order to keep her family fed.

“It’s been horrible,” she said, her voice clenched with tears. Her 18-year-old daughter stays with friends in order to get meals at night and was fired from a job at a McDonald’s stemming over a dispute about food she was taking to share with her family.

Ford’s problems come despite the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services declaring it has “reasonably achieved” an April 1 deadline set by federal officials to resolve a backlog of federally-funded food stamps cases statewide that had been in the tens of thousands for needy families.

A backlog of food stamps cases persisted for most of 2013 in the state when DHHS fully implemented a complicated benefits delivery system called N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services Through Technology). County-level workers struggled to get the system to work, and cases piled up with some going weeks or months without needed food assistance. ncfast

In Guilford County, where Ford lives, the state discovered in the week before the April 1 deadline that workers had been keeping as many as 8,1000 recertification cases in a separate system then the N.C. FAST benefits delivery system. The head of the county’s social services director resigned shortly after the backlog became public.

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