Commentary, News

If you weren’t able to attend NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation with the Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina, that full program is now available online.

This week’s event featured watchdog Bob Hall discussing the large and potentially illegal campaign contributions from individuals affiliated with the controversial “sweepstakes” industry to some of North Carolina’s top elected officials.

Please watch and then share this special presentation as Hall discusses his findings, what Democracy NC is asking prosecutors to do, and the overall state of political corruption in North Carolina politics today.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers would like to amend North Carolina’s state constitution in ways that would undermine our ability to adequately meet the needs of a growing and changing state and impede our ability to build today for a strong economy for the future. These amendments would reduce annual state revenue by nearly $2 billion if implemented in 2015, meaning state funding cuts to important public investments that drive the state forward – our public schools, affordable higher education, safe and healthy communities, and modern infrastructure.

Colorado, which enacted TABOR in 1992, serves as a cautionary tale regarding the perils of taking such a path. The state suspended the law for five years in 2005 in response to a sharp decline in public services. As a result of TABOR, Colorado went from the middle of the pack to the bottom among states in regards to state support for public education and initiatives that serve children. Regarding Colorado, an updated 2015 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights:

  • Colorado fell from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
  • College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th in the nation to 48th.
  • Colorado fell to near the bottom of national rankings in providing children with full, on-time vaccinations.
  • The share of low-income children in the state who lacked health insurance doubled, making Colorado the worst in the nation by this measure

North Carolina has ALREADY experienced erosion in state support for public schools, higher education and early childhood programs in recent years and currently ranks near the bottom among states in many areas. The implementation of these constitutional amendments would all but guarantee a last place finish in every race, every year.

  • North Carolina already ranks 43rd in average pay for our teachers.
  • North Carolina had the largest decline among states in average teacher salaries from 2003-04 to 2013-14.
  • North Carolina ranks 41st in change in state spending per student at 4-yr public universities since 2008

TABOR would make sure that we are unable to boost investments in early childhood initiatives, public schools, and public colleges and universities at a time when doing so is important to North Carolina becoming a more competitive and attractive state.

Contrary to the saying that if you’re at the bottom the only way to go is up, if TABOR comes to North Carolina, the only fate for the Tar Heel State is a permanent place at the bottom in regards to our commitment to public education.

News

The Public School Forum of NC announced Wednesday it’s forming a new study group — and, possibly, a new center — to seek solutions to racial inequities and unfair funding formulas found in North Carolina’s schools.

Using the following question as the foundation for its work, “what would it take to provide every child in North Carolina with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education?” the group, comprising educators, government officials, business leaders and subject area experts, will develop policies and best practices to this end.

“There has been much more of an emphasis and a growing body of research on many things that have been affecting academic achievement, and one of the big ones is racial segregation and its impact on our schools today,” said the Public School Forum’s executive director, Keith Poston.

Poston said recent conversations and news stories around some of North Carolina’s school systems resegregating more than forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s integration orders prompted conversations at the Public School Forum focused on where schools are headed in terms of racial equity.

We were feeling that this is something that’s becoming a huge issue,” said Poston.

The study group will be helmed by former history teacher and NC Teacher of the Year James E. Ford, a recent hire of the Public School Forum who is now serving as its program director. Co-heading the study group will be the Forum’s Senior Director of Policy & Programs, Joe Ableidinger.

Members of the study group will hone in on the following three topic areas (listed below), with the hope of producing a report next spring that will provide the basis for the work of the proposed North Carolina Center for Educational Opportunity, housed within the Forum (contingent on funding):

  • Racial Equity – What obstacles stand in the way of ensuring that North Carolina children of all races have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education? How can these obstacles be overcome?
  • Trauma and Learning –What policies and practices can improve educators’ understanding of and responses to the impacts of traumatic childhood experiences on learning, such that even our most vulnerable children have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education?
  • School Funding – What school financing alternatives exist to efficiently target educational dollars where they are needed most? Are there alternatives to our current school finance system that may help boost long-term outcomes of all students, particularly those who are currently not well-served?

Focusing on ways to prepare teachers whose students are dealing with trauma is an especially important subject area, said Poston, as students in poverty (and the majority of NC students are poor) often have out-of-classroom experiences that provoke feelings of post-traumatic stress, leaving them unable to focus in school.

The Public School Forum has produced numerous reports looking at teacher recruitment and retention, digital learning, accountability and assessments, and other subject areas.

Back in 2005, the Forum addressed the issue of school finance and how best to respond to the Leandro ruling mandating that all children have the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

News

*This post has been updated to reflect comments from Senate budget writer Harry Brown indicating that all state employees AND teachers will receive $750 bonuses during the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The News & Observer is reporting that House and Senate leaders have reached an agreement on how much to pay teachers and state employees for this fiscal year, nearly two months after their June 30 deadline for making these decisions.

All state employees, including teachers, will receive $750 bonuses toward the end of 2015, said Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow). That amounts to $62.50 per month, before taxes.

Making good on last year’s promise, beginning teachers will also see their base pay rise to $35,000 per year, up from $33,000 that was enacted last year.

Experienced teachers will also receive step increases, presumably as laid out in the state’s streamlined salary schedule, which lawmakers enacted last year—although budget documents detailing the step increases were not made available Wednesday. (See here for the 2014-15 salary schedule.)

It’s unclear whether teachers who are scheduled for step increases as well as beginning teachers will be paid retroactively beginning with the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Tim Moore said their priority will be to focus on “shoring up funds so we can give meaningful raises” next year, according to the N&O.

For a teacher with 15 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree, receiving a step increase will mean jumping up from a base salary of $40,000 to $43,500 (excluding local supplements). Step increases for teachers are scheduled every five years, stopping at year 25 and capping base salary at $50,000.

WRAL reports that budget negotiators are still discussing how much of a pay increase to give state retirees. And there’s no resolution yet about teacher assistants—the Senate wants to slash 8,500+ TA jobs in exchange for reducing classroom size, while the House wants to preserve those positions.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced Wednesday that the General Assembly will pass a third continuing resolution tomorrow. The measure, which will keep state government operations running as lawmakers finalize a budget, will run through September 18—although they hope to reach a final agreement sooner, at which time the above mentioned raises & bonuses will be set in law.

Commentary

Health numbersThe legislative debate over Medicaid reform over the last two weeks once again revealed the Senate’s misplaced priorities – profits over people. The health of North Carolinians was not only compromised by pushing reform that employs commercial insurers and dismantling Community Care North Carolina (CCNC), but also by failing to expanding Medicaid to the half million people in the Coverage Gap. It is surprising that for a governing body that focuses most of its efforts on profits, the Senate fails to recognize the economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.

Unfortunately, many conservative policymakers agree with Sen. Harry Brown when he stated, “Every state that has expanded Medicaid has created a financial problem in their state budgets” during the expansion debate. Black and white statements like his fail to present the complete and complex picture of each state’s expansion experience. To present a more accurate picture, the Health Access Coalition created a chart outlining the successes and challenges for each of the 30 states and DC that has expanded Medicaid. The chart also provides information on whether the state used a waiver to expand Medicaid. Waivers allow states to tailor Medicaid expansion to meet specific state needs and even include Medicaid reform.

After reviewing this chart, it becomes clear that the biggest challenge states have experienced is providing health coverage to more people than expected – being able to reduce a state’s uninsured rate to 5 percent should be noted as a success! Further, “over-enrollment” proves that need for health care is great and that the long term benefits will be even greater. However, expansion is complex and along with increased enrollment comes budget concerns for the years when the federal match for expansion lowers from 100 percent to 90 percent starting in 2020. Even though states have to reassess their budgets and establish tools to cover Medicaid costs such as hospital assessments, there are several states that have experienced an economic boost. For example, Arkansas reports a combined savings of $120 million between fiscal years 2014 and 2015 due to expansion. Arizona has also gained of over $30 million in new revenue. Colorado has created 20,000 jobs since Medicaid expansion. One county in Illinois has seen a decrease of $158 million in costs associated with providing care to people without health coverage. Other states like New Hampshire are seeing reduced use of emergency rooms as health services are finally being provided to individual that face many barriers to health care for health concerns such as substance use and mental health.

Unlike Sen. Brown’s sales tax distribution plan, Medicaid expansion will have economic benefits for all 100 counties in North Carolina. Sen. Brown’s district, District 6, includes Jones and Onlsow counties. Failing to expand Medicaid by 2016 will cost Jones County $8.4 million less in business activity, $5.6 million less growth to the county’s economy, and $155.8 thousand less in tax revenue between 2016 and 2020. In Onlsow County, there will be $53 million less to the county’s economy, $77.3 million less in county business activity, and $292.9 thousand less in county tax revenue between 2016 and 2020 without expanding Medicaid. The most important benefit to these counties is that over 5,000 people will gain access to health care, but just in case North Carolina’s health benefits aren’t convincing, expansion will allow for $21 billion in federal funds to enter North Carolina.