Commentary
Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the third installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse. You can read the previous installments by clicking here and here.] 

I started this series in April on the importance of engaging both the business community and the faith/religious community in promoting workers’ rights. I will alternate each month between the business community and faith community connection, and since I wrote my first business community piece last month, this month I introduce the faith perspective.

I write the faith perspective with a long history of leadership within the North Carolina Council of Churches, including serving as their President in 2011 and 2012. This strong and active organization within North Carolina includes 17 denominations and eight individual congregations that have over 6,200 congregations and about 1.5 million congregants.

The overall mission statement reads, “the Council enables denominations, congregations, and people of faith to individually and collectively impact our state on issues such as economic justice and development, human well-being, equality, compassion and peace, following the example and mission of Jesus Christ.

Wow!! Engaging people of faith to support fair treatment, compensation and benefits for all workers falls squarely in most of these individual elements. Let’s explore several of them one by one:

  • Economic Justice and Development. Even as we live in one of the richest nations of the world, the gap between the poor and wealthy continues to grow, and many people even with full time jobs struggle with living in poverty.
  • Human well-being. Typically those in the lower paying jobs struggle to barely survive, and often do not receive benefits higher wage earners commonly receive critical to human health and well-being. Lower wage earners often go without healthcare benefits, family leave to deal with illness, fair treatment during pregnancy and more.
  • Equality. It is only fair that all hard working people are compensated well enough to live and afford basic necessities.
  • Compassion. People of faith should always have a strong commitment to bettering the lives of all people, and true compassion means speaking out and advocating for those who are struggling to survive and may not have the time and energy to engage in this advocacy.

While the North Carolina Council of Churches is itself overtly Christian, many of the committees and task groups working on issues such as this (see for example the N.C. Families Care Coalition) are interfaith and include members from non-Christian faith communities as well as additional Christian denomination not a part of the Council. This underlines that promoting justice in our world is a strong common commitment across the universal faith and human community.

I now look forward to continuing this faith discussion in alternating months.

Commentary

Driver's edAccording to the folks who run North Carolina government, these are fabulous times in the Old North State. To hear Gov. McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Berger and House Speake Moore tell it, North Carolina’s economy is soaring and state government is humming along like a finely tuned machine. In other words, it pretty much doesn’t get any better than this.

All of which makes this story from this morning’s Greensboro News & Record all the more striking.

“Hitting the brakes

A few hours behind the wheel stands between 937 local teenagers and a driving eligibility certificate.

They could remain in that holding pattern for a month or more until it is clear how much state funding, if any, Guilford County Schools will get to cover its driver education program.

The state funding for the program expires Tuesday. Starting Wednesday, Guilford’s program is suspended until the General Assembly decides how much money, if any, to spend on the state-mandated program.”

The article goes on to detail how lawmakers continue to seriously consider all kinds of proposals to cut driver’s ed, move it out of K-12 education to community colleges or even eliminate it all together.

You got that? In a state of 10 million people with vast wealth, supposed good times and an obvious and growing need for safer streets and roads, the government of the state cannot even get its act together to maintain something so basic to the health and well-being off the community as a functioning, well-funded driver’s education program.

But, of course, this should come as no surprise. The same people letting the driver’s education program go to seed are the same ones who are bent on transforming the teaching profession itself into temporary, early career option and the public schools into no-frills education factories.

If this is government when times are “good,” one hates to think of what things will look like the next time the the economy turns sour again.

NC Budget and Tax Center

With one day left in the current 2015 fiscal year, state lawmakers reached a stop-gap spending deal today that would avoid a shutdown and keep state programs and services operating until August 14. The House approved the deal—known formally as a Continuing Resolution—tonight, with the Senate poised to follow suit tomorrow morning.  The deal is required because the state House and Senate leadership will not be able to iron out the differences between their respective budgets by time the new fiscal year begins on Wednesday, July 1.

State legislative leadership opted for a 45-day continuing resolution to fund state government. It would fund current programs and services at existing levels, with three major exceptions that are listed below.

  • Budget cuts to programs, services, and vacant positions would not receive funding under the temporary deal if the House and Senate included identical cuts (i.e. items that are not in controversy). Filled positions that are cut and not in controversy would receive a 30-day notice before termination. It is unclear how many positions would be cut under the temporary deal.
  • Public schools would receive additional money to cover the costs of student enrollment growth. There is no additional money for Teacher Assistants, driver’s education, or reduced classroom sizes—which are major points of contention between the House and Senate approved budgets. As such, local school districts are left waiting for a complete budget picture for the upcoming school year.
  • Beginning teachers would receive another boost in pay, to $35,000 from $33,000. But the deal freezes pay for the remaining teachers and all state employees. Raises will be negotiated upon going forward.

Read More

News

Colorado’s Supreme Court struck down school vouchers on Monday, finding that they violate the state’s constitution because they send public dollars to private, religious institutions.

“Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever . . . .”

“This stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear: A school district may not aid religious schools. Yet aiding religious schools is exactly what the CSP [school voucher program] does,” reads the court’s opinion, announced by Chief Justice Nance E. Rice.

Read the entire Colorado Supreme Court ruling here.

Colorado’s voucher program was only operational in the Douglas County school district, the state’s third largest—but Monday’s Supreme Court ruling has implications for school districts across Colorado, according to The Washington Post.

North Carolina’s own statewide school voucher program—known as the Opportunity Scholarship Program—is on pause pending a ruling from the state Supreme Court, which could come any day.

At issue? Whether or not the Opportunity Scholarship Program violates North Carolina’s constitution—which, similar to Colorado’s, says that taxpayer dollars should be “used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”

Click here for the latest on school vouchers in North Carolina.

News

In an order released today, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Berger v. ACLU holding that the state’s “Choose Life” license plate constituted unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, and sent the case back to the appeals court for a ruling consistent with the high court’s recent decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, Texas.

In Walker the state refused to allow plates displaying the confederate flag, finding them offensive to some residents. The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ultimately ruled in their favor, finding that since the specialty plate messages were a form of private speech, the state agency had engaged in unlawful viewpoint discrimination.

The challengers in North Carolina’s license plate case made a similar argument, agreeing that the specialty plates were private speech and contending that by offering a “Choose Life” plate but not a similar pro-choice one the state had likewise engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

U.S. District Judge James C. Fox agreed, ruling in December 2012 that the state’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate violated the First Amendment, and the Fourth Circuit later upheld that ruling.

But in June, the nation’s highest court ruled in Walker that specialty plates, like other state-issued license plates, conveyed government speech. Given that, states were free to pick and choose the message.

Now it will be left to the appeals court to decide whether to consider additional arguments from the parties in the “Choose Life” case, or simply enter an order consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Walker.

“As the Supreme Court made clear in Walker, the attempt to censor a message like North Carolina’s ‘Choose Life’ message is inconsistent with both the purpose of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s government speech precedents,” Scott Gaylor, lead counsel for the state in the case said in a statement.

But Chris Brook, the attorney for parties challenging the “Choose Life” plates, hoped that the state would reconsider whether it wanted to be viewed as suppressing varying viewpoints — court decisions aside.

At the time the plates were adopted by the state, they were intended to convey the message of Choose Life America, Inc., an organization whose mission is to promote the sale of “Choose Life” license plates throughout the country so that proceeds can be used to “encourage adoption as a positive choice for women with unplanned pregnancies.”

Drivers buying the “Choose Life” plate here would pay $25.00 per year– in addition to the regular registration fee — $15.00 of which would go to support the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship.

“This case has always been about more than specialty license plates; it asks whether the government should be allowed to provide a platform to one side of a controversial issue while silencing the other,” Brook said in an email. “The Court’s decision could allow states to censor private speech and discriminate against citizens who hold views that are different from the government’s. The General Assembly should do the right thing and allow citizens on both sides of the debate to purchase specialty plates supporting their views.”

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