Commentary

Bob Luddy 2You have to hand it to the massively oblivious Bob Luddy. One of the state’s leading hard right, fat cat political funders probably thought he was showing what a principled guy he is when he penned this letter promising Republican lawmakers a cutoff in campaign funds because he dislikes the House budget proposal.

What he did instead, of course, was to show how just how corrupt and out of control the state’s political system has gotten when a rich moneybags can, effectively,  publicly admit that he buys influence with his campaign money and then threaten to turn off the spigot because he doesn’t get his way. If ever there was a crystal clear demonstration of how the Citizens United decision and the recent toxic expansion in pay-to-pay politics that it has spawned needs to be reversed this was it.

News

The nation’s top teachers say family stress and poverty are their students’ biggest hurdles when it comes to learning in the classroom, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Jennifer Dorman, Maine’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, told The Washington Post that helping her students cope with these outside-of-the-classroom barriers to academic success is the most important part of her job.

“But on a national level, those problems are not being recognized as the primary obstacles,” said Dorman.

Scholastic, Inc. partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers to survey the 2015 state Teachers of the Year. All but ten of the 56 TOYs responded.

Other barriers to student success? Learning and psychological problems, English language challenges, substance abuse, bullying and inadequate nutrition, in that order, were other problems ranked by teachers.

Another finding from the survey, highlighted by WaPo’s Lyndsey Layton, was teachers’ dissatisfaction with analyzing data.

The unpopularity of data is surprising in an era when schools and teachers are urged to adopt data-driven instruction.

Mark Mautone, New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year, relies heavily on data to fine-tune his work with autistic students at an elementary school in Hoboken.

“At the same time, there are other things that do drive instruction — poverty, family stress, all those multiple measures that could affect the outcome,” Mautone said. “Data is important, but if a kid doesn’t have clothes to wear or a pencil to do their homework, the main concern becomes the well-being of the child.”

Read the survey here.

Commentary

In 2013 the North Carolina General Assembly rejected new federal funds to expand health insurance coverage in the state, but that hasn’t stopped local governments from urging the Governor and legislators to change course.

Counties such as Mecklenburg and Durham have passed Medicaid expansion resolutions as have cities like Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Even Sen. Phil Berger’s hometown of Eden officially went on record endorsing expansion. The Rockingham County towns of Reidsville and Madison have since joined Eden.

This month three more counties — Nash, Edgecombe, and Chatham — joined the chorus.

As retired cardiologist Jim Foster pointed out to the Chatham Commissioners there are tremendous economic benefits to accepting more federal Medicaid dollars. From news coverage of the resolution:

“Anytime money flows into the economy, it ripples through and multiplies,” Foster said.

He pointed to a George Washington University study that broke down the costs and revenues from expanding Medicaid.

The study broke figures down for the state and for its 100 counties.

In Chatham, for example, the study stated that not expanding Medicaid cost 136 jobs and $6 million in gross product.e study Dr. Foster mentions can be found here.

Approval of the Nash County resolution was unanimous and Commissioners added a call for simultaneous reforms to Medicaid. This makes sense. In fact, nearly every expansion state is also reforming the program at the same time.

There is no reason North Carolina’s leaders can’t learn to walk and chew gum like most other states in the country.

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

As an exercise in reflecting the state’s priorities, the House budget falls short. North Carolinians know that ensuring our children’s education is of the highest quality, that our communities can thrive and that our public services—from courts to transportation to environmental inspections—are effective and efficient means committing to fund those things together.

The House budget, like the Governor’s budget before it, assumes that the state can’t afford to invest. But our current availability is limited by policymakers’ own tax choices that reduce resources that support the foundations of an economy that will work for everyone. Policymakers already allowed a second round of tax cuts for profitable corporations and wealthy taxpayers go into effect in January and will cut taxes again for profitable corporations because revenue collections exceeded expectations and met the trigger for further tax cuts. Because the trigger threshold was set arbitrarily low, however, meeting the trigger does not reflect the realities of needs in our communities.

This choice—to hold back the state from reinvesting by prioritizing tax cuts over building a stronger economy—means that there is a lot missing from the House budget. In light of the historic decline in revenues resulting from the recession and its aftermath, policymakers have effectively curbed the state’s ability to reinvest due to tax cuts. The result is missing investments that can mean the difference for children, families, businesses and communities in doing well in our state and the missed opportunity to grow our economy stronger and more competitive.

Here are five missing investments that the Budget & Tax Center has identified: Read More

News

FrackingA Wake County Superior Court judge effectively halted fracking in the state for the time being when he stayed proceedings in a constitutional challenge to the state’s Mining and Energy Commission brought by a local conservation group and landowner.

The stay continues while the appeal of a separate case challenging commission appointment powers — McCrory v. Berger — is pending, during which time the MEC is enjoined from accepting or processing permit applications for drilling units and from creating any drilling units.

The order today comes in a lawsuit in which plaintiffs allege that the composition of the MEC violates the separation of powers provision of the state Constitution because a majority of the commission’s members are political appointees by the legislature, and that the fracking rules, created by an unconstitutional commission, are therefore null and void.

Those allegations are similar to what’s been asserted in the McCrory v. Berger case, in which Gov. Pat McCrory and former Governors Hunt and Martin are challenging legislative appointments to the Coal Ash Commission, Oil and Gas Commission, and the MEC as violations of the separation of powers provisions of the State Constitution.

The governors’ case is set for argument before the state Supreme Court on June 30.

“Today’s decision stopped any immediate harm to North Carolina residents from a commission formed by the state legislature in violation of the separation of powers firmly established in our state constitution pending further court deliberations,” John Suttles, the senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the plaintiffs said in a statement.

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