Commentary

An editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer (“In NC a teacher shortage develops by design”) tells it like it is:

“One would have thought, when Republican lawmakers raised starting teacher pay in North Carolina to $35,000, that they’d marched into classrooms in North Carolina with sacks of gold and silver. Of course, that salary is hardly a king’s ransom, and teachers with more experience didn’t fare so well. The state remains in the bottom half of the country in teacher compensation.

Teachers also are skeptical of these GOP lawmakers, who have so cheated public education at all levels and undermined conventional public schools with a too-rapid expansion of charter schools and public “scholarships” for children in private schools.

So it should come as no surprise that enrollment in the 15 schools of education in the public university system has dropped – by 30 percent since 2010.

This forecasts a deepening teacher shortage in North Carolina, one that will impact tens of thousands of families.”

After refuting the notion that the decline is driven merely by the fact that young people are more interested in “making a lot of money as opposed to making a difference,” the editorial concludes this way:

“Republicans are going to reap what they sowed with their lackluster support of public education. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to reap it, too. When there are not enough teachers to get the job done, and classrooms are overloaded and children are being deprived, the political rhetoric from the GOP about lowering taxes on the wealthy and big business for the good of North Carolina isn’t going to pass muster with the people of North Carolina, who support more investment in public education.”

The bottom line: Would-be teachers have eyes and ears. They see and hear how low the morale is amongst a large percentage of current educators — not just because of low pay, but also because of the Right’s multi-front attack on the profession and public education generally. Plenty of people are willing to make sacrifices to become teachers, but understandably, fewer and fewer are willing to endure the constant attacks on the very idea of public education (e.g. the effort to eliminate their professional association, the derisive drumbeat of attacks on “government schools,” the deceptive snake oil “competition” provided by unaccountable voucher and charter schools, the efforts by the religious right to dismantle the teaching of actual science).

Sadly, despite the crocodile tears being shed in some corners, the new numbers are exactly what the ideologues on the right had in mind decades ago when they commenced their effort to dismantle and privatize our public schools. It’s going to take sustained commitment over the next couple of decades for caring and thinking people to roll back the tide.

News

Friday marks the 23rd anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act. The federal law signed by then-President Bill Clinton required covered employers provide their workers with job-protected, unpaid leave for qualified medical reasons.

Allan Freyer, director of the NC Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project, says while the 1993 law provided important protections for workers, improvements should be made.

According to Freyer,  Congress is currently debating the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (H.R. 1439/S. 786) that could provide workers with family medical leave insurance.  In exchange for a small premium of less than $5 a week, workers would receive a meaningful portion of their incomes for up to 12 weeks while they take time off to welcome a newborn or adopted child or provide care for family members suffering from serious health conditions.

Polling conducted in August by Public Policy Polling found 62 percent of North Carolinians surveyed support guaranteeing paid medical leave.

Click below to hear more from Freyer on the growing support for paid medical leave. To learn more about the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, click here.

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Commentary

Many people were surprised to see a story in the News & Observer today where Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin seems to be giving support to opponents of the Affordable Care Act. The article is about a letter that Goodwin sent to federal Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell about problems in the North Carolina insurance market.

To understand the letter context is important. Commissioner Goodwin previously raised concerns about implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act with Sec. Burwell at a national meeting and she asked that he put all of his worries about the insurance market into a letter. This is not Goodwin’s broad thoughts on health reform. Instead it’s addressing immediate problems he sees for the stability of insurance companies and agents.

Another critical bit of context is that many of the stumbling blocks cited in the letter are the result of North Carolina not fully implementing the Affordable Care Act. By not establishing a state exchange and by declining to expand Medicaid, Commissioner Goodwin is left helping to steer a half-built car. Not surprisingly, we are hitting bumps. It’s understandable that while he is getting jostled the Commissioner is focused on the potholes. Insurance companies are upset that they are getting some unhealthy customers. Insurance agents and brokers are upset that insurance companies are limiting commissions. Consumers, especially those who don’t qualify for subsidies, are upset about rising premiums. All sides are demanding action from Goodwin but the state outsourced his authority to Washington, DC. That’s why he wrote the feds.

Having said all that, his letter is still perplexing. Perhaps he felt an alarmist tone was warranted because he wanted to get Washington’s attention. He notes, for example, that fewer insurance companies are offering plans now than before implementation of the Affordable Care Act. True enough, but many of those insurance companies weren’t even actively selling plans and had nearly nonexistent enrollment numbers. Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC wrote almost all of the individual insurance policies before the ACA. Now BCBSNC has seen it’s market share diminish as other companies offer meaningful competition.

It’s also true that BCBSNC reported a financial loss last year as medical claims increased by $1.4 billion from the prior year. But revenue at the company also increased $1.6 billion. Losses in Medicare Advantage plans and taxes produced a net loss for the company. It was, by the way, the company’s first year in the red in more than a decade. By their own admission this wasn’t surprising given the market uncertainty right now. That’s why BCBSNC maintains a comfortable reserve. Not many industries can claim such a unbroken stretch of profitability.

Also, North Carolina is nearing 600,000 enrollees in Affordable Care Act plans and our uninsured rate is dropping.

In sum, this letter is not the Insurance Commissioner’s considered opinion of health reform; instead it is a cry from the Commissioner that the state took his steering wheel and he could use a little help righting the car.

News
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

One day after N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson responded to aggressive questioning by at least one Senate Republican about allegations of misusing funds, state education officials explained themselves in a letter to Senate President Phil Berger, Policy Watch has learned.

In the letter, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey and Atkinson stated that they used state funds budgeted for literacy programs exactly as they were ordered, extending increased literacy programs to approximately 487,000 students in the state.

WRAL reported Monday that Berger accused DPI leaders of agreeing during a “secret meeting” to use literacy funds to head off personnel losses ordered by legislators in 2012’s Excellent Public Schools Act.

The state’s official response included a summary of  $2.5 million in position cuts at DPI as a result of state budgeting.

Read More

Commentary

Dan ForestIf ever you find yourself in need of a moment of mirth in today’s stressed out news cycle and you’ve already checked out all the day’s headlines at The Onion, here’s a great #2 option: surf on over to the website of the “Faith Driven Consumer” and check out their latest LOL ratings of corporate America.

As we’ve reported on a few occasions previously (most recently last December), the group, which was co-founded by North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest, purports to assess businesses for their “commitment to full equality and inclusion of the Faith Driven Consumer market segment” (which basically translates to how closely the companies toe the values and political lines laid down by the religious right). One of the group’s previous Christmas shopping guides, for instance, downgraded the giant retailed Sears because it included lingerie models in its catalogs. The current “index” gives higher scores to companies that support an anti-choice position when it comes to reproductive freedom for women.

This week, in an effort to grab a few seconds of attention in the media circus surrounding the Super Bowl, the group issued a statement taking the National Football League to task for registering a “score” of only 24 out of 100 on the “faith equality index.” This is from the statement:

“The National Football League is significantly comprised of Christian players, coaches, and executives, and as such, many in our community assume the organization is welcoming of Faith Driven Consumers. But its score of 24 out of 100 says otherwise.”

As to how and why the grade was bestowed, Forest’s buddies aren’t (as has been the case ever since the days of the hysterical lingerie downgrade) providing many details. Read More