North Carolina lawmakers ponder later start times for middle and high school students

school_booksLater start times for middle and high school students may improve grades, truancy and attendance, particularly for low-income students, a pair of UNC researchers told members of a key North Carolina legislative panel Tuesday.

Tuesday’s presentation to the House Select Committee on Education Strategy & Practices factored in a growing library of evidence nationally that shifting school start times later in the morning may be a boon to many students.

It’s not simply laziness, researchers told lawmakers, because children often see a shift in sleep cycle as they approach puberty.

“It’s hard for them to go to bed early and it’s hard for them to get up early,” said Kevin Bastian, a UNC-Chapel Hill public policy researcher.

Bastian presented his data Tuesday with Sarah Fuller, a UNC-Chapel Hill assistant professor, pointing to “robust” evidence that the time shift can improve grades while simultaneously reducing absenteeism and tardiness among low-income children, a group of students that tends to struggle more than their wealthier peers.

“That’s a pretty compelling story,” said Fuller.

Tuesday’s report echoed a 2014 recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that middle and high schools commence no earlier than 8:30 a.m., despite the fact that scores of districts, including many in North Carolina, opt for earlier start times.

The proposal earned a somewhat chilly reception from legislators Tuesday. At the very least, lawmakers indicated they would require more research before acting to change practices in North Carolina.

“It’s a lot of food for thought,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican from Union County. “But I’m going to be pretty hard to convince. We’re going to try to respond to a lot of social issues by going at earlier start times. I think we should be working on the issues themselves.”

Decisions about school start times are left to local school districts in North Carolina. Thus, school districts vary on their approach. Bastian pointed out urban districts, such as Wake County Public School System and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, commence around 7:30 a.m., while others, such as schools in Forsyth County, choose start times around 8:30 a.m. or later.

Still, Horn said he believes local governments, not the federal or state government, should be making decisions about school start times.

The implications for students are more muddled when it comes to end of grade testing. Fuller and Bastian said their data seemed to indicate no significant impacts on most end of grade tests, although there were modest improvements for some math courses and even some decline in biology scores.

ACT testing was also a mixed bag, reflecting small improvements in science courses, although, once again, low-income students seemed to benefit more, researchers said.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

Why mass deportation would cause a $10.6 billion loss for NC industries (graph)

In case you missed it, the Budget and Tax Center is out with a powerful new installment in its Prosperity Watch series — this one on the massive beneficial impact of immigrants to the North Carolina economy and what it would mean if we embarked upon the kind of mass deportation policies advanced by some political candidates. This is from the “Mass deportation would mean $10.6 billion loss for NC industries”:

Immigrants are an important element—as workers, consumers, and business entrepreneurs—in building a thriving state economy.  Current rhetoric on mass deportation as a policy to address our broken immigration system overlooks immigrants’ contributions to state and local economies, and, additionally, the impact that an absence of workers would have on major industries.

A new report measuring the economic consequences of a mass deportation policy reveals a $236 billion reduction in total GDP and a cost of nearly $900 billion in lost revenue over 10 years for the federal government. Nationally, the industries that would be hit the hardest by the absence of an undocumented immigrant workforce would be agriculture, construction and leisure and hospitality. Estimates indicate that these industries would experience a workforce reduction of 10 to 18 percent or more.

For North Carolina, such a policy would result in a more than $10.6 billion loss for local industries. Manufacturing would experience the largest cut with a loss of approximately $2.4 billion in annual GDP. Construction ($2 billion) and Leisure and Hospitality ($1.3 billion) would experience the second and third highest losses in annual GDP if mass deportation were to occur. Our state simply cannot afford such a hit to industries still recovering from the effects of the recession.


These estimates do not account for additional setbacks in the form of reduced state and local tax revenue. Removing undocumented immigrant taxpayers would prevent our state from investing in education and work opportunities.

Instead, policymakers should seize the opportunity of growing our economy by lowering the barriers to immigrants’ full economic participation. This can be done through different policy choices, such as action in Congress that would enable a legalization program and eventual pathway to citizenship for the 338,000 undocumented immigrants currently living in NC. States can also improve economic opportunities for immigrants by promoting proven integration policies for immigrant families including: in-state tuition, access to professional licensing/credentialing, English language training, and transportation and access to jobs.

Commentary, News

Small bit of hurricane good news: 2007 law facilitates easier prescription drug refills for those impacted

As almost everyone is aware by now, Hurricane Matthew has triggered disastrous flooding throughout much of North Carolina. With the waters not expected to completely recede until at least October 26 and with an estimated $1.5 billion in damages to homes, businesses, and infrastructure, many counties are facing a long road to recovery. Further, there are numerous public health concerns arising in the wake of the storm.

One short term concern for many North Carolinians involves their being unable to obtain needed prescriptions that may have been destroyed and for which their records may now be lost or ruined. Happily, in 2007, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law (G.S. 58-3-228) that addresses this issue. It makes clear that there is a procedure to waive time and other restrictions on filling or refilling prescriptions for state residents who reside in regions that are under a state of emergency due to a disaster.

Under the law, covered persons or subscribers are able to:

  • Obtain one refill on a prescription if there are authorized refills remaining, and
  • Fill one replacement prescription for one that was recently filled, as prescribed or approved by the prescriber.

Who’s Covered?  This law applies to all North Carolinians as Governor Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency in all 100 counties on October 6, 2016. The state Commissioner of Insurance, Wayne Goodwin, issued a bulletin on October 7, 2016 to remind insurers of their obligation to provide these extra prescriptions. This law will be in effect until November 5, 2016 or 29 days after the NCDOI bulletin was released. Contact your provider for more information.


John McCain: Republicans will block any Clinton Supreme Court nominee

Just when you thought the gridlock in Washington couldn’t get any worse, a supposedly moderate “maverick” has indicated it will. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress reports:

“Almost immediately after news of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death broke, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proclaimed that ‘this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.’ And, with rare exception, this has been the Senate GOP’s message since Scalia’s seat became vacant?—?let the election happen first, and whoever wins that election gets to pick the next justice.

Nevertheless, in a Monday interview with a Philadelphia radio host, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) admitted that Republicans will continue to block anyone the next president nominates to the Supreme Court?—?at least if that president is Hillary Clinton….

After host Dom Giordano pressed McCain on how he can promise that Republicans will block Clinton’s appointees when they did not block President Obama’s appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, McCain noted that a handful of Republicans did support Sotomayor. This time around, however, he says things will be different.

‘I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,’ McCain told Giordano. He added that ‘this is why we need the majority.'”

As Millhiser explains persuasively (click here to read his entire analysis), McCain’s utterly irresponsible statement is “nothing less than an existential threat to the Supreme Court itself,” since, it’s conceivable such a stance could end up whittling the membership of the Court significantly, given the number of elderly members.

Several hours after McCain made his statement, a spokesperson tried to walk it back — at least a little — by saying the senator would review each nominee individually. Let’s hope the pressure of his current re-election campaign got the better of the senator in the moment of his radio interview. Given the state of conservative obstructionism in the current environment, however, just about anything seems possible.

News, transit

How lawmakers undermined Durham’s plan to get people out of their cars


The next time you’re stuck in traffic on I-40 between Raleigh and Durham, you can blame, at least in part, the state legislature. (If you’re driving alone in a car, you also have to blame yourself.)

Even 16 years ago, Durham County government could read the tea leaves that forecast a traffic daymare on the main drag between the two major cities. So the county commissioners adopted a Commute Trip Reduction Ordinance, in hopes of reducing car traffic and its attendant pollution on I-40, NC 54 and US 15-501.

With the backing of the Chamber of Commerce, the ordinance required major employers, defined as those with 100 or more workers, to promote alternatives to solo driving, such as carpooling, mass transit, cycling and telecommuting. Companies paid an annual $200 fee for GoTriangle to run the program and they had to complete a yearly report — nothing too onerous. Compliance was about as tough as studying for an open-book test.

Sure, employers could have been fined up to $1,000 for failing to comply with the ordinance, but according to Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, Durham County never penalized anyone.

By 2010, the ordinance had been declared a major success. The program had enrolled 60 employers, such as Duke University and Self-Help Credit Union. Together, all of the companies represented 73,000 employees. Durham County had reduced the number of solo drivers to 77 percent in 2010 from 87 percent in 2005. The program had achieved its goals, so Durham Commissioners re-upped it for another 10 years.

And then, the legislature essentially stole the horsepower from Durham’s ordinance. In 2013, the conservative majority passed an expansive House Bill 74, ostensibly to remove “unnecessary regulations.” In fact, the measure hamstrung local governments from passing certain laws. One of them singled out Durham: Section 10.1 (b) prohibited local governments from requiring employers to be responsible for “the mitigation of the impact” of their employees’ commute.

The program could be voluntary, which in horsepower terms, is like a Fiat racing a Ferrari. But local governments couldn’t threaten any company with a fine, however anemic, or any “negative consequences.” Like air pollution. And high blood pressure. And time wasted behind the wheel.

In 2015, the now-voluntary survey participation decreased from 82 employers to 16, although GoTriangle says nearly the same number of employees participated as in prior years, because of company mergers and other economic factors.

But 51,400 workers still commute from Wake County to Durham County each day. About 20,000 travel from Durham to Wake. Even as regional ridership has increased by more than 250 percent since 1996, this summer Triangle Transit had to adjust its Durham to Raleigh timetables to leave more time for interstate traffic.

While we’re on the topic of transit, tomorrow the NC Justice Center hosts a Crucial Conversation about the Wake County transit referendum, which would add a half-penny to the sale tax to fund public transportation.(Register here. Bonus points for walking, biking or taking the bus — not driving — to 711 Hillsborough Street.