Commentary, Education

Scathing editorial blasts Phil Berger’s attempted evasion of responsibility for public schools

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on entitled “Supporting public schools isn’t done by driving kids away,” which takes state Senate leader Phil Berger to task for recent irresponsible statements about North Carolina’s public schools.

Berger, who’s gone all in with the Trump line of late by urging schools to reopen as if the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t exist, recently cited the fact that some private schools are opening and then touted the state’s controversial school voucher program as the path that parents should pursue.

This is from the editorial:

State Senate leader Phil Berger probably thinks he’s talking a good game about school spending. But he’s not fooling anyone. He sounds like he wants to give up on public education and send kids to private schools or privately-run schools – and use taxpayer dollars to do it.

“Private Schools Are Open. Here’s How to Apply for an Opportunity Scholarship,” he proclaimed. “The public school establishment is failing the very children it is supposed to serve.”

What? Phil Berger IS the “public school establishment.” He as much as anyone in North Carolina’s government leadership – including Gov. Roy Cooper or Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson or House Speaker Tim Moore – is responsible to the degree that our public schools deliver on their mission or don’t. And we don’t understand why Berger seems to demand a one-size fits all solution over the flexibility Cooper’s plan offers local districts.

The editorial then goes on to detail both the lack of accountability in voucher schools and the fact that the state has failed to adequately support public schools — two phenomena for which Berger bears great responsibility after having served as one of the state’s most powerful political leaders for more than a decade. Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

While Berger’s quick to send students and money away from the school’s he’s obligated to support, he refuses to acknowledge and adopt a thoughtful and comprehensive roadmap to improve public schools developed by the plaintiffs and defendants in the landmark Leandro case.

Want to know what is needed for a quality education? Just read the Leandro Report. The action plan filed with Superior Court Judge David Lee is a clear path to a “sound basic education” for every child. That statement, “a sound basic education for all” isn’t a platitude. It is a guarantee – too long unmet — in North Carolina’s Constitution.

It has been clear since March that the COVID-19 virus would have an immense impact on every aspect of life in the state. Yet legislative leaders have squandered more time and effort on opportunities for unproductive partisan extracurriculars rather than working to develop coordinated and effective approaches to educating children and working to keep them – and their classroom teachers – safe.

If Berger wants to provide leadership for quality public education, as our state constitution requires, he needs to be the loudest voice for adoption of the Leandro road map.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

COVID-19, Governor Roy Cooper, News

As COVID numbers show signs of stabilizing, North Carolina rolls out statewide curfew on alcohol sales

Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen offered a glimmer of good news on Tuesday:

Key metrics used to measure North Carolina’s trajectory of COVID-19 cases are showing signs of leveling.

“These early signs are a testament to hard work folks have been doing across the state. They show what is possible when we all work together,” said Cohen.

With the state performing an average of 29,000 tests a day, roughly eight percent of the cases have been positive over the last 14 days. Today there were 1,749 new cases of the virus.

The number of hospitalizations is up, but the state still has capacity.

And as for those masks that we’re growing accustomed to wearing?

Dr. Cohen believes they are making a difference.

“We see a direct correlation to the start of the statewide mask requirement at the end of June. Two to three weeks after implementing this requirement, we started to see the beginning of these more stable trends.”

To that end, Governor Roy Cooper issued a new executive order Tuesday to limit the sale of alcohol at restaurants after 11:00pm.

The statewide order that goes into effect on Friday will curtail the sale of alcoholic drinks in restaurants, breweries, wineries, and distilleries. For now, bars remained closed under a previous executive order.

The order will not apply to grocery stores or convenience stores where alcohol is sold for off-premises consumption.

“We want to prevent restaurants from turning into bars after hours. We are hopeful this new rule can drive down cases, particularly among young people,” explained Cooper.

The governor said he felt the new order was especially important with college students returning to North Carolina from across the country over the next two weeks.

Click here to read Executive Order 153 restricting the late night service of alcoholic beverages.

Secretary Cohen believes as cases tick upward in other states, the key to keeping cases from exploding here is to continue the three Ws: Wearing a face mask, waiting six-feet apart when in public, and washing your hands frequently.

“Seeing glimmers of potential progress, does not mean we can let up. It means it is time to double down. Adding 2,000 new cases per day is still a lot of new cases.”

Commentary, COVID-19, News

New Yale study debunks GOP claim that enhanced unemployment benefits discourage work

As you’ve probably heard by now, among the arguments being advanced by Republicans in Washington as they work to reduce the amount of money the federal government is providing to jobless workers in the form of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, is that the $600 weekly benefit that many workers have received is a disincentive to their returning to work.

Earlier this month, NBC News reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to the enhanced unemployment payments as creating a situation in which we “pay people a bonus not to go back to work.” McConnell went on to state that “we’re hearing it all over the country that it’s made it harder actually to get people back to work.”

In the weeks since, multiple analysts have debunked McConnell’s claim by noting that there simply aren’t enough jobs for people to go back to in the current environment. This from a July 15 CNBC report entitled “Here’s why economists say arguments against extending unemployment benefits don’t hold up”:

“It’s not that people don’t want to return to work because they are receiving more money to sit back and do nothing. Rather, jobs just aren’t available yet, Beth Akers, a former staff economist on Council of Economic Advisors under former President George W. Bush, told CNBC.”

But don’t just take Akers’s word for it. If you still harbor any doubts about the matter, check out a new report from Yale University researchers. This is fromYale News story published yesterday entitled “Yale study finds expanded jobless benefits did not reduce employment”:

A new report by Yale economists finds no evidence that the enhanced jobless benefits Congress authorized in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic reduced employment.

The report (PDF) addresses concerns that the more generous unemployment benefits, which provide $600 per week above state unemployment insurance payments, would disincentivize work.

The researchers assessed this claim using weekly data from Homebase, a company that provides scheduling and timesheet software to small businesses throughout the United States. The findings suggest that, in the aggregate, the expanded benefits neither encouraged layoffs during the pandemic’s onset nor deterred people from returning to work once businesses began reopening.

The enhanced unemployment benefits were initiated under the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package enacted on March 27 that attempted to ease the pandemic’s severe economic consequences. The expanded benefits, which are set to expire July 31, provide a $600 weekly payment in addition to any state unemployment insurance. The supplemental payment was designed to cover 100% of the average U.S. wage when combined with existing unemployment benefits. The generosity of an individual’s unemployment benefits depends on several factors, including their earnings history and their state’s schedule of benefits.

The report found that workers receiving larger increases in unemployment benefits experienced very similar gains in employment by early May relative to workers with less-generous benefit increases. People with more generously expanded benefits also resumed working at a similar or slightly quicker rate than others did, according to the report.

The data do not show a relationship between benefit generosity and employment paths after the CARES Act, which could be due to the collapse of labor demand during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Joseph Altonji, the Thomas DeWitt Cuyler Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and a co-author of the report.

Click here to read the rest of the article and here to read the report itself. One can only hope Mitch McConnell will do so.

COVID-19, Housing, News, Policing, public health, race, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Experts: “There has to be a shift in how society functions” in wake of pandemic recovery, racial justice movements

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the U.S. economy — shuttering businesses, eliminating jobs and disrupting everything from education to the nation’s food supply chain. But it has been most devastating to Black Americans, who already face a host of historical economic and social disparities that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement even as the country continues to struggle with the worsening pandemic.

On Tuesday a panel of experts gathered by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, its Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and the Institute of African American Research held a virtual discussion of the problems disproportionately facing Black people in the current environment — and possible solutions.

“Talk about us living in a very, very unique time,” said Majestic Lane, deputy chief of staff and chief equity officer for the city of Pittsburgh. “We’re living in essentially 1928, 1918 and 1968 all in the same year, which has never quite happened. How we respond to it is really important. For us, in looking at what’s happening in our community, what’s happened in terms of social unrest as a result of state sanctioned violence and what’s happening as a result of COVID and the impacts of the pandemic really are two sides of the same coin.”

Majestic Lane

The American system disrupted by both the pandemic and mass protests over police violence against Black people was designed to work exactly the way it was working, Lane said. In charting a ‘new normal’ the goal should not be to reconstruct that system, he said, but to address long-standing problems in a system that chose winners and losers based on a legacy of racist ideas and practices.

“There has to be a shift in how society functions,” Lane said.

In Pittsburgh, that’s meant examining very basic assumptions about policing, Lane said. The idea that not every 911 call means police should be sent to the scene may be new to some people, he said. But for those who understand how racist policies in everything from education and banking to health care can see how bringing police into over-policed communities every time there is something like a family argument will likely make situations more dangerous.

In the 2021 budget in Pittsburgh, the city is creating an office of Community Health and Safety. Working with non-profits, the community will work to minimize the presence of police in situations where trained social workers, psychologists or addiction specialists might be a better fit. People in the community who are already trusted and invested will also be utilized in getting to the roots of violent incidents, Lane said.

But there are broader structural challenges as well, Lane said — and they’ve been made even more apparent by the pandemic.

Black people in America have been systemically shut out of the building and maintaining of wealth since before the beginnings of the Republic, said Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president with the Center for Responsible Lending. The current health and financial crises are making that more apparent, she said — and call for a response that takes that into account.

Nikitra Bailey

“Our nation is facing a reckoning over structural racism,” Bailey said. “The inequality it has produced is being exacerbated by the coronavirus. The COVID-19 pandemic is both a profound public health crisis and an equally profound economic crisis. The virus has devastated families across the nation and has fallen disproportionately on Black families.”

“Systemic discrimination in the housing sector left Black families more vulnerable going into the 2008 housing crisis,” Bailey said. “And that crisis and the response to it left them worse off. This crisis has likewise hit Black families hardest again. And the response so far is not equitable nor is it sufficient.”

The COVID-19 crisis threatens to become a foreclosure crisis in which the Black community has not had the same opportunity to build up home ownership and home equity, Bailey said. They didn’t have the same economic cushion many white families did at the beginning of the pandemic.  That’s due to historical inequities, like Black families being shut out of New Deal programs that gave access to federally supported credit. Those programs led to an explosion of white homeownership, a swelling middle class and generational wealth for white families. Only about 2 percent of the loans available in that period benefitted Black families, she said.

Black families were making ground after the historic homeownership lows of the Great Recession, Bailey said — with Black homeownership reaching 44 percent. But the current COVID-related economic crisis means a tightening in the mortgage market that is requiring much higher down payments and higher credit scores for families to qualify for loans. That threatens to erase the gains of Black homeowners in the country, Bailey said.

Because of the historic and current-day process of racial redlining, most Black communities don’t have as much home equity, Bailey said — something many white homeowners can use to withstand tough economic periods.

For Black homeowners and Black renters (a disproportionately large population), the pandemic is leading to greater dangers.

“There are reports that one in five renters are saying they missed or deferred a rental payment in June, “We know 31 percent of Black renters are reporting this as well, which is twice the rate of white renters. And 13 percent of homeowners overall are saying they’ve needed to defer a mortgage payment and again 23 percent said they missed or deferred their payment, which is twice the rate of white homeowners.”

Congress needs to react accordingly, Bailey said. The CARES act had a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, she said, but that expired last week. With around 23 million families likely to fall behind on their rent, Black families will be hardest hit.

Housing is an important pillar of the overall economy, Bailey said — critical not just to those who are most impacted, but to the entire nation.

“We need the House’s bill, the HEROES act, to be passed in the Senate and we need the President to sign it immediately,” Bailey said. “There is $100 billion of rental assistance in the HEROES act. If that legislation moves, we know that this crisis can be averted. We also need the HEROES provisions around homeownership protection. There’s $75 billion in homeownership protections. We also need those protections to be enacted.”

But beyond those immediate treatments for immediate ills, Bailey said, there needs to be movement on longstanding inequities and systemic racism.

“What we need is a federally guaranteed restorative justice program,” Bailey said, whereby Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac take proactive action to increase Black homeownership and we enforce fair housing and fair lending laws already on the books.

“We have really effective tools in place,” Bailey said. “If we use them we can root out that discrimination that is dragging down the economy overall.”


Get in ‘good trouble’: John Lewis’ words ring out in Capitol one more time