Commentary

Today is the first day of the 2015-16 school year in lots of places throughout North Carolina and editorial pages across the state this past weekend welcomed back the return of teachers and students with some harsh words for the political powers that be.

The Winston-Salem Journal minced no words in an editorial entitled “Teacher shortage: Legislature must end the brain drain”:

“North Carolina once concentrated on providing the best public education it could. But in the first years of the 21st century, Democratic leaders lagged in funding for education. The Republicans have been harder on it.

Some Republicans seem to have made a point of bad-mouthing teachers and the teaching profession. That doesn’t create an atmosphere in which they feel appreciated.

And the legislature has taken more concrete steps to diminish the teaching profession by eliminating the teaching fellows program and stipends for advanced degrees. Right now, as the legislature fumbles around with its budget, teacher assistants hang in limbo, not knowing if they’ll have jobs once the dust settles. Teachers had to take the state to court earlier this year just to retain tenure status.

And despite some movement toward raising salaries, our teachers continue to be underpaid for the important work they do.

Texas and other states have come to North Carolina to recruit new teachers, knowing they can offer better deals. And many teachers have accepted.

Who pays for this backward motion? The students, initially, and then our communities, which wind up with less-educated members and a less-educated workforce that fails to attract the jobs of the future.

Education is the best predictor of future success. If the legislature really wants to bring in new companies and jobs, it would recognize that instead of shortchanging our teachers, our students and our future.”

Here’s the Fayetteville Observer reminding us that the ideological driven move to rewrite the Common Core standards will be very expensive:

“The Academic Standards Review Commission has released some of its preliminary reports on how to revise teaching standards for math and English.

In addition to its curriculum recommendations, the commission added this: Once the revisions are made, the schools will need money for new teaching materials, including textbooks, and a sufficient number of teachers and teacher assistants to carry out the job.

The budget that lawmakers are negotiating doesn’t have that money in it. The Senate, in fact, wants to get rid of at least 8,500 teacher assistants and hire about 3,300 new teachers for lower grades.

We might indeed end up with better schools if the review commission’s advice is heeded. But we need to remember that the Common Core pushback was purely political, rooted in the canard that it’s a federal takeover of education. It’s not. The standards were developed by educators. And they are widely supported by business and the military. Can we really afford this exercise in the politics of education?”

And finally, the Wilmington Star News put it this way in a piece entitled “Let’s support our teachers”:

Read More

News

With the state budget nearly eight weeks overdue, Governor Pat McCrory took to You Tube Sunday to praise teachers and reassure them his office was continuing to work to raise their salaries:

“I want to let you know I’m doing my best, working very, very hard with the legislature to continue the pay raises,” said Governor McCrory. “We’ve committed to spending over $1 billion in teacher salaries during the next fiscal year.”

School districts have been struggling to get ready for the new school year that begins this week.

Without a firm budget in place, districts have reported teacher shortages in critical areas. Teaching assistants have seen their hours cut, with no promise of having a job beyond September if the state budget does not allocate enough money for their positions.

Still other districts have shut down driver’s education programs, uncertain if the money will be available to teach teenager drivers.

To view a portion of Governor McCrory welcome message to North Carolina teachers click below:

YouTube Preview Image

The full video shot at North Rowan High School in Spencer where McCrory was once a student teacher is available here.

Commentary, News

lw-8191. NC classrooms brace for teacher shortage
In some areas, unusual reports of elementary classrooms hardest hit

Mirroring a national trend, some North Carolina classrooms are bracing for a teacher shortage next Monday, the first day of the traditional school year.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr about the reason why the teacher shortage is more pronounced there than in years past. Guilford’s school officials are still scrambling to fill around 50 teacher vacancies—many, unusually, in elementary classrooms.

“I think our state legislature has done a really great job of discouraging teachers from staying in North Carolina,” said Carr.

“Several years of budget cuts and many elected officials and pundits saying very negative things about teachers in general—there is a general feeling, at least among the educators I know, that public education is under attack in NC. And so people are leaving,” said Carr.[Continue Reading…]  *** Bonus video: GOP school board member to GOP legislators: Fund our Teaching Assistants

Budget-squeeze1-4002. Teachers and state employees lose in budget compromise that foreshadows TABOR

Much of the discussion about the Senate’s unfortunate decision to the pass the misnamed Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, has understandably focused on the massive problems the arbitrary spending limits have caused in Colorado, the only state to adopt them.

Colorado plummeted in national rankings on a host of indicators after adopting TABOR, education funding, teacher pay, and child welfare among them.

But folks in North Carolina wondering what the ridiculous amendment would mean here don’t have to look only at Colorado anymore. This year’s budget negotiations between the House and Senate provide more evidence that TABOR would be a disaster for our state and make it impossible for lawmakers to make the public investments the state needs and the public supports. [Continue Reading…]

wb-Medicaid3. Providing fewer people with poorer coverage
Latest legislative proposal on Medicaid is a “worst of both worlds” proposition

In one of the more infamous quotes from American military history, a U.S. officer in Vietnam talking about the city of Ben Tre told reporter Peter Arnett in 1968 that “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Sadly, by all appearances, such an approach is precisely what some North Carolina legislative leaders have in mind in the latest proposal to “reform” the state Medicaid program.

As you may be aware, the state Senate recently advanced legislation on the subject of Medicaid – the state health insurance program that’s dedicated to serving children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and low-income seniors. Medicaid is a very important subject as it affects millions of lives and consumes a huge chunk of the state budget.

Some have billed the new proposal as a “compromise” in the ongoing debate over how to modernize and improve the program, but if this is so, it would appear the compromise is simply between having a program and utterly destroying it. [Continue Reading…]

sm-8204. Juror discrimination pushes the death penalty conversation

It’s been more than two years since the General Assembly repealed the Racial Justice Act, eliminating the right of death row inmates here to assert statutory claims of racial discrimination in juror selection.

The cases of the few inmates who managed during the Act’s short life to establish such discrimination and have their sentences reduced to life without parole still live, though, awaiting decision by the state Supreme Court following arguments in their cases in April 2014.

But the U.S. Supreme Court is now stepping into the fray, agreeing in late May to review a case out of Georgia this term that addresses the constitutional underpinnings such claims.

In Foster v. Humphrey, the court will clarify its ban on using race to exclude potential jurors, first announced in its 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky.

The facts in Foster are egregious – including prosecutor notes highlighting and ranking potential black jurors, all of whom were excluded from serving in the case — and not unlike those in the Robinson and Golphin cases pending here. [Continue Reading…]

ff-8185. The real reform that would help low-income students 

One of the most often cited justifications for the radical education “reforms” in the General Assembly these days is that they will help low-income children who are currently struggling in traditional public schools.

Supporters of the state’s school voucher scheme that diverts taxpayer dollars to almost entirely unaccountable private and religious academies claim that giving low-income kids a $4,200 voucher will allow them to flourish.

Never mind that the best private schools charge four to five times that much for tuition or that there are no academic standards that the voucher schools have to meet. [Continue Reading…]

Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy NCUpcoming event: Tuesday’s Crucial Conversation — Sweepstakes industry corruption: How far does it go? What should be done?
It’s been almost a decade since the efforts of a determined group of nonprofit watchdogs, led by Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall, helped expose the corruption of former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black. In addition to driving Black from office, those efforts helped spur a number of improvements to state laws governing campaign finance, gifts to public officials, lobbying disclosures and many other important areas.

Now, however, corruption has reared its ugly head again and there are real questions as to whether the existing structure for enforcing state campaign finance laws can respond adequately to the challenge. [Continue reading and register to attend the August 25th event…]

Commentary

The latest from analysts at the N.C. Justice Center:

July Jobs Figures Show NC Falling Behind the Nation

RALEIGH (August 21, 2015) — The July labor market data released this morning show North Carolina continues to lag behind the nation in a few vital ways.
Wages in North Carolina are not growing as fast as the nation, and are actually down slightly compared to a year ago. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in North Carolina has gone up over the last six months while unemployment nationwide has fallen.

“North Carolina’s economy remains far from its position prior to the recession,” said Patrick McHugh, economic analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “This reality is reflected in wage levels and a labor force participation rate that have yet to reach their pre-recession levels.”
Highlights of the July data include:

• Growing wage gap between North Carolina workers and the national average: For North Carolina, the average weekly paycheck came in at $763.49 in June. When factoring in inflation, the real buying power of wages in North Carolina remains well below pre-recession levels. Wages nationwide have grown faster than inflation over the last year. All told, this means that the average weekly North Carolina paycheck is now $101 less than the national average.
• Still more North Carolinians out of work than before the Great Recession: Even though the ranks of the unemployed have declined over the past year, there are still nearly 280,000 North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 64,000 more than before the Great Recession.
• Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: July numbers showed 57.6 percent of North Carolinians were employed. This leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000s, employment levels reached a peak of about 63 percent. The percent of North Carolinians with a job remains below the national average, as it has been since the Great Recession.
• Labor force participation grows, but still below pre-recession norms: The size of the labor force, a measure of people who are employed or are looking for work, grew by just under 3 percent over the year. While this is a good sign that some workers are returning to the labor force, the share of North Carolinians who are employed or looking for work is still lower than before the Great Recession.
• US making much more progress in reducing unemployment than North Carolina: Even while the state continues to add jobs, growth is not enough to push unemployment below the 5 percent threshold that most economists see as the top-end of a healthy labor market. While the national unemployment rate has come down over the last six months, the ranks of the unemployed have grown here in North Carolina.

For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out a recent report on building an innovation economy for all and the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.

Commentary

Today’s Fayetteville Observer hits the nail on the head with this editorial condemning the state Senate’s plan to turn North Carolina’s Medicaid program over to giant, for-profit insurance corporations:

“The N.C. Senate’s drive to restructure the Medicaid program is making less sense all the time.

We understand lawmakers sometimes succumb to the urge to fix what’s not broken. But when they, and the voters, see mayhem coming, they usually back away.

We hope that’s happening this week, as members of the General Assembly get more evidence that our Medicaid management model is anything but broken.

According to just-released long-term review by the State Auditor’s office, the agency that administers the Medicaid program here is saving taxpayers a bundle – and providing improved medical outcomes at the same time.

The audit measured results achieved by Community Care of North Carolina from 2003 through 2012. The physician-led program has won national acclaim for its effectiveness in running the health-insurance program for the poor and disabled. Other states are copying the system, which has produced budget surpluses for the past two fiscal years.

Medicaid, funded jointly by the state and federal governments, covers about 1.4 million North Carolina residents. According to the audit, Community Care succeeded in managing medical conditions and keeping patients out of the hospital. That resulted in savings of about $78 per user per quarter, which adds up to saving state and federal taxpayers something approaching half a billion dollars a year.

Most lawmakers would likely agree that we’re talking real money there, yet the drive for privatization still has its hooks in the Senate, our legislative branch most driven by ideologues. Read More