Commentary

Renee EllmersAs Suzanne Buckley of NARAL Pro Choice NC wrote on the main Policy Watch page yesterday, today is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision — a great time for people committed to freedom and women’s health to recommit themselves to the cause.

And, happily, such efforts can begin with at least a modest celebration this morning: Congresswoman Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and some other GOP women appear to have raised the ire of anti-choice extremists this week by having the temerity to challenge one among many dangerous provisions in an anti-abortion bill that was being advanced in the U.S. House.

This is from the this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“House Republican leaders, faced with an uprising within their ranks over a controversial abortion bill, pulled it Wednesday evening before it was scheduled for a vote Thursday to coincide with the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1974 Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., had led a group of Republican lawmakers who disagreed with part of a bill that would ban most abortions at 20 weeks or later.

Ellmers and Walorski on Tuesday officially withdrew their support for the bill, and House Republican leaders scrambled to address the concerns of the two lawmakers and a group of other Republicans. Late Wednesday night, the GOP House leadership replaced the bill with one that would end federal funding for abortions.”

The ironically-named North Carolina Values Coalition decried Ellmers’ action as a “betrayal.”

Good for Ellmers. While it would be of a lot better if she would just speak up publicly and renounce the mean-spirited folly of the entire GOP anti-reproductive freedom drive, her recent actions are better than nothing. Let’s hope it’s the start of a more ambitious connection to common sense on the whole issue of reproductive freedom on her part.

Click here to read Suzanne Buckley’s excellent essay.

NC Budget and Tax Center

State revenue collections are coming in $199.2 million below projections half way through the fiscal year, according to the legislature’s non-partisan Fiscal Research Division’s new revenue outlook report. This report provides an assessment of revenue collection performance for the state on a quarterly basis. The main culprit behind the mid-year shortfall is the 2013 tax plan that reduces revenue availability while primarily benefitting wealthy taxpayers and profitable corporations. The plan’s personal income tax cuts are costing more than previously expected.

The growing cost of the 2013 tax plan further challenges state lawmakers’ ability to rebuild what was lost in the aftermath of the Great Recession and reposition itself to compete nationally and globally. North Carolinians are already dealing with the fallout of the current state budget that falls short of what’s needed for children, families, and communities to thrive. The inadequacy of the budget has been chronicled in the news, with many stories focusing on how there are too few textbooks (even toilet paper) as well as the local challenges that state budget and tax decisions are creating.

It is important to view this mid-year revenue shortfall in the context of the dollars that lawmakers already lost due to the tax plan. For the 2015 fiscal year, Fiscal Research Division originally estimated that the plan would cost $512.8 million but soon revised its revenue outlook to account for an additional loss of $191 million. This latest report of $199.2 million in under-collections comes on top of these already-accounted-for losses.  By the end of the fiscal year, the total cost of the tax plan could reach as high as $1.1 billion, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s estimates. That’s roughly equivalent to the state dollars that support the entire Community College System.

Highlights of the Revenue Outlook Report Read More

News

Lawmakers in Virginia’s General Assembly are advancing a bipartisan effort to abolish their A-F school grading system, according to WBDJ7 in Roanoke.

The A-F scale for schools was adopted in 2013 at the urging of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, as a public measure of school quality based on student test scores.

But the law was never implemented. The 2014 legislature delayed it two years.

On a 3-2 vote Monday, a Senate subcommittee endorsed Sen. Richard Black’s bill to abolish the A-F scale entirely. A similar measure is pending in the House of Delegates.

Black, a Loudoun County Republican, said he initially supported the grading scale but has become convinced that an F grade would stigmatize a school’s students and make it hard to recruit teachers. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration supports repeal.

At a live taping of the weekly talk show NC SPIN this morning, panelists expressed concern with North Carolina’s own A-F school grading system, which assesses schools largely on the basis of how students perform on a single test given on one day, rather than the improvement a school makes over time.

Proponents of the A-F grading system, a policy initially launched in Florida under then-Governor Jeb Bush, say the grades allow parents to better understand how their children’s schools are performing. But critics say grading a school based on its students’ performance on a single test is not a good measure of success and worry that low-marked schools will experience negative long-term effects that include difficulty in attracting high quality teachers.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) said this morning he endorses the grading system, but acknowledged that there are problems with its formula. Other panelists promoted changing the formula so that it was more heavily weighted toward improved student performance on assessments over time.

North Carolina will release A-F grades for its schools for the first time on February 5.

 

News

A week from today state lawmakers return to Raleigh and begin work in earnest on the 2015 “long” legislative session. House and Senate leaders have indicated teacher pay, job creation, and possibly tax reform will be back on the agenda this year. But some members are concerned that recent tax reforms may leave North Carolina without sufficient revenue to make good on its promises.

A recent report by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division finds General Fund collections through December about $200 million less than projections.

Rep. Darren Jackson says if the revenue gap widens lawmakers may have difficulty increasing the salaries of teachers and state employees. Jackson also agrees with Chief Justice Mark Martin that more must be done during this session to improve the technology in North Carolina’s beleaguered court system.

Rep. Jackson appeared over the weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon. Click below to hear an excerpt of our radio interview or click here to listen to the full podcast.

To learn more about the funding crisis facing North Carolina’s court system read this piece by Policy Watch’s Courts and Law reporter Sharon McCloskey.

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News

lw-1-21Standards and assessment, teacher pay and school vouchers were some of the hottest  education issues that key stakeholders predicted would dominate this year’s legislative session at a breakfast hosted Wednesday by the Public School Forum in Raleigh.

Tom Campbell, host of the weekly talk show NC SPIN, held a special taping of his program at the breakfast, during which he quizzed Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) and others about what lawmakers plan to do this year for education.

“I do think we need to look at expanding it [the school voucher program],” said Horn. “The number of applications alone for these vouchers show the demand by the public.”

“We need to watch it very carefully,” Horn added. “I’m not at all suggesting that we fling the doors open, but we have got to allow parents to take control of the education of their children.” Read More