House budget, including modest teacher raises, advances to the state Senate

budgetAs expected, leaders in the N.C. House have overwhelmingly approved a $22.2 billion spending plan for the coming year that includes modest teacher pay raises for some.

The House plan passed with some opposition from Democrats in the chamber, but as the N.C. Justice Center’s Tazra Mitchell points out, it comes with many missing progressive “wish-list” items, including restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit, steeper raises for teachers and Medicaid expansion.

Public school advocates have already criticized the teacher pay plan, which offers about an average 4 percent raise to educators, focusing on mid-career teachers.

In addition to teacher pay, public school advocates are also likely to complain that it slashes $27 million promised to help reduce class sizes in first-grade classrooms, and that it strips away accountability provisions from the state’s pilot virtual charter schools, run by for-profit operators.

The budget plan now moves on to the state Senate, which in recent years, has favored more hard-line, conservative spending packages.


More on Itzhak Perlman’s courageous and inspiring stand against “ugly and hostile” HB2



In case you missed it, WUNC radio reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas posted a fine story yesterday afternoon that includes an interview with world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman in which he sheds more light on his decision to cancel his planned concert last night in Raleigh in protest over HB2.

This is from the story:

“One of the world’s best-known and best-loved classical musicians has joined the ranks of artists refusing to perform in North Carolina. Violinist Itzhak Perlman canceled an appearance scheduled for Wednesday with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh to protest HB2, the controversial North Carolina law limiting civil rights protections for LGBT people.

HB2 excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the state’s non-discrimination laws and prevents local governments from offering discrimination protections that go beyond the state’s. It also requires people to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex indicated on their birth certificates.

Speaking by phone Wednesday, Perlman said he had been contemplating a cancellation and its repercussions for weeks. ‘The first thought was to cancel,’ he said. ‘And then I thought, ‘Well, what’s going to happen to the orchestra musicians? They’re going to suffer. It’s not their fault.’ So I thought that I was going to go, and that I would donate my fee to Equality North Carolina. And I wanted to put fliers into the program explaining my position. So I thought that was all set.’

‘And then yesterday morning at 9:30 AM,’ Perlman continued, ‘I get a phone call — and the symphony said, no, the state would not allow that statement. After that exchange, I thought, “I am going into a hostile situation.” And that’s when I said, “As much as I hate to cause problems and stress, I have to have a stand. I’m canceling.”‘

‘The law is ugly and hostile, as far as I’m concerned,’ said the violinist, who was born in Israel in 1945 and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015. ‘I feel that it is discriminatory — and it’s not just about bathrooms. It’s about dignity, like [U.S. Attorney General] Loretta Lynch said. I’ve been an advocate of equality for the disabled, and this is just another situation in which this is the subject. We are dealing with the equality and dignity of citizens.’

Perlman went on in the interview to take a mild and deserved shot at the orchestra management which said in a statement that it was “nonpartisan” and that their performances “are not an appropriate forum for political commentary.”

“The orchestra cannot say that they are non-partisan. How can they say that? They’re getting help from the state. And the state is very partisan. That’s a little bit inaccurate. They’re caught in the middle here, but they are very concerned about their support from the state. I don’t blame them, and the orchestra is not at fault, but that is the fact.”

The bottom line:  Yet another brilliant and talented world citizen has told North Carolina the truth about its hateful and outrageous law. Meanwhile, the people of our once great state continue to suffer as a result of their elected leaders’ blindness and ignorance. What a mess. Click here to read Tsioulcas’ entire story.


Attacks on renewable energy continue in Raleigh

Reporter John Murawski of Raleigh’s News & Observer has another story this morning on the latest conservative attack on renewable energy in the General Assembly. Here’s the introduction:

“Green energy advocates are aghast at the latest energy proposal in the state legislature to regulate wind farms and solar farms, a bill they say would turn North Carolina into the nation’s most hostile state for renewables.

The legislation, introduced last week by two Republican state senators, would impose a host of financial hurdles and safety precautions, in some instances stricter than North Carolina’s standards for coal-burning power plants and nuclear power plants….

The bill would require a wind farm or solar farm to be built at least a 1 1/2 miles away from a neighboring property line. Even at that distance, a solar farm would have to be concealed behind a perimeter of hedges and native landscaping. A wind farm could not generate more than 35 decibels of noise, as measured from the neighboring property, which is equivalent to the volume of humans whispering.

Renewables advocates say it’s the most aggressive and sweeping attempt yet to undermine renewable energy in the state, building on momentum from last year’s elimination of a 35 percent state tax credit for renewable energy development.”
Meanwhile, an editorial in this morning’s Fayetteville Observer points out that that state is chasing away solar energy jobs that soldiers at Fort Bragg are training to take on:

“More than 250 service members have participated in the program in the last year at bases across the country. The Energy Department is about to double the size of the program, which can be completed up to four months before a service member leaves the military.

For FTCC, the program is a natural. The college already runs transition training programs for soldiers in several career fields. And the solar industry is booming here in eastern North Carolina, where the geography and weather conditions are close to perfect.

We hope word of all this activity reaches Raleigh soon. The General Assembly has all but abandoned support for the renewable-energy industry, just as it’s becoming mainstream. Lawmakers refused to continue incentives for the solar industry, which most likely will drive the industry to the open arms of neighboring states, just as the General Assembly purged the film industry.

The Defense and Energy departments have seen the future and it’s solar. We’re training the industry’s future employees here. Shouldn’t we keep them here?”

You really can’t make this stuff up. As our planet suffers, state leaders continue to do the precise opposite of what is needed. As is the case in so many areas, state leaders seem obsessed with combating modernity in energy production and sticking to the high pollution practices of the past century.


The Obama administration just helped out 425,000 working North Carolinians

A statement from the Justice Center summarizes:

In a huge win for workers, new federal overtime rule raises wages for 156,000 salaried North Carolinians
New USDOL rules raises overtime threshold from $23,660 to $47,476, covers 425,000 workers

The U.S. Department of Labor released long-awaited rules today that will allow 425,000 salaried workers in North Carolina to qualify for overtime pay. The new rule will raise wages for 156,000 workers and play an important role in helping build an economy that works for all.

In 2014, President Obama directed the Secretary of Labor to update the overtime regulations to reflect the original intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and to simplify and modernize the rules so they’re easier for workers and businesses to understand and apply. The department has issued a final rule that will put more money in the pockets of middle class workers – or give them more free time.

Specifically, the final rule will:

  • Raise the salary threshold for overtime eligibility from $23,660 to $47,476 per year. This will extend overtime protections to 156,000 new salaried workers, bringing the total number of covered workers to 425,000 salaried workers in North Carolina, or about 26 percent of the state’s total salaried workforce.
  • Automatically update the salary threshold every three years, based on wage growth over time, increasing predictability and giving businesses time to adjust their payrolls.
  • Provide greater clarity for workers and employers.
  • The final rule will become effective on December 1, 2016, giving employers more than six months to prepare. The final rule does not make any changes to the duties test for executive, administrative and professional employees.

The change will also provide a boost to the state economy. This is also from the Justice Center summary:

Allowing more salaried workers to receive overtime will boost the state’s economy and provide a critical antidote to ongoing middle class wage stagnation. Here are some of the economic benefits for the new rule:

  • Creates more economy boosting jobs. More than half of the jobs created since the recession don’t pay enough to make ends meet, so access to overtime pay allows more workers—especially those at the bottom of the salary scale—to afford the basics, like buying groceries, paying rent, putting gas in the car, and children in day care. Because lower-wage workers are more likely to spend their new earnings than save them, this will give an immediate boost to business sales, profits, and ultimately job creation.
  • Rewards workers for improving productivity. Business productivity has almost doubled in North Carolina since 1978, while wages have grown by just 22 percent. The Brookings Institute reports that the overwhelming majority of these productivity gains have gone to executive compensation, investor income, and stock buy-backs designed to artificially boost a company’s stock price, rather than to workers’ wages. The new rule allows salaried workers to benefit from the hours they work beyond a normal 40-hour week.

The Economic Policy Institute has more details on the new rules that you can check out by clicking here.



New report says high-poverty, racially-isolated schools on the rise nationwide

SchoolsIn March, we reported on the growing racial divisions in some of North Carolina’s largest school districts. It seems the problem is not limited to North Carolina.

A new report from a federal government agency says racially-polarized, economically segregated schools are on the rise nationwide.

As Education Week reported Tuesday, the percentage of schools primarily serving minority students and economically disadvantaged students has spiked in recent years.

The report, authored by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a Congressional investigative office, also found major differences in comparisons of disciplinary measures between low-income, minority schools and their more affluent, predominantly white peer schools.

Indeed, the latter claim is reflected in North Carolina data as well. In March, N.C. Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Scotland County who chairs the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, told Policy Watch that it’s a “state of emergency” for black students in North Carolina schools today.

Pierce’s comments came after a report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction marked startlingly high suspension rates for the state’s black students.

From Education Week‘s story on this week’s federal report, which covers the academic years between 2000-2001 and 2013-2014:

In addition to highlighting instances where states and districts attempted to address the issue, the report also recommends that the U.S. Department of Education track civil rights data more routinely to highlight disparities between different schools. It also says the U.S. Department of Justice should track data related to open school desegregation cases.

School integration and diversity, and the lack thereof in American public education, have become a more significant part of discussions about education policy and politics recently. President Barack Obama’s administration put a priority on economic integration in various parts of its recently proposed federal budget. And Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. has said that making schools more racially diverse and socioeconomically integrated is a powerful way to improve educational outcomes, especially for disadvantaged students.

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