Teacher pay is at the heart of the 2015 budget negotiations right now—and if you’re wondering why, consider this: in 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, a school system is that county’s largest employer.

WUNC reporters Dave DeWitt and Keith Weston put together a fascinating infographic that highlights this reality, noting that in 24 more counties, the school system is the second-largest employer. In only 12 counties are school systems not in the top two.

Why is this so important?

Well, after the General Assembly’s session last summer, legislators went home and likely heard from many of the employees (i.e. teachers) who worked for the single largest employer (the school system) in that legislator’s district. That political pressure clearly changed some minds regarding teacher raises, especially in an election year.

But a raise for teachers also has a longer-lasting impact beyond November.

If you think of a raise as an economic stimulus, more money in the pay checks of 95,000 teachers (spread out from Manteo to Murphy) will mean more middle-class people buying groceries, going on vacations, etc. And that will have a real, immediate economic impact on the state as a whole.

Lawmakers continue to work through a budget stalemate that is heading in the direction of providing teachers with a pay raise of somewhere between 6 and 8 percent — the first significant salary increase in six years.

But the General Assembly could end up paying for that raise by laying off thousands of teacher assistants who not only provide much needed services in the classroom, but outside of it too — many of them double as school bus drivers.

Check out DeWitt and Weston’s infographic by heading over to WUNC’s website.

June’s jobs numbers are out for North Carolina, showing that the state has held on to its unemployment rate of 6.4 percent for the second straight month.

Jobs-buttonThe national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent for June.

The North Carolina numbers for June released by N.C. Commerce Department show a much lower unemployment rate than a year ago, when unemployment was at 8.3 percent and one of the highest rates in the nation.

This month’s job report (click here to read) also shows the state’s labor pool is still shrinking, with 8,577 less people working in June than May.

Over the last year, the state’s labor force has shrunk by nearly 12,000, while the ranks of unemployed dropped by about 90,000 people, according to North Carolina job numbers.

That difference (a shrinking labor pool corresponding with a much larger drop in the numbers of the unemployed) has lead some economists to attribute North Carolina’s drop in its official unemployment rate not to a healthy economy, but to large numbers of long-term unemployed people dropping out of the workforce completely after last year’s cuts to unemployment benefits.

“There is zero evidence that cutting unemployment benefits in North Carolina did anything to spur job growth,” wrote Washington-based economist Dean Baker in an editorial in the News & Observer earlier this month. “There is much evidence that it led those who saw their benefits end to give up looking for work and to drop out of the labor force.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/11/4000035/zero-evidence-that-benefit-cuts.html#storylink=cp
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/13/3619704/benefit-cuts-pushed-people-out.html#storylink=cpy

Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders disagree, and say those changes to the unemployment system and North Carolina’s subsequent rejection of federally-funded long-term unemployment help has put North Carolina in a better economic position.

“Yes, there are some people who probably took jobs they didn’t want instead of staying on unemployment,” McCrory said earlier this week in an interview with Charlotte’s WFAE radio program (discussion begins at 35:00).

“By the way, in my career, I’ve taken jobs that I don’t want,” McCrory said.  He added, “but it gets you in the door, it gets you working and it gets you off the government payroll.”

Click here to read the entire release on North Carolina’s jobs report for June.

Death penalty(Cross-posted from the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty).

By Kristin Collins

Yesterday, a California court confirmed what we have known in North Carolina for years: The death penalty is so dysfunctional as to be not just unconstitutional, but futile.

The ruling said of a system in which inmates sit on death row for decades, and only a tiny percentage of those sentenced to death are ever executed:

“… for too long now, the promise has been an empty one … It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

Lest anyone offer the “simple” solution of executing people more quickly, let’s pause to remember the more than 140 innocent people who have been freed from death row. Seven of them were in North Carolina, and some spent more than a decade on death row before their innocence was recognized.

North Carolina’s system is no different from California’s. Since 1977, when the modern death penalty began, nearly 400 men and women have been sentenced to death, and only 43 have been executed. Read More

Plans to finance both public education and transit at the local level would be stopped in their tracks under HB 1224 that passed the state Senate Finance Committee yesterday. The bill not only places a hard cap on the local sales tax rate at 2.5 percent but also only allows counties to levy a sales tax increase for either education or transit—not both.  This bill joins a slate of other bills that would restrict local control. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday night.

In effect, the bill restricts local governments’ authority to meet local needs and balance their budgets. Importantly, the bill is aimed at shifting the responsibility of funding public education away from the state and towards local governments. The state clearly cannot afford last year’s tax plan and now legislators are proposing budgets that would make serious cuts to public education as a result. Those cuts would have to be absorbed by children in the classroom or addressed at the local level, putting local governments in a tough spot having to choose whether or not to make up the difference via a local tax.

Local governments are dealing with the fallout from last year’s tax plan in other ways too. They no longer have access to the school Capital Building Fund, which received a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax. Schools used this fund to help them meet their education obligations, as my colleague explained last month. The result is a $382 million dent over the next five years. This loss is on top of the looming $63 million-annual dent resulting from elimination of the local privilege tax in 2015. Read More

Common Core picAn editorial in this morning’s Greensboro News & Record offers some important insights on the legislation — soon to be law — that “repeals” North Carolina’s adherence to Common Core education standards (i.e. the standards we’ve already spent tens of millions of dollars on to implement).

The movement led by some Republicans to withdraw North Carolina from the national academic standards was prompted by an irrational fear of a “federal takeover” of education.

Common Core was no such thing. Initiated by the bipartisan National Governors Association, the movement recognized a need for all American students to follow similar academic guidelines. When it was embraced by the Obama administration, however, opposition intensified.

Yet, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory supported Common Core. So did the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. They recognized the necessity of aligning North Carolina curricula with those used in other states.

Partisan politics and distrust of President Obama won out. The legislature Wednesday approved a bill that will replace Common Core with yet-to-be-written North Carolina standards. McCrory will sign it. But he knows its secret: At its core, there may not be much difference.

Despite use of Tea Party-type rhetoric in the bill, the end result could be something that closely resembles Common Core — which apparently would be OK as long as it’s not called that….

North Carolina can call these standards whatever it wants as long as our students keep up.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.