Commentary

Voting rightsAs North Carolinians await a verdict in the federal court case challenging their state’s voter suppression laws, a new national study confirms what common sense tells us: these laws really do work to depress the vote.

Scott Keyes at Think Progress has the story:

“For years, researchers warned that laws requiring voters to show certain forms of photo identification at the poll would discriminate against racial minorities and other groups. Now, the first study has been released showing that the proliferation of voter ID laws in recent years has indeed driven down minority voter turnout, and by a significant amount.

In a new paper entitled “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes”, researchers at the University of California, San Diego — Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi — and Bucknell University — Lindsay Nielson — used data from the annual Cooperative Congressional Election Study to compare states with strict voter ID laws to those that allow voters without photo ID to cast a ballot. They found a clear and significant dampening effect on minority turnout in strict voter ID states.”

The researchers found that strict voter ID laws could depress turnout in primary elections amongst African American, Latino and Asian American voters by numbers as high as 8.6%, 9.3% and 12.6%, respectively.

But, of course, you know that these laws are really just about attacking “fraud.”

News
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Although it was overshadowed by Sen. Chad Barefoot’s angst over unverified reports of the misuse of state education dollars, Tuesday’s session of the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee included an explanation of last year’s federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

That legislation, passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans, is intended to update the widely criticized No Child Left Behind, the federal government’s 2001 rewrite of the nation’s governing public education law to increase school accountability.

The complicated new ESSA, to put it broadly, shifts major powers to the states in how they assess school success, responding to widespread criticisms that No Child Left Behind’s rigorous testing requirements unfairly punished some low-performing schools continually labeled as failing.

And while federal funding and required annual testing will remain, more or less, unaffected, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told members of the committee Tuesday that the federal act will give states greater autonomy over how they assess teachers and schools.

“It was long overdue,” said Atkinson.

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News
N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

One day after the state Senate leader accused North Carolina’s top education administrators of misusing funds budgeted for reading programs, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson responded to an aggressive line of questioning about the controversy.

Atkinson was discussing the federal government’s update of No Child Left Behind in the legislature’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee Tuesday when Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake County Republican, began grilling Atkinson over the allegations.

WRAL reported Monday that Senate President Phil Berger, R-Guilford, Rockingham, indicated in a letter that $3.8 million in funding intended for literacy programs had been diverted during “secret meetings” in order to mitigate budget cuts at the department. Although he did not offer proof, Berger accused DPI leaders and the State Board of Education of diverting the money during a closed session, which would violate the state’s open meetings law.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson recently proposed a 10 percent pay increase for public school teachers. In response, NC House Speaker Moore stated that he doesn’t think that’s a realistic goal because North Carolina can’t afford the price tag. Speaker Moore says he believes we must pay our teachers more than we do, but that this should be done in a responsible way.

The requested pay increase comes as North Carolina ranks among the very bottom of states for average teacher pay. State funding for pay increases in recent years has largely targeted early-career teachers, leaving more experienced educators wondering if they will ever get a meaningful pay increase.

The reason providing teachers a 10 percent pay increase is deemed a hefty, unrealistic task by state leaders is clear – costly tax cuts ushered through by state leaders in recent years. Tax cuts included in the current two-year budget, once fully phased in, will reduce annual state revenue by more than $1 billion. When you include the cost of the tax cuts passed in 2013, the combined reduction in annual revenue increases to more than $2 billion. These are dollars that would otherwise be available under the old tax code in place prior to the tax changes. The tax cuts largely benefited the already well-off and profitable corporations and shifted the tax load to low- and middle-income families and individuals.

State leaders have proven their ability to push through their priorities in recent years and tax cuts have certainly been a major priority. The self-inflicted challenge that North Carolina faces – providing all teachers a meaningful raise – is a result of state leaders’ dogged pursuit of more and more tax cuts. This challenge is not happenstance, but rather a consequence of choices made by state lawmakers.

North Carolina’s ability to make public investments that are crucial to promoting widespread prosperity and that support a growing economy requires a tax system that raises adequate revenue to meet the growing needs of our state. Tax cuts passed in recent years will increasingly challenge our ability to strengthen the foundation that ensures opportunity for all North Carolinians – quality public schools, affordable higher education, and healthy and vibrant communities, for example.

What is not realistic is for state lawmakers to continue cutting taxes, which reduces revenue for public investments, and expect our state to be able to compete for good-paying jobs and remain an attractive state to raise a family and operate a business. All North Carolinians lose as we are taken down this dangerous path of cutting taxes at the expense of investing in our people and our future.