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Students from across North Carolina gathered on Halifax Mall outside the General Assembly today under the banner of “One State, One Rate” to advocate tuition equity in higher education for high school graduates with undocumented status. The Adelante Education Coalition led the “Undocugraduation” event as part of their “Let’s Learn NC” statewide campaign.

Maria Cortez-Perez, 18, a graduate of Southwest Guilford High School, speak to her peers and reporters on tuition equity for undocumented and DACA students in front of the General Assembly on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Photo by Ricky Leung / NC Policy Watch

Maria Cortez-Perez, 18, a graduate of Southwest Guilford High School, speak to her peers and reporters on tuition equity for undocumented and DACA students in front of the General Assembly on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Photo by Ricky Leung / NC Policy Watch

Donned in their graduation caps and gowns, students like Maria Cortez-Perez from Southwest Guilford High School aim to share their personal stories and speak with legislators to push for support of SB 463. Introduced by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, Jr. (R – Cabarrus, Union), SB 463 would enable undocumented and DACA students like Cortez-Perez to afford higher education through in-state tuition. At least 18 states across the country, including Texas and Utah, currently allow in-state tuition for undocumented students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Latin American Coalition puts the latest number at 21, 17 through state legislative action and 4 through decisions of individual university systems.

Though graduating with a 4.2 GPA, being a member of various venerable groups such as Beta Club and National Honors Society, and despite having lived in North Carolina for 16 of her 18 years of life, Cortez-Perez, along with hundreds of her peers graduating from high schools in N.C. each year, are unable to afford out-of-state tuition or receive federal and state financial aid. Adelante estimates 42,000 undocumented students to be in N.C. schools.

“North Carolina has already invested in these students through their K-12 education and can benefit from allowing them to contribute to fill the need for a bilingual and educated workforce,” Adelante said in a press statement.

Standing on a stage facing the N.C. General Assembly building, Cortez-Perez spoke of her upbringing, of the accomplishments of herself and her peers, and of the undeterred hope of fulfilling the dream of a higher education and a better future.

“We are not in the shadows anymore,” Cortez-Perez said to a group of her peers and reporters. “People know of our accomplishments.”

As the “Undocugraduation” draws to a close, students pose for a photo and toss their caps in the air before dispersing to speak with legislators to advocate for SB 463, for tuition equity and for their chance to achieve their dreams.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week, the North Carolina House of Representatives approved a $22.2 billion state budget plan, which is overall a modest step towards building an economy that works for all North Carolinians. The budget represents a 5-percent increase over current year spending and the highest level of investments since the official economic recovery began in 2009.Yet, the plan still falls short of pre-recession levels of investments, fails to replace years of harmful cuts, and does not reflect all that’s needed to foster inclusive economic growth.

Unfortunately it is now clear—based on newly released spending targets—that the Senate is poised to severely limit spending rather than follow the House’s lead on making modest improvements. Low spending targets may be linked to the Senate leadership’s desire to “significantly” cut income taxes even further—a move that would hinder reinvestment in programs and fail to generate promised economic returns.

The Senate’s low spending targets make plain the shortsightedness of such an approach. For example, investments in public schools would only increase by .013 percent after accounting for enrollment growth. School systems and students would have to go without essentials that support academic achievement and completion, hindering the long-term growth potential of the state.

As the Senate moves forward in the budget process, budget writers should keep and build upon the House’s planned investments in the things that build a more inclusive economy so the state can better position itself to be competitive. Further deep tax cuts hinder lawmakers’ ability to achieve this goal. Below is a list of ten examples of economy-boosting investments and policy changes that the House included in its budget plan. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The budget passed by House members last week makes clear that North Carolina remains hampered by costly decisions made in recent years. Despite modest improvements in some areas of the budget, important public investments that drive the state forward remain well below pre-recession spending levels. The House budget is a reflection of choices and an example of missed opportunities.

Modest funding increases in the House budget are primarily the result of moving the goal post. For example, fully funding enrollment growth for our public schools and providing teachers and state employees a two-percent pay increase are typical budget practices, particularly in budgets crafted during a recovery.

The budget hikes various fees, increases tuition at community colleges, fails to reinstate the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and resorts to cutting funding from certain programs to fund others (e.g., the House reduced funding for textbooks in order to fund other areas of the public education budget).

Rather than address persistent underinvestment and seize opportunities to support a stronger economy, state lawmakers will allow another round of corporate tax cuts to go into effect – reducing annual revenue by $100 million in the first year, $350 million the second year, and more than $500 million in subsequent years.

Revenue lost just from these additional corporate tax cuts, which state leaders seem unwilling to debate, could provide funding for much-needed public services that strengthen our communities and the state’s economy. Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, a middle school teacher from Forsyth County named Stuart Egan had a fine op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal in which he debunked the myth that flawed teachers are somehow the biggest problem facing our public schools. As Egan explained:

“Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and North Carolina legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article titled “Rotten Apples” that suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.”

Egan continues with the farming analogy:

“Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn. Read More

News

The N.C. House of Representatives released portions of its budget Thursday, and included several significant changes and some cuts for public higher education.

UNCsystemThe entire budget – which is expected to fill in gaps about whether raises are in store for state employees and teachers – is expected to be released Monday, and voted on by the Republican-led House that week.

Senate Republican leaders have not announced when their version of the budget will be done.

Several significant changes were trotted out by House budget writers this week for the state’s public higher education system.

The House did fund expected growth in the system but also calls for $44.3 million over the next two years in management cuts and would roll out a program that would push academically weak college students into a community college program before gaining entry into the state’s four-year universities.

Drew Moretz, the University of North Carolina system’s vice-president for government affairs, said the House calls for fewer cuts than what Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposed.

“It’s a better starting point than what the governor had given us,” Moretz said.

The system as a whole has had $658 million in management cuts since 2008-09, he said.

The House budget would also, for the first time, allow low-income students to get scholarships to virtually attend Western Governors University, an online education program that’s been touted as a low-cost education option by groups like the conservative John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

House lawmakers also want to delay more than 1,000 prospective students from attending the state’s public universities by requiring the UNC system to defer admissions to students who meet admissions standards but don’t have strong academic histories

Read More