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NC Budget and Tax Center

Students in high-poverty schools across North Carolina are showing up to class each day with food in their stomach and ready to learn thanks to an initiative known as Community Eligibility.  As part of the nationwide Community Eligibility Program (CEP), schools within 54 school systems across the state are providing breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. Some districts have adopted CEP in all of their schools.

North Carolina is the fifth hungriest state in the country, so providing healthy school meals at no cost to students and families is especially important for children – particularly those in our most distressed communities. As North Carolina continue to face the challenges of persistent poverty and ensuring that all students are afforded a high-quality education, access to nutritious school meals serves as a positive step forward.

The initial rollout of CEP in North Carolina has been promising. Nearly half of all public schools eligible to participate in CEP adopted the initiative for the current school year, representing more than 310,000 students (Click here to see a list of CEP-eligible, participating schools). This is wonderful news! Only two states in the south – Tennessee and Georgia – have more students attending schools that are participating in CEP. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week, Governor McCrory unveiled his two-year budget proposal for July 2015 through June 2017. He has since touted how his plan reinvests in the public services and programs that are essential for economic opportunity and quality of life. However, a close look at his 2016 fiscal year (FY2016) spending plan reveals that he fails to reinvest in a meaningful way in the critical public structures that benefit us all. Genuine progress will continue to be hampered until state lawmakers build a tax system that can adequately match the needs of a growing economy.

Governor McCrory’s proposed budget for FY2016 increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or 2 percent. This is in sharp contrast to past recoveries when state investments were far quicker to return to, and advance beyond, pre-recession levels. Enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs is estimated to exceed the year-to-year increase in spending in the governor’s proposal, totaling nearly $442.6 million in FY2016. That means every new dollar increase, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth (see chart below).

It also means that non-enrollment expansion items in the proposal are made possible by cutting or allowing spending to expire for other vital programs that are already stripped bare from previous underinvestment. That’s like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Read More

News

After a slow start thanks to snow and ice wreaking havoc on legislative meeting schedules for the past two weeks, members of the House K-12 Education committee finally gathered this morning to get acquainted and begin moving legislation.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), co-chair of the committee, introduced House Bill 18, “Planning Year for CIHS,” which would provide institutions seeking Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) status (also known as early college high schools) with a planning year prior to opening.

Members of the committee approved the bill, but stripped its $750,000 appropriation that was recommended by the House Study Committee on Education Innovation.

Also up for debate was HB35, “Education Innovation Task Force,” which Rep. Elmore said would offer a more permanent solution for the work of the Education Innovation study committee by establishing a permanent entity to examine innovative practices happening in schools across the state of North Carolina.

The task force would comprise 19 politically appointed members that would include teachers, parents, administrators and lawmakers.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin, Wayne) stressed the importance of choosing for the task force teachers and school officials who are near the end of their careers. “I have found in my district a tremendous hesitancy for school teachers and school personnel to speak up out of various concerns that they have from the administrative level,” said Dixon.

“There’s great wisdom to be gained once teachers who have been in the trenches for a long time understand where the problems are and are unencumbered by the fear of retaliation if they speak up,” said Dixon.

Members approved HB35.

Earlier this morning, the joint education appropriations committee met to continue the orientation process before getting down to work on the state education budget. For a thorough look at how the state funds North Carolina’s schools, check out this presentation by the Fiscal Research Division’s Brian Matteson.

Commentary

Curious about the real cost of vouchers? Check out these two great op-eds from Rev. Dr. Arnetta Beverly and Margaret Arbuckle in the Greensboro News-Record.

Rev. Beverly focuses on why risky vouchers schemes violate the North Carolina constitution:

Article IX, Section 6 of the North Carolina constitution declares that public funds for education “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”

The language could not be clearer: Under our constitution, funds that must be used “exclusively” for the public schools cannot be used to issue private school vouchers.

That’s not all. The constitution requires that taxpayer funds must be spent “for public purposes only.”

Arbuckle’s piece highlights the very real human consequences of this ill-advised program:

Vouchers have horrible consequences, including misuse of public funds, violating separation of church and state and compromising children’s educational outcomes in unaccountable schools. This is a bad idea, wrong in its concept and implementation. The consequences for our public education system will be dire.

Both are well worth your time in advance of tomorrow’s hearing at the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Commentary

Dan ForestYou’ve got to hand it to Lt. Governor Dan Forest. The Lite Guv is clearly the most conservative statewide elected official in North Carolina in decades — especially when it comes to social issues, where in his less-well-guarded moments, he can make Pat Robertson sound like a secular progressive.

And yet, despite this, Forest is also a very slick and ambitious politician. Maybe, it’s being the son of a longtime member of Congress, but whatever the explanation, Forest can be very skilled at cloaking his extremist views with mainstream-sounding language.

A classic example is his “I support teachers” specialty license plate idea that he is plugging this week. What could sound more wholesome and make for better P.R. than “supporting” teachers?

The only problem, of course, is that the whole idea of “supporting” teachers by raising private donations at $50 a throw so that a foundation can mete them out to teachers in dribs and drabs is an absurd idea. Not only will it amount to a drop in the bucket, it undermines the very idea of how public schools ought to be funded and assessed — i.e. by the taxpayers and the professionals they employ.

But, of course, this shouldn’t come as any real surprise. As one of the most ardent champions of school privatization via vouchers (Forest’s own kids have been home schooled) and regressive tax policies that have undermined funding for what folks on the Right like to call “government schools,” Forest has been pushing the kind of slickly packaged, far right agenda that would warm the hearts of the Koch brothers for many years.

Let’s hope North Carolinians quickly see through this cynical effort to burnish/soften the image of an ambitious politician who could, if he really supported public school teachers, find several more effective ways to do so.