Commentary, Uncategorized

The North Carolina Justice Center launched radio and digital ads this week urging people to ask Gov. Pat McCrory to release a plan that expands affordable health insurance in our state.

We have the opportunity to tap federal funds to extend affordable insurance coverage to more than 500,000 people struggling to pay for care. Our tax dollars are sitting in Washington waiting to be used to boost rural health care in our state and save more than 1,000 lives every year.

We can expand Medicaid with this money or we can develop a state-specific plan to experiment with new coverage ideas. Conservative Governors in Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Montana, Utah, Tennessee and elsewhere have proposed specific policies. Gov. McCrory told news outlets at the beginning of the year that he was considering doing the same. The hold up, he claimed at the time, was the latest Affordable Care Act challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court. He would announce his support, or opposition, to expanding coverage after the high court ruled in King v. Burwell.

King v. Burwell came and went and still no word from the Governor.

The Governor and legislators all have access to taxpayer funded healthcare so they can afford to delay a decision. Many others in our state aren’t so lucky.

These 500,000 North Carolinians are mostly the working poor with jobs in construction and food service that do not provide health insurance benefits. They don’t currently qualify for Medicaid because eligibility is restrictive in our state. They can’t afford to buy private insurance. Now they are stuck and just need action from their elected representatives.

It starts with the Governor. He can change the dynamic by showing leadership and proposing a plan. Go to NC Left Me Out and share your story if you or a loved one are in the coverage gap. And then use the phone number listed to contact Gov. McCrory and ask him, “Where’s the plan to expand coverage?” We can’t wait any longer.


News reports this morning continue to advance the notion that state lawmakers will come together on a state budget prior to the expiration of the current continuing resolution next Friday. As most reports have noted, the issue is made more complex by a House rule that requires 72 hours of public notice prior to the final votes on the budget. This means that lawmakers have to cut their final deal and get it published by the beginning of next week in order to meet the deadline.

While this may, indeed, be possible to pull off, it is worth noting that another House rule could impact the timing of next week’s process as well.

House Rule 44(b) (click here and go to page 21-22) reads as follows:

(b) The conference report may be made by a majority of the House members of such conference committee and shall not be amended. If the Senate has a similar rule, only such matters as are in difference between the two houses shall be considered by the conferees, and the conference report shall deal only with such matters. If the Senate does not have a similar rule, a conference committee report which includes significant matters that were not in difference between the houses, shall be referred to a standing committee for its recommendation before further action by the House.

The matter at issue with this rule is the question of inserting new items into the conference report that were not in the versions of the bill passed by either body. The common sense principle is that conference committees established to work out the differences between the two houses ought not to be adding completely new provisions out of thin air that were never in either version of the bill.

Not surprisingly, the wild and crazy Senate has no rule barring such shenanigans, but the House (see above) does. The clear impact of this rule is to require, at a minimum, an additional House committee meeting (presumably of the Appropriations Committee) to consider the new provisions added by conferees.

This means that if, for instance, the final conference report has a provision on the construction of terminal groins along the coast (something that was not in either version of the budget) the House must have a committee meeting to consider and approve such an addition. And while such a meeting could, presumably, be put together in relatively short order, it does offer the prospect of at least some minimal public airing of the details of what is sure to be a massive, secretly negotiated document.

Let’s hope House Speaker Tim Moore does the right thing and enforces this rule.


This just in: members of the House and Senate who were appointed to a conference committee appear to have brokered a deal to keep the Office of Charter Schools administratively within the Department of Public Instruction, despite Senator Jerry Tillman’s (R-Randolph) initial efforts to move that office under the State Board of Education. A final vote on the proposal is expected Monday.

According to a conference committee report filed late Thursday, “the Office of Charter Schools shall be administratively located in the Department of Public Instruction, subject to the supervision, direction, and control of the State Board of Education.”

While the charter school office would continue to be housed within DPI, according to the conference report, it would appear that the State Board of Education could exercise more oversight over that office—but how that would practically work isn’t yet clear.

The report also stipulates that Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest would head a three-person search committee to appoint a new Office of Charter Schools director. That position is currently vacant; its former director, Joel Medley, vacated his position this summer to go work for the new K12, Inc.-backed online virtual charter school NC Virtual Academy.

Other items of note in the proposed legislation:

  • Raises the statutory minimum number of students enrolled in a charter school from 65 to 80;
  • Offers more opportunities for charter school applicants to make corrections to their applications along the way;
  • Includes an anti-nepotism policy;
  • Allows a charter school board member to have a conflict of interest so long as they comply with the school’s conflict of interest policy;
  • Members of a charter school board may reside outside of North Carolina;
  • Charter schools may charge extracurricular fees consistent with what the LEA charges;

Notably, the conference report also contains a provision that is unrelated to charter schools. Section 10 deals with disability vouchers, which currently require eligible students to be reassessed by their LEAs every three years to ensure they still qualify for the special needs scholarships, which allow students to use state funds at private institutions.

The conference report appears to allow recipients of the disability vouchers to be reassessed for eligibility not only by the LEA, but also by a “licensed psychologist with a school psychology focus.”

Let me know if I missed any key provisions in H334.



Having worked through the Labor Day weekend, lawmakers are indicating that budget talks have been productive and that we could see a budget agreement hammered out—2.5 months late—between House and Senate leaders by week’s end.

It’s been a very long seven (?) months since the start of this year’s legislative session, so in case you’ve gotten so weary you’ve lost track of what’s at stake for public education, here are seven big issues.

Teacher assistants. Yes, once again, TA jobs are on the line and serve as one of the biggest sticking points between the House and the Senate. The House wants to preserve their jobs (of which there are already far fewer than pre-recession levels), while the Senate wants to do away with more than 8,500 TA jobs over the next two years in favor of reducing classroom sizes.

Educators say wait: not enough space or time at this point to reduce class sizes and, by the way, who will drive the buses, administer the medicines, and keep kids safe—not to mention who will make sure third graders are reading proficient?

Driver’s education. The Senate wants to defund driver’s ed and make parents pay $350+ for their kids to learn how to drive. Sen. Dan Soucek (R-Boone) says kids just need to sit behind the wheel for a while—instruction isn’t necessary. The House wants to keep the program going, which some say has markedly improved thanks to recent efforts to increase oversight and coordination between the DMV and driver’s ed programs.

Meanwhile, thanks to funding uncertainty, some school districts have already quit providing driver’s ed. And the person at DPI who some say is responsible for making the program better? He got laid off.

Teacher pay. Lawmakers have said they’ll fund the step increases that were foreshadowed in last year’s set of pay raises, which is welcome news to teachers who thought they would have seen those pay bumps earlier this summer. Beginning teachers will see their base pay rise again to $35,000, a promise that was made last year. Everyone else? $750 Christmastime bonuses, which isn’t really a salary increase, but, well—a bonus.

All of these promises were made verbally, though, so let’s see how things actually pan out in the budget documents.

Reminder: NC ranks 42nd in teacher pay, 47th in per pupil spending, and new teachers have no tenure rights. And next year, new teachers may not be able to look forward to…

Health retirement benefits. Senate lawmakers want to end a much-treasured benefit that comes with working for the state government for many years at comparatively lower wages than what private industry pays: state-paid health retirement benefits. Teachers and state employees hired after January 1 of next year would not be eligible for free health insurance upon retirement. House and Senate leaders have been pretty quiet on the budget provision, and we’ll see if it makes it into the final budget.

A-F school grades. The Senate wants to require local school districts to come up with improvement plans for schools that receive Ds or Fs under the state’s new school grading system—but they offer no funds in order to help local schools implement the plans. (See why this is especially important at the bottom of this post.)

“We believe money is not the answer,” said Sen. Brown, explaining instead that districts must identify other ways to deal with factors that contribute to poor performance at failing schools.

Neither Senate nor House budget proposals also do not include language that would change how schools receive A-F school grades, in spite of interest expressed on both sides of the aisle for the school grading system to be amended so that the grades better indicate how well schools are able to help their students improve academically over time.

If the A-F grading system remains as is, by and large high poverty-serving schools with fewer resources would continue to receive failing grades while schools that serve higher income populations would receive better marks—a trend we just saw continue for the second year in a row.

School vouchers. The House and Senate want to expand the Opportunity Scholarships program by $6.8 million, bringing the total cost of the program to $17.6 million each year of the biennium. The vouchers allow low-income students to attend unaccountable private schools with taxpayer dollars.

Now that the state Supreme Court has ruled the program constitutional, we’ll see if legislators move to expand the program even further.

Textbooks. The Senate proposes $58 million over two years for textbooks and digital resources—less than half of what the House has proposed. Funds for textbooks have been slashed to the bone over the past five years and House and Senate proposals still do not restore textbook funds to their 2011 levels.


Bonus issue: Achievement School District. It’s not in the budget, but hey, who knows — anything can end up in the budget.

The ASD is an idea being shepherded by Rep. Rob Bryan behind closed doors. The proposal allows charter school operators to take over low-performing schools, fire the teachers and staff, and catapult students’ academic performance into the top 25 percent within a few years. A wealthy businessman from Oregon is financing lobbying efforts associated with the possible legislation.

Word on the street is that Bryan’s bill is being met with pushback and key Republican lawmakers haven’t been converted on the idea. Stay tuned to see if the ASD proposal gets inserted into a gutted Senate bill (SB 95) and heard in committee, or if it makes it into budget documents.


*This post has been updated to reflect comments from Senate budget writer Harry Brown indicating that all state employees AND teachers will receive $750 bonuses during the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The News & Observer is reporting that House and Senate leaders have reached an agreement on how much to pay teachers and state employees for this fiscal year, nearly two months after their June 30 deadline for making these decisions.

All state employees, including teachers, will receive $750 bonuses toward the end of 2015, said Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow). That amounts to $62.50 per month, before taxes.

Making good on last year’s promise, beginning teachers will also see their base pay rise to $35,000 per year, up from $33,000 that was enacted last year.

Experienced teachers will also receive step increases, presumably as laid out in the state’s streamlined salary schedule, which lawmakers enacted last year—although budget documents detailing the step increases were not made available Wednesday. (See here for the 2014-15 salary schedule.)

It’s unclear whether teachers who are scheduled for step increases as well as beginning teachers will be paid retroactively beginning with the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Tim Moore said their priority will be to focus on “shoring up funds so we can give meaningful raises” next year, according to the N&O.

For a teacher with 15 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree, receiving a step increase will mean jumping up from a base salary of $40,000 to $43,500 (excluding local supplements). Step increases for teachers are scheduled every five years, stopping at year 25 and capping base salary at $50,000.

WRAL reports that budget negotiators are still discussing how much of a pay increase to give state retirees. And there’s no resolution yet about teacher assistants—the Senate wants to slash 8,500+ TA jobs in exchange for reducing classroom size, while the House wants to preserve those positions.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced Wednesday that the General Assembly will pass a third continuing resolution tomorrow. The measure, which will keep state government operations running as lawmakers finalize a budget, will run through September 18—although they hope to reach a final agreement sooner, at which time the above mentioned raises & bonuses will be set in law.