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GovBeshear_300Today in the Joint Appropriations Committee at the NC General Assembly there was a suggestion that closing the insurance coverage gap in states has proven much more expensive than first anticipated. Just after the conclusion of our legislative meeting Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear held a press conference addressing this very issue. In his statement to the media Gov. Beshear said claims that Kentucky could not afford Medicaid expansion have been “buried under an avalanche of facts.”

He went on to say:

An avalanche of facts that demonstrate to the satisfaction of anyone and everyone with an open mind that Kentucky can indeed afford to take care of its people. In fact, we can’t afford not to do so.

The focus of Gov. Beshear’s press conference was a new report from the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville showing that the first year of expansion saved millions of dollars and created thousands of jobs in Kentucky. In addition, health care providers were paid an addition $1.16 billion for services.

The report also shows that for the FY17-18 state budget Kentucky will pay a biennial total of $247.6 million for expansion, which will be offset by $511.8 million in savings and additional tax revenue.

We have similar studies in NC showing that covering 500,000 more people would create jobs and boost state revenues. We just need more policymakers willing to listen to the facts flowing from states that have already made the wise decision to invest in the health of their people.

News

More than $4,000,000 worth of taxpayer-funded school vouchers have now been paid out to private schools subject to virtually no state oversight in North Carolina, according to records obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

Documents released by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority show that five private schools have now received at least $100,000 in state funds thanks to the new Opportunity Scholarships program, which offers low-income families $4,200 vouchers annually to use at private schools that are overwhelmingly affiliated with religious institutions and are not required to follow a curriculum, employ certified teachers or conduct criminal background checks on employees.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher program to be unconstitutional last year, but the program has been allowed to proceed while a court battle over the program’s legality continues. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the voucher case February 17.

The top twelve schools receiving taxpayer-funded school vouchers are:

  1. Word of God Christian Academy (Raleigh) – $180,600
  2. Greensboro Islamic Academy – $142,800
  3. Concord First Assembly Academy (Concord) – $120,190
  4. Fayetteville Christian School – $118,230
  5. Freedom Christian School (Fayetteville) – $108,254
  6. Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville) – $96,600
  7. Tabernacle Christian School (Monroe) – $96,568
  8. Al-Iman School (Raleigh) – $86,841
  9. Raleigh Christian Academy – $81,900
  10. Victory Christian Center School (Charlotte) – $77,646
  11. Liberty Christian Academy (Richlands) – $75,530
  12. Bal-Perazim Christian Academy (Fayetteville) – $72,870

A total of $4,159,457 public dollars have been spent of the $10 million that state lawmakers appropriated for school vouchers last year (that figure does not include administrative costs).

Records also included numbers of school voucher recipients by ethnicity.

Ethnicity
American Indian or Alaska Native:                     9
Asian                                                                      20
Biracial                                                                 106
Black or African American                                 616
Hispanic                                                                102
Other                                                                      16
White                                                                     333
Total                                                                   1,202

Last year, N.C. Policy Watch reported that Greensboro Islamic Academy, one of the top recipients of taxpayer-funded school vouchers, was in financial trouble and pleading online for help from the public to fund its $150,000 shortfall so that the school could complete the 2013-14 school year.

Greensboro Islamic Academy has now received $142,800 for its 63 voucher students.

Read the full list of school voucher recipients below.

News

Of the nearly 30 percent of North Carolina’s schools receiving letter grades of D or F from the state, almost all of them are designated as high poverty schools with at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

poverty_grades

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats. Read More

Commentary

NC Left Me OutA group of coalition partners working in North Carolina to close the Medicaid coverage gap has launched a new website called NC Left Me Out to collect stories of people who make too much for Medicaid and too little for private insurance. As the website explains, the Affordable Care Act specifically allocated funds to provide affordable insurance coverage to approximately 500,000 people in our state. Unfortunately, the Governor and the legislature have blocked those funds from coming to North Carolina. Many of the individuals and families who could use this money to get insurance coverage work in low-wage professions like construction, day care, and food service.

At a press conference today Dana Wilson, a woman in the coverage gap who suffers from MS, shared her story. You can watch her video here.

The legislature and the Governor need to hear from more people like Dana, the working poor who are being unfairly denied coverage. If you are in the coverage gap please consider sharing your story on the NC Left Me Out website. If you want to support the campaign then you can sign up as well.

Every week a new Governor shows the leadership to formulate a plan for extending insurance coverage to people in the Medicaid gap. Last week the conservative state of Indiana had a plan approved. States like Wyoming and Utah are moving forward with similar ideas. We need Governor McCrory to show us his plan for closing the coverage gap. He has publicly hinted that he wants to design a state-specific Medicaid waiver. Great, let’s get moving. Every day that we wait is another day people like Dana suffer.

We need to continue telling our stories to the media, to legislators, and to the Governor. If the economic arguments and moral arguments don’t win the day, maybe looking into the eyes of those who have been denied coverage will begin changing minds.

News

Civil rights groups as well as a long list of academic scholars have joined the fight to end the state’s new school voucher law, which allows families to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools over which the state exercises almost no oversight.

The opponents of school vouchers, who filed amicus briefs with the N.C. Supreme Court late last week and on Monday in support of the taxpayers and school boards that are suing to end the program, present arguments that range from school vouchers don’t help poor black children as they are intended to contesting the validity of using public dollars for private, religious education.

“The voucher plan will harm the great majority of children of color who will remain in the traditional public schools,” according to the NC NAACP’s amicus brief, filed Monday.

Further, the NAACP brief adds that “[the voucher plan] will undermine North Carolina’s public education system, not just by drawing resources away from the public schools, but also by turning those schools into “discard zones” where only the poorest children remain, and by subsidizing hypersegregated private schools that are at liberty to discriminate against at risk students.”

Duke University public policy professor Helen Ladd heads up a long list of education scholars as well as the Duke Children’s Law Clinic in their friend-of-the-court brief, filed Monday, asserting that a dedicated body of scholarly research indicates that school voucher programs do not produce positive educational outcomes for students.

“While it is possible to cherry-pick a few studies that show occasional modest benefits to students using vouchers – typically those done by advocacy groups rather than independent scholars – the overwhelming thrust of the evidence is that voucher programs do not foster academic gains for children,” asserted the scholars in their brief.

The ACLU along with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State argue in their amicus brief that the state’s voucher program violates the state constitution because no public purpose is served by funding with taxpayer dollars religious education at private schools that discriminate on the basis of religion.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, also filed an amicus brief late Monday opposing North Carolina’s voucher program.

Last year, a Wake County Superior Court judge found the school voucher program to be unconstitutional, although the program has been allowed to continue while its fate is decided. The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the school voucher case on February 17.