Commentary

Veteran teacher: We must integrate our schools

In case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out this fabulous essay by Wake County school teacher Katherine Meeks that was featured on the main NC Policy Watch site. In it, Meeks, who has taught in a high poverty school in Charlotte and a lower poverty school in Raleigh, explains why socioeconomic integration is absolutely essential if we want to save our public schools. Here’s an excerpt:

“This is the story of my experiences teaching at two vastly different schools and the systemic problems of socioeconomic inequalities I witnessed:

  1. CMS: 90% free and reduced lunch; extremely low performing; rated “F”
  2. WCPSS: 20% free and reduced lunch; high performing; rated “A”

At the first school, we were flooded with monetary resources, technology, and additional school personnel.

To serve 900 students, we had five administrators, a school resource officer, two security associates, two behavior management technicians, two in-school suspension teachers, two “Communities In Schools” staff, three instructional facilitators, a full-time beginning teacher coordinator, a CTE coordinator, two counselors, and a social worker. We had a technology device for every single student. Class sizes were lower than average.

Despite these supports, I worked 12 hours a day to complete the most basic parts of my job and working conditions were far below what I would consider professional. I witnessed an unfathomable amount of violence and on more than one occasion felt personally unsafe. There was a culture of fear for everyone involved: fear of theft, fear of violence, and fear of multiple kinds of abuse. When teachers were absent, students were most often covered by stretching current staff because substitutes did not want to work in the unpredictable and sometimes hostile environment. Read more

Commentary

Drug testing “welfare” applicants turning out to be the giant waste that critics foresaw

This afternoon’s “must read”:

Drug testingThe results are in: North Carolina’s law to drug test Work First applicants is a costly and mean-spirited waste of time

By Mike Meno, ACLU-NC Communications Director

Early results of a new law that allows North Carolina to drug test people who apply for Work First, a program that provides temporary assistance to needy families, confirm what the ACLU-NC and others argued at the time of the bill’s passage: it is a wasteful and unnecessary government invasion of vulnerable people’s privacy.

The law was originally passed in 2013, over the veto of Gov. Pat McCrory, who called the measure “a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion” that “is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the state has spent about $5,500 to review 7,600 applicants between August and December. About 2 percent of the applicants were referred for a drug test, and of those, 21 people tested positive. That amounts to less than 0.3% of all applicants, according to the News & Observer. Put another way, North Carolina spent about $262 for each applicant it “caught” testing positive.

These numbers show once again that people seeking temporary assistance to support their families are no more likely to use drugs than the general public, and that laws that single out and stigmatize vulnerable people with invasive and constitutionally suspect drug tests are nothing more than a mean-spirited waste of taxpayer dollars.

The people who benefit from Work First’s temporary cash assistance, job training, and support services – and therefor most at risk under this law – are primarily families. In about 62 percent of cases, Work First benefits go to children. Of the 21 cases that tested positive for drugs, 12 involve children. Those families will now receive reduced support, and need to pay $55 for a second test if they want to reapply.

It’s important to remember in these cases that drug tests are notoriously faulty, and that if individuals are in need of drug treatment, cutting off or reducing aid to their families usually does little to get them to the help that they need. Whether it’s student loans or Social Security, many people receive some type of government benefit, yet North Carolina singles out only these vulnerable families trying to make ends meet for this unnecessary and demeaning scrutiny.

North Carolina’s lawmakers should end this misguided and baseless targeting of Work First applicants and give them the same respect and privacy they would anyone else.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Policymakers should be wary of most policy proposals discussed at the Kemp Forum on Poverty

2016 may be the year that families working in low-wage jobs get the spotlight that they deserve from policymakers. Policymakers and candidates on both sides of the political spectrum are finally discussing economic policies that they purport will improve the lives of people who work hard to provide for their families but struggle to afford the basics.

Several Republican presidential candidates turned their attention to economic hardship and income inequality at the Kemp Forum on Poverty last weekend. In a positive development, one candidate voiced his support for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income childless workers so they can keep more of what they earn and make ends meet. Another candidate lifted up the benefit of adopting and expanding state EITCs—advice that is in line with a growing body of research that shows how the credit helps at every stage of life. Both policies would reduce poverty for children and families.

Unfortunately, such endorsements for stronger EITCs are out-of-step with GOP policy choices here in North Carolina, where state lawmakers axed the state credit in 2013—despite the fact that in one in three Tar Heel workers earn poverty-level wages.

While it is welcome news for candidates to pay unprecedented attention to poverty, it is concerning that a good share of the discussion falsely portrayed fundamental truths about poverty trends, the effectiveness of work and income supports (i.e. the safety net), and how the proposals discussed would in reality increase material hardship and poverty. Read more

Commentary, News

New Justice Center E.D. outlines his vision

Rick Glazier at a recent N.C. Policy Watch event

Rick Glazier at a recent N.C. Policy Watch event

In case you missed it, the parent organization of NC Policy Watch, the North Carolina Justice Center, gained a new Executive Director in recent months. Rick Glazier, a veteran attorney from Fayetteville who served several terms as one of the General Assembly’s most accomplished and respected members, joined the organization in late summer.

Recently, the folks at one of North Carolina’s most important funders of progressive causes, the Winston-Salem-based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, sat down with Rick to explore his vision for the Justice Center and, more importantly, the fight to end poverty and bring a semblance of economic justice to our state.

You can read the entire interview by clicking here, but I particularly liked this part:

“This is a critical moment in NC history, with an altered context that has challenged assumptions, protections, institutions and programs many believed were sacrosanct – not because they were infallible, but because they were a dynamic and vital part of the progressive, moral and economic fabric of North Carolinians’ lives. Many of these are sadly now under real threat of serious generational harm, including public education, the university system, our natural resources, voting and civil rights for all, and a true safety net of economic protections for our most vulnerable populations. The Justice Center leads in the fight for an economy that works for everyone.”

The staff members at NC Policy Watch are proud to play an important part in this fight. If you’d like to join us in the effort, we’d welcome your contributions — financial and otherwise. Click here for information or contact me directly at rob@ncpolicywatch.com.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Anti-poverty programs matter all year long

The holiday season is a time to reflect on our personal journey over the past year and spend time with family and friends. For many, it is also a time of compassion and willingness to help less-fortunate neighbors make ends meet and secure basic needs.Coming up short image

In Governor McCrory’s Thanksgiving video message, he spends a brief moment encouraging North Carolinians to think of and help people who are struggling to get by. It is rare for the Governor to lift up the plight of families in need. But, a small act of kindness is never wasted and his call for supporting our neighbors is welcome.

The big question remains, however: what have lawmakers done this past year to address poverty?  The scourge of poverty that exists in every Tar Heel community demands sustained and systemic attention. Very few lawmakers give people struggling with economic hardship the attention that they deserve—not in policy agendas, not at the policy tables, and not in public speeches.

These end-of-the-year-only messages that pop up about helping people in need remind me of that one uncle—and we all have one—who talks a big game at family holiday gatherings but lacks follow through when it matters most. Read more