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Today’s Fayetteville Observer hits the nail on the head with this editorial condemning the state Senate’s plan to turn North Carolina’s Medicaid program over to giant, for-profit insurance corporations:

“The N.C. Senate’s drive to restructure the Medicaid program is making less sense all the time.

We understand lawmakers sometimes succumb to the urge to fix what’s not broken. But when they, and the voters, see mayhem coming, they usually back away.

We hope that’s happening this week, as members of the General Assembly get more evidence that our Medicaid management model is anything but broken.

According to just-released long-term review by the State Auditor’s office, the agency that administers the Medicaid program here is saving taxpayers a bundle – and providing improved medical outcomes at the same time.

The audit measured results achieved by Community Care of North Carolina from 2003 through 2012. The physician-led program has won national acclaim for its effectiveness in running the health-insurance program for the poor and disabled. Other states are copying the system, which has produced budget surpluses for the past two fiscal years.

Medicaid, funded jointly by the state and federal governments, covers about 1.4 million North Carolina residents. According to the audit, Community Care succeeded in managing medical conditions and keeping patients out of the hospital. That resulted in savings of about $78 per user per quarter, which adds up to saving state and federal taxpayers something approaching half a billion dollars a year.

Most lawmakers would likely agree that we’re talking real money there, yet the drive for privatization still has its hooks in the Senate, our legislative branch most driven by ideologues. Read More

Commentary

Last week’s ruling that North Carolina tax dollars may be used to support private schools with literally no standards of accountability at all has generated some scathing editorials from the state’s major newspapers. Here are a few excerpts:

From Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“It is distressing on its face, this idea that public money can go toward the expenses of private schooling. It crosses the divide between public and private, between church and state, between common sense and partisan ideology.

And yet, in a ruling with a clear partisan flavor, the North Carolina Supreme Court, having snatched the confrontation over a school voucher program out of the hands of the N.C. Court of Appeals where it should properly have gone, has upheld the Republican legislature’s voucher program. This is a devastating ruling for the future of public education.”

From the Greensboro News & Record:

“In 1997, the N.C. Supreme Court unanimously delivered its landmark Leandro ruling that declared the state has an obligation to offer every child a “sound, basic education.”

In a 4-3 decision Thursday, the court regrettably took a big step back from that principle, finding that the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is constitutional.”

From the Fayetteville Observer (after noting that it does not oppose vouchers):

“That said, we do have a deep concern about the lack of accountability in the voucher program, an issue raised in Justice Robin Hudson’s dissent. ‘The main constitutional flaw in this program,’ she wrote, ‘is that it provides no framework at all for evaluating any of the participating schools’ contribution to public purposes; such a huge omission is a constitutional black hole into which the entire program should disappear.’

The investment of tax dollars must be accompanied by accountability. The General Assembly needs to remedy that problem. If it does, we expect the voucher program to improve the lot of some students who otherwise might fall into the cracks and never see success.”

Stay tuned. There will be lots more like this to come.
Commentary

A lot of people are justifiably outraged at the House budget provision that gives $1 million (and delegates public duties) to the conservative school privatization lobby group, Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina (PEFNC). As Rep. Rick Glazier — who tried to amend the budget to shift the money to fund teacher assistants — said yesterday (as reported by Raleigh’s News & Observer):

“This is the first time that I believe in the history of the legislature that we’ve done what this is asking. We’re giving $1 million of taxpayers’ money to an entity to then choose the charter schools to fund. … It is not our job to take away public funds and give them to a private entity to make public decisions.”

In addition to the idea of giving public money to a right-wing lobby group, however, the whole thing is rendered even more remarkable by the circumstances that surround PEFNC’s employment of its executive director, Darrell Allison. Mr Allison, who, according to his group’s website, directs a staff of five, including himself, brings home quite a handsome — even stunning — salary. As Lindsay Wagner reported in January in 2014:

“In 2010, Allison received $107,889 for his work running the non-profit; in 2012, Allison reported an income of $156,582—a 45 percent pay increase in just two years.”
A check of the PEFNC Form 990 tax return for 2013 reveals that his compensation for that year was $167,085. The 2014 report is not yet available. By way of comparison, Gov. Pat McCrory’s salary is $142,265 and State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson’s is $125,676.
Commentary

Dix campusYesterday’s once-and-for-all, final approval of the Dorothea Dix campus land sale to the city of Raleigh ought to remind progressives of a couple of important facts about the state of modern politics.

First is that there’s still lots of room for intentional public action in shaping the society we want to inhabit. Sure, the Dix property could have been sold off for condos as so many folks on Right Wing Avenue would have liked. The “market” could have had its way with the property and life in the capital city would have gone on, albeit in a diminished state. But, now, thanks to the vision of some inspired people and the loud and repeated demands of thousands of average citizens, the entire community will benefit for decades (maybe even centuries) to come as a result of a modest and collective upfront sacrifice.

If ever there was a classic example of how “the people” banning together can lift up the common good and public solutions and thereby triumph over the forces of greed and privatization, this is one. The Dix deal isn’t perfect (the state continues to do far too little for people with mental illness and disabilities) but it is clearly far superior to what we would have gotten had the decision been left to the market fundamentalists.

That said, the second lesson is this: Though they were dragged kicking and screaming to the deal, the folks on the right wing remain unrepentant. Even as Raleigh moves toward the creation of a major public “destination park,” the privatizers and conservative ideologues continue to push to dismantle all thing public — including institutions like parks, zoos and aquariums that ought to be forever public. Don’t think for a second that yesterday’s  success will stop that effort — either in North Carolina or around the country.

The bottom line: Let’s hope the Dix victory reminds progressives of two things: 1) the power they have when people band together for the common good and 2) the need to redouble their efforts going forward in the battle with those who would sell off our government.

Commentary

School-vouchersIf you still harbor any doubts about what the American far right has in mind when it comes to the future of public education, there’s a helpful reminder in Texas right now where ideologues are seriously advancing a new proposal to commence the process of doing away with it. As public schools champion Diane Ravitch points out his morning on her blog, the latest voucher proposal under consideration in the Lone Star state appears to be a truly a frightening mess.

Ravitch points readers to a recent and critical op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Republican politico Chris Ladd (a fellow who, rather remarkably, writes under the moniker “GOP Lifer”) in which he describes the proposal that would both allow vouchers and a new and parallel funding scheme whereby some taxpayers could simply earmark their taxes to fund private schools. Here’s Ladd:

“These two bills would not merely privatize schools. They would privatize the school funding system as well, creating an entire parallel world free from the liberal horrors of a real education infrastructure. Taxpayers could simply exit the existing public school funding system in favor of their own private school funding entities which they control entirely…. Read More