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In case you missed it, Raleigh’s News & Observer has an excellent editorial today that takes Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to task for his wrongheaded action to fire thousands of teacher assistants.

“Phil Berger knows better. A small-town lawyer by trade, the Republican president pro tem of the state Senate deals every day in his profession with figures and laws and details.

And he ought to know that his desperate grasp of weak straws to justify a draconian cut in teacher assistants as proposed in the Senate budget is not going to convince anyone that those cuts are harmless. Fortunately, the House budget is more moderate, perhaps reflecting the U.S. Senate ambitions of Speaker Thom Tillis, who knows he’ll have to broaden his appeal outside of the tea party sphere if he’s to have a chance to be elected statewide. Read More

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Michael Cowin, Assistant Superintendent of Finance for Pitt County Schools, had some startling words for Pitt County School Board members last week, when he presented them with the Senate’s 2014 budget proposal for education.

“It appears that the Senate’s version of the budget proposes salary increases for teachers as a pawn in a political game that allows certain areas of education to be put on the chopping block.”

The Senate budget would cut 117 teacher assistants (TAs) from Pitt County schools, increase class sizes in second and third grades to eliminate 12 teaching positions, reduce the transportation budget by $300,000, and cut five school nurses from the district’s schools – an overall reduction of $5 million in state funding.

“It’s saying these areas aren’t needed,” said Cowin. “We need to promote to our legislative group the importance of teacher assistants in all areas, and not to be using such areas as leverage in a political game.”

Cowin also notes a key conflicting element contained in the Senate budget proposal – drastically cutting TAs while putting $300,000 into the Read to Achieve program, which relies on TAs to administer reading assessments that determine third graders’ reading proficiency.

Watch this cut of the video to see Cowin’s presentation and Board members’ reactions, who applauded Cowin for his courage to stand up and call out the Senate proposal as he saw it – a political game.

You can watch the entire Pitt County school board meeting from last week here.

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Moral Monday demonstrators came to Raleigh this week to protest fracking and the state’s failure to expand Medicaid. That didn’t stop them however from weighing in on the Senate’s budget plan, which includes major cuts to health and human service programs and further reductions in education spending to fund teacher pay raises this year.  Click below to hear more from the Moral Monday protesters in their own words:

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ff3072013We’re just a couple of weeks into the 2014 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, but the annual legislative silly season has already commenced. Not familiar with silly season? That’s the time of year in which legislative leaders force their members to work all kinds of silly, late night hours in order to limit media coverage and handicap/wear down those who might want to criticize or contest their agenda (i.e. the minority party).

Usually, silly season doesn’t start until there have been several months (or, at least, several weeks) of actual, semi-normal  legislative process, but this year, in keeping with the current majority’s increasingly pathological aversion to sunlight and transparency, it’s starting just days after the session itself commenced. The Senate is kicking silly season off today with a wholly unnecessary Friday afternoon session, followed by an even more unnecessary post-midnight session early tomorrow morning, during which it will ram though its destructive 2015 budget proposal.

And lest you get the mistaken impression that lawmakers will actually be working longer hours during silly season, rest assured that this will almost certainly not be the case. Read More

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It looks like the North Carolina Senate will ram through its version of a state budget sometime early Saturday morning under the cover of darkness. It will be an apt time for this dreadful piece of legislation. The bill was crafted in secret so it makes sense that it will be passed by the right-wing lawmakers who put it together (a few of whom may have even read it) while most of the rest of the citizenry sleeps.

But, of course, it is much more than just the way the budget bill was put together that marks it as one of the worst proposals in North Carolina history; it is the destructive substance of it. At its heart, the Senate budget is about destruction — about the latest assault in an ideologically-inspired blitzkrieg against the core public structures that knit together a middle class society. The North Carolina Senate has gone all-in with the Grover Norquist-Rush Limbaugh-Tea Party crowd that believes that government and public servies are inherently evil.

There are many descriptors that fit the Senate plan — especially the hyper-cynical proposal to steal money from everyone else in order to give teachers a raise (a raise predicated upon their surrender of the right not to be fired arbitrarily): “The Divide and Conquer Budget,” “the Blackmail Budget,” “the Extortion Budget,” “the Blood Money Budget,” “the Robbing Peter to Pay Paul Budget,” “the Art Pope-Koch Brothers Fantasy Budget.” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue rightfully likened to Senate plan to a proposal to burn down the schoolhouse in order to give teachers the insurance money.

Whatever one calls the darned thing, though, one thing is crystal clear: Right now, all that stands between North Carolina and the prospect of being reduced to some kind of bizarre Ayn Randian lab experiment is an ambitious conservative U.S. Senate nominee and a hapless and mostly disinterested governor who has yet to show any real ability to influence the lawmaking process. Dark days, indeed.

If there was ever a time for average North Carolinians to stand up and fight back, now is that time. One good opportunity will take place next Monday at 5:00 pm on Halifax Mall when the Moral Mondays-Forward Together protesters return to the Legislative Building. Hope to see you there.