These surprising allies are shaking up the fight against the death penalty

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A recent Gallup poll showed that the U.S. is losing its taste for capital punishment. Make no mistake: A majority of Americans are still in favor of state-sponsored homicide, but the 60% of people who claimed that they approve of capital punishment is an all-time low. Year after year, the death penalty is falling out of favor in this country. One segment of the population that is growing in opposition of the death penalty are those who have conservative values.

The poll stated that 81% of Republicans support capital punishment, but even that number was lower than it has been in the past. An important part of the change in the conservative and libertarian response to the death penalty is young people. The Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), an organization started by the youth coordinator of the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, the Republican Congressman from Texas, is a partner of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (CCATDP). In addition to the partnership with YAL, CCATDP attended the Young Republican National Federation’s Convention in Alabama.

Just last week, Kansas Republican Chase Blasi published an editorial explaining why capital punishment is counter to conservative positions. Read more

Spotlight on Early Childhood: Pre-K and the Common Core

While there is much discussion about the Common Core State Standards being implemented in North Carolina’s K-12 public schools, there is not much talk about what Common Core means for our youngest students. Simply put, the Common Core State Standards are a set of guidelines used in 45 states which outline what a student should know in each grade.

In 2012, North Carolina passed the Excellent Public Schools Act and will retain students in the 3rd grade if they are not proficient in reading on the end-of-grade standardized test. It is essential for students to show up at the Kindergarten door ready to learn so they do not fall behind by the time they reach 3rd grade. Early Childhood Week is about ensuring that the programs provided to children help them succeed. Evidence shows that Pre-Kindergarten is one of those programs that help at-risk students become successful.

Since North Carolina has adopted the Common Core and has always had a thriving Pre-K program, the question becomes how do we ensure our preschoolers will be successful when they finally reach that Kindergarten door?

The Office of Early Learning (OEL), which is a part of the Department of Public Instruction, exists to make sure that Pre-K through 3rd grade students thrive academically. Even though, the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten program (NCPK) is a part of the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) in the Department of Health and Human Services, it is essential that NCPK remains an academic program.

To that end, the OEL gathered educators and child advocates to illustrate what alignment between Common Core and the state’s early learning standards would look like. It produced two documents showing how the English Language Arts section would work and the same for Mathematics.   

No matter how people feel about the Common Core, one thing is for sure; it is in North Carolina and we cannot afford to lose cohorts of students while debating the merits of the program. If our goal is truly to see every student reach his or her desk in Kindergarten ready to succeed, it is equally as important for us to prepare them for the Common Core while they are in Pre-K.

This post is part of a blog series on the crucial role of quality early childhood education and child care in caring for our youngest residents, creating thriving communities, and promoting a healthy economy. Learn more about the programs we are discussing this week and take action here.

Spotlight on early childhood: Several early childhood programs with one goal – A better North Carolina

This post is part of a blog series on the crucial role of quality early childhood education and child care in caring for our youngest residents, creating thriving communities, and promoting a healthy economy. Read the introduction to this blog series and learn more about the programs we’ll be discussing here.)
North Carolina is the home to several great early education programs. Unfortunately, some get confused as it is easy to conflate the programs, however; it is important to recognize that, while different, each program compliments the others and all are vital to the success of our youngest residents.

The most well-known early childhood program is Head Start. The Head Start program is one of the most successful initiatives of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. While it began as a summer program in 1965 to prepare low-income children for Kindergarten, it became a full-time and year-round program in 1998.

Head Start provides several services for children as well as their families. In addition to the literacy and education programs, Head Start also provides nutrition and health services for families. A key part of Head Start since its early days was the intentional support for cultural sensitivity and competence. Thus, providers keep the families’ linguistic and cultural needs as part of their program.

While Head Start is a federal program, there are offices in every state. The North Carolina Head Start Association is Read more

Food Stamp Cuts Hurt Students

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On Friday, November 1, 2013, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, will be cut by about $5 billion. The cuts will reflect the loss of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed in 2009, which lifted the amount given to SNAP recipients. This funding loss will affect 15% of households throughout the country. Many of those who will suffer will be children. One of the consequences of hungry children is a disastrous impact on academic performance.

Hungry students have difficulty learning. In fact, according to a fact sheet from the National Educators Association (NEA), students who are hungry are more likely to be retained a grade. A 2012 report published by the No Kid Hungry campaign stated that three out of five teachers say that students come to their classrooms hungry on a regular basis. 80% of those teachers say that the regularity occurred at least once a week.

Free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs for low-income students are essential dinner matters as well. Lowering the amount of SNAP benefits for a family means a major loss in the amount of meals a family will be able to get each month. While Congress could stop the cuts, let’s not kid ourselves: there is not much hope. Last month, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill to cut food stamps about $39 billion over 10 years.

In addition to funding SNAP properly so more people will be eligible, there are other solutions to adequately feeding students. It is not enough to provide children with food, they also need and deserve nutritious meals. Tufts University found that anemia caused by iron deficiencies affected 25% of students and was tied to an inability to learn.

Many states are using their local food supply to provide healthy school meals. The rise in popularity of “farm to table” meals provides healthier options for those who partake in those meals. The United States Department of Agriculture praised North Carolina, for example, for its robust farm to school cafeteria programs. Not only are healthier meals provided to students, there are benefits to the environment and the local economy. While low-income students are in school, it is not only important to provide them with meals. They also need nutritious meals to be ready to learn.

Another hidden effect of poverty and school hunger is the stigma of receiving free meals at school. If students are ashamed to receive the meals offered at school or if their parents for some reason are unable to fill out the application, there is an option that some school systems are using. The Community Eligibility Option provides free meals to every student in high-poverty schools. Since every child gets a free meal, no student has to overcome a stigma and there is no burden for parents to apply for free breakfast and lunch programs.

We expect our children to attend school and do well. We tell them that education is the pathway to success. We cannot expect our children to walk that pathway to the schoolhouse gate hungry or ashamed and be successful in spite of their condition. Increasing SNAP benefits so students can eat dinner and on weekends while providing nutritious meals made from ingredients provided by local growers and erasing the stigma of receiving free meals at school by using the Community Eligibility Option can go a long way toward helping student success.

It would be naïve to think that hunger is the only issue for academic achievement for students living in poverty. Housing, health care, income maintenance, and a slew of other problems affect people living in poverty. The only way that we can try to alleviate some of the problems is to acknowledge they exist. A good way to start is to talk about the children who will have less access to food and may suffer in school because of the cuts to SNAP that will go into effect on November 1.


North Carolina Justice Center Celebrates Early Childhood Week

Beginning Monday, November 4, 2013, the North Carolina Justice Center is celebrating Early Childhood Week. The goal is to highlight the importance of early childhood programs to the success of the state.

The week will include guest blog posts by several early childhood advocates. All will discuss the significance of investing in early education programs and child care subsidies.

Here are a few talking points on early childhood education to prepare you for an important and informative week.

  • A child’s social and emotional skills are developed in the first 2,000 days.
  • Nobel Laureate James Heckman found that high quality early education programs provided a 6-10% return on investment  per year.
  • In 2011, researchers from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute found that pre-K education improved language, literacy and math skills, which creates school ready at-risk students.
  • In 2010, Frank Porter Graham researchers found that North Carolina’s pre-K program has a positive impact on the academic achievement of poor children.
  • Pre-K narrows the socioeconomic achievement gap.
  • A 2011 study published by Duke University showed that in jurisdictions with North Carolina’s early childhood education programs, 3rd grade End of Grade test results improved for all children living in the jurisdiction even if they did not participate in the programs.  The rising tide of early childhood education lifts all academic boats of North Carolina’s children.