Commentary

NC Policy Watch Policy Prescription #7: Boosting wages and improving leave policies for NC workers

As the 2018 legislative session gets underway in earnest in this, its first full week, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by A. J. Fletcher Foundation Fellow Samone Oates-Bullock. Last week, Prescription #1 addressed food insecurity in North Carolina. Prescription #2 took on the issue of early childhood investments. Prescription #3 analyzed the challenge of funding school adequately and fairly. Policy Prescription #4 called for racial equity in education. Policy Prescription #5 called for tackling the issue of environmental racism in North Carolina. Yesterday, Prescription #6 made the case closing the Medicaid coverage gap.

Today, the focus is on improving North Carolina’s treatment of workers. The following is from  Policy Prescription #7 – “Making NC worker friendly: Boosting wages and improving leave policies for NC workers”:

North Carolina’s labor force is comprised of more than six million employees in various professions, fields, and specializations. These employees are, of course, one the most valuable assets of the businesses in which they work and play a critical role in shaping today’s economy. Having happy and healthy employees is beneficial not only to the employees themselves but to society as a whole. There is, therefore, a great need for policies that ensure safe work environments, living wages, and a robust safety net for employees.

Click here to read the full report.

Commentary

Dan Forest, GOP to take credit today for school program Republicans voted against

Lt. Gov. Forest

Not that it comes as any great surprise, but Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s perpetual campaign for higher office will be in full swing today when he and some Republican politicians descend on an Alamance County high school to claim credit for connecting all of our state’s schools to high-speed broadband. The folks over at one of Forest’s chief P.R. firms — the John Locke Foundation — published an article in their Carolina Journal newsletter last Friday informing us of the plan:

“North Carolina is the first state to connect all K-12 classrooms to high-speed broadband. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will host a celebration of this achievement  Tuesday, May 22, at Graham High School.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson; Alamance-Burlington Superintendent William Harrison; Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance; and Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, will also attend.

‘Connecting all of our public school classrooms to high-speed broadband will bridge the education divide allowing opportunity for an excellent education to all public-school students,’ Forest said.

Through the School Connectivity Initiative, every public school in the state has high-speed broadband access. SCI was created in 2007 to support the enhancement of technology infrastructure in public schools. Funds were appropriated for broadband access, equipment, and support services.

While it’s great to expand broadband (indeed, one wishes Forest and his fellow conservatives would stop stonewalling plans at the General Assembly to let local municipalities do just that) there is a rather glaring omission in the Locke puff piece that deserves to be noted. It turns out that the 2007 School Connectivity Initiative mentioned in the article was a program launched by a Democratic General Assembly and the administration of former Gov. Mike Easley in the 2007 budget bill. What’s more, as can be seen here and here, every Republican legislator except for one (including Phil Berger and Tim Moore) voted against that bill.

Maybe Forest and Representatives Ross and Riddell (none of whom was serving in Raleigh in 2007) would have broken with Republican leadership at the time to vote for the Democratic budget and the investments contained in the School Connectivity Initiative, but it seems like a distinct longshot. An Internet search produced no evidence that any of the three men were critical of the “no” votes at the time.

But, of course, strange claims of credit are nothing new for Forest, a politician who, as Lt. Governor, long kept a running total on his website of jobs created in North Carolina during his tenure in office, even though he had noting of note to do with any of them.

The bottom line: Let’s hope today’s event signals that arch-conservative North Carolina Republicans are turning over a new leaf when it comes to bipartisanship and a commitment to investments in essential public infrastructure and that maybe they’ll even give Democrats the credit for launching the program they’ll be lauding today.

The advice from this corner, however, is not to hold your breath waiting for such a turnaround.

Commentary

Policy Prescription #6 – The case for Medicaid expansion remains as strong as ever

As the 2018 legislative session gets underway in earnest in this, its first full week, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by A. J. Fletcher Foundation Fellow Samone Oates-Bullock. Last week, Prescription #1 addressed food insecurity in North Carolina. Prescription #2 took on the issue of early childhood investments. Prescription #3 analyzed the challenge of funding school adequately and fairly. Policy Prescription #4 called for racial equity in education. Policy Prescription #5 called for tackling the issue of environmental racism in North Carolina.

This is from Policy Prescription #6 “Closing the coverage gap: The case for Medicaid expansion remains as strong as ever”:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010 in order to expand coverage, control rising healthcare costs, and improve the overall quality of healthcare in America. One of the major provisions of ACA was the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to low-income individuals with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($28,676 for a family of three). This expansion would help to fill notable gaps in Medicaid eligibility and extend insurance coverage to low-income individuals. In 2013, North Carolina enacted legislation that prevents any state actor—including the Governor—from expanding Medicaid unless authorized by the General Assembly. As a result,  hundreds of thousands of low-income  North Carolinians are being left in the “coverage gap” — a place in which they earn  too much to be eligible for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for marketplace subsidies that would  allow them to purchase insurance in the private market. Closing the coverage gap would significantly change the landscape of healthcare coverage and access in North Carolina by providing coverage to more than 208,000  North Carolinians and, literally, saving thousands of lives.

Click here to read the entire report.

Commentary

Op-ed: If we’re not going to regulate guns, at least do this

In case you missed it, columnist Ned Barnett has a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in response to the latest mass school shooting. After explaining the absurdity and futility of the idea that we can arm our way to safety, Barnett acknowledges that the current General Assembly won’t do anything about limiting access to guns. But, he says, at least we can do something — namely, hiring enough counselors and psychologists to make areal difference. Here’s the conclusion:

“We need to improve the awareness of and response to students who may be prone to striking out against their teachers and other students. The teachers who rallied last week asked for more money for school counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. The ranks of those workers have been reduced by cuts in state funding.

Mark Jewel, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the legislature can help teachers “not by arming us with guns but by arming us with the support personnel who can help us with the emotional needs of our children.”

In terms of school nurses, there is one for every 1,086 students in North Carolina. The state’s recommended level is one for every 750 students. State legislative staff estimates it would cost an additional $45 million to attain that ratio. Fifty eight percent of schools do not have a full-time health professional on campus. It would cost an additional $79 million to ensure every school has a nurse.

The recommended ratio of school psychologists to students is 1 to 700. In North Carolina, the ratio is 1 to 2,100. Some rural counties do not have a single school psychologist.

School counselors, previously called guidance counselors, are also in short supply: 1 to 386 students when the recommended ratio is 1 to 250.

Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed spending for school safety that includes $40 million to go toward hiring more counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses, and $15 million for new programs to address students’ mental health challenges. In April, a state legislative subcommittee adopted a report recommending that the state increase the number of school support personnel but did not include funding levels.

Schools need more people attuned to the physical, emotional and mental health of students. They can rescue a child from distress and perhaps spare a school from heartbreak. If state legislators are worried enough about gun violence that they need metal detectors at the Legislative Building, they ought to also provide schools with more mental stress detectors.”

Click here to read the entire essay.

Commentary

NC Policy Watch Policy Prescription #5: Tackling the issue of environmental racism

During this week and next, as state lawmakers return to Raleigh for the 2018 legislative session, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by A. J. Fletcher Foundation Fellow Samone Oates-Bullock. Prescription #1 addressed food insecurity in North Carolina. Prescription #2 took on the issue of early childhood investments. Prescription #3 analyzed the challenge of funding school adequately and fairly. Policy Prescription #4 called for racial equity in education.

This is from today’s installment, “Clearing the air: Tackling the issue of environmental racism in North Carolina”:

“For decades, low-income, rural, minority communities have been subjected to repeated instances of environmental racism. Environmental racism is often described as the strategic siting of hazardous facilities and emitters, such as toxic waste disposal sites and trash dumps close to minority and/or low- income neighborhoods. Exposure to these environmental hazards can harm the residents of these communities – both physically and emotionally. If North Carolina is to become a state in which communities of color are not forced to pay the price for the wrongful acts and negligence of polluters, it is critically important that state government address and acknowledge these environmental injustices….”

Read the full report here.