Children’s experts: Investing in our state’s future starts with children not corporations

By Dr. Devonya Govan-Hunt, Muffy Grant and Dr. Iheoma Iruka

To build a thriving North Carolina, we need a multiracial democracy, an inclusive economy, and a commitment to ensuring people across the state have access to the health care, education, and social support they need. To realize this vision, our state needs equitable public investments, including funding for early childhood education that supports our youngest residents and their families. As our state lawmakers continue negotiations in an attempt to come up with a budget that the House, Senate, and Governor can agree on, they have a responsibility to create a budget which prioritizes North Carolina’s children over out-of-state corporations.

But the proposals that have come out of the NC Senate and House so far don’t meet this standard — the Senate’s budget proposal would eliminate corporate income taxes, and while the House’s doesn’t go quite as far, it includes multiple tax changes that will ultimately prohibit North Carolina from realizing its potential. Both proposals also include changes to income taxes that would primarily benefit the wealthiest families: under the House proposal, 56 percent of the value of these changes would go to households with annual incomes over $110,000. These changes would cost our state about $2 billion in annual revenue, limiting our ability to make the public investments our communities need.

As experts in childhood development and child care, we know we know that early childhood education presents one of the strongest cases there is for public investment. Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman conducted groundbreaking research showing that investments in high-quality early childhood education yield a robust return on investment of 13 percent per child per year. These benefits come from improved outcomes that children see throughout their lives, including in educational attainment, health, and employment. Public investments in early childhood education even impact future generations and reduce intergenerational poverty.

It doesn’t work to provide child care only through the private sector. Licensed child care providers operate on the thinnest of margins, because families cannot afford the true cost of high quality care. Even so, parents are left shouldering annual fees significantly higher than public university tuition. We have tried other models for years, and it hasn’t worked. Early childhood education is a public good that needs public funding — like parks, libraries, and K-12 education.

Investments in early childhood education are also an investment in racial and gender equity in North Carolina. The vast majority of early childhood educators are women, and over half are Black women and other women of color. These educators are paid an average of just $11 per hour to nurture our youngest children. North Carolina has some programs that boost wages for educators, but legislators have cut funding for these and so only a limited number of people can access them. The recent budget proposals ask these educators to subsidize corporate tax cuts with their persistently low wages.

North Carolina’s motto is “To be rather than to seem.” If we want to live up to that motto to truly be a state that cares about our children’s future, here are three key actions to take: Read more

From a Clear and Present Danger, to the latest on Leandro, to having your say on redistricting: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Clear and present danger: Former Army missile plant has polluted a Black, Latino neighborhood in Burlington for more than 30 years

Military, private owner have allowed toxic contaminants to fester, avoided penalties while residents bear environmental burden

This is the first of a two-part story about hazardous contamination at a former missile plant in Burlington that is threatening a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood. Part 2 runs tomorrow. You can also read this story as a pdf file and view the source documents, which are linked within the text.

Leer en español.

Tattooed in ivy, bound in chain-link fence, Building 16 casts an ominous three-story shadow over several homes along Hilton Road. The window blinds are torn, as if it were sleeping with one eye open.

This relic of the Cold War is among two dozen buildings sprawled across the 22-acre Tarheel Army Missile Plant in East Burlington. Here, in the 1950s and ’60s, Western Electric conducted top-secret research on behalf of the military.

That research, developing sophisticated guidance systems for Nike missiles, required workers to handle hazardous chemicals. Over time, those chemicals spilled and seeped and leaked. They were poured down sinks and dumped into storm drains.

Fifty years since the military mothballed the Nike missile program, the plant, once a source of civic pride for the city, is now a toxic disgrace. [Read more…]

2. Former Army missile plant in Burlington posesan urgent public health risk

Private owners neglect the contaminated property, posing an environmental threat to a Black and Latinx neighborhood

This is the second of a two-part story about hazardous contamination at a former missile plant in Burlington that is threatening a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood.

Inside Building 1A of the former Tarheel Army Missile Plant, a metal pipe rested on a table amid crumbs of broken glass. Many of the windows had been broken, so with no more effort than a step over the threshold, the entire contaminant 22-acre site was open for skateboarding, playing paintball, even homesteading.

This was the scene in early May. From the outside, little had changed from last November, when city, state and Army officials, as well as the current property owner, David Tsui, visited the plant in preparation for the next phase of the cleanup. [Read more…]

3. America dumbs down freedom, with disastrous consequences (Commentary)

Death and tragedy were front and center in the news again last week.

In Winston-Salem, a high school student was shot and killed by another child. Only a few hours later, tragedy was mercifully avoided at a Raleigh high school when two guns were taken from a student who had brought them to campus. A day after that, another Winston-Salem child – this one just 2 years old – died when a gun was discharged in his grandmother’s home.

Meanwhile, in hospitals across North Carolina and the nation, intensive care units were packed to the rafters with desperately ill and dying COVID-19 patients – the overwhelming majority of whom did not avail themselves of free and widely available vaccines. The pandemic death toll in North Carolina alone inched closer to 15,000.

Meanwhile, a devastating hurricane – fueled, scientists have confirmed, by climate change and the steadily rising ocean water temperatures – wreaked havoc from Louisiana to New England. Dozens died.

What do these three seemingly disparate tragedies have in common? [Read more...]

4. NC surpasses 15,000 COVID deaths, nearly one-third of new cases in children under 17

Governor Roy Cooper said Thursday there is increasing urgency for everyone ages 12 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

For the week ending Sept. 4, children age 17 and under made up 31% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases.

That is the highest percentage since the pandemic began.

“The numbers aren’t good, especially the number of people in the hospital and dying,” Cooper said.

In the past 24 hours, the coronavirus has claimed 110 lives with North Carolina recording 15,004 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

By far, the most people hospitalized right now by COVID are unvaccinated.[Read more…]

Bonus Read: Pregnant women should be vaccinated for COVID-19, says Duke expert

5. Judge gives state lawmakers ‘one more last chance’ to fully fund the Leandro plan

Superior Court Judge David Lee has given state lawmakers “one more last chance” to meet their constitutional obligation to provide students in North Carolina with a sound basic education before he takes action to force their hand.

Lee, the judge overseeing the state’s long-running Leandro school funding case, made his remarks Wednesday during a court hearing with lawyers for the defendants and plaintiffs.

He gave lawmakers until Oct. 15 to fully fund a school improvement plan that calls for $5.6 billion in new K-12 funding by 2028. An Oct. 18 hearing has been set to discuss the next steps if an agreement has not been reached to fully fund the plan. [Read more…]

6. NC just enacted ambitious criminal justice reform legislation. Here‘s what it does.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed a comprehensive criminal justice reform package (Senate Bill 300) into law last Thursday. It became effective immediately.

The bill, originally sponsored by Republicans with input from Democrats, gained bipartisan support – though not universal acclaim.

A press release from Cooper’s office touted the fact that the bill included provisions recommended by the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that the Governor established in June of 2020:

“Senate Bill 300 makes important changes to improve policing and criminal justice in North Carolina, as recommended by TREC, including:

  • Promotes recruitment of officers with diverse backgrounds and experiences and improves training so that officers are better equipped to be successful
  • Requires early intervention mechanisms to identify and correct officers who use excessive force or other misconduct
  • Furthers independent investigations of police-involved shootings
  • Limits local laws that criminalize poverty
  • Requires a first appearance in court within 72 hours of a person being arrested.”

The bill also won praise from law enforcement officials. In a press release, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association applauded the sponsors of the bill for soliciting and considering the input of the organization.[Read more…]

7. Redistricting public hearings fall short in accommodating public input, advocates say

Lawmakers will travel to 13 locations throughout the state to host public hearings on redistricting, which will redefine the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts for up to a decade to come, including a new, 14th congressional district. However, it appears that members of the public will not be able to participate and provide comments online.

The 13 meetings will take place at these locations:

8. Weekly Radio Interviews and daily radio commentaries with Rob Schofield:

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July? | Frederick Douglass

[Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from a speech regarding the meaning of the Fourth of July delivered by the abolitionist and advocate Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y., July 5, 1852.]

… Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful.

… But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me… This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…

… My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light?

… At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Read more

New faces at the legislature: Q&A with State Rep. Amber Baker

Rep. Amber Baker, a Democrat from Forsyth County. (Photo: NCGA)

Editor’s note: Policy Watch sent a questionnaire to all new state lawmakers about their plans for their first legislative session. Their unedited responses will be published as the questionnaires come in.

Name:  Amber M. Baker

District: 72nd /Forsyth  

Occupation:  Educator

Lives in:  Winston-Salem

Previous elected offices?  No

Contact information: [email protected]

What do you think will be the biggest issue at the legislature this year?  

Ongoing issues related to COVID-19 pandemic, to include but not limited to vaccinations, testing, contact tracing, education, housing and small business relief.

What’s a specific campaign promise that you’d like to deliver on?

Advocate for public education.

Do you anticipate another round of state COVID relief funding? If so, what should the amount be?

As a new member, I am still learning the on-going budgetary considerations and am still familiarizing myself with those considerations.

What groups should be prioritized for relief funding?

Vaccinations and ongoing testing remain a high concern for multiple interest groups.

The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in support systems for people in need. This includes social services, health care, rural broadband, unemployment benefits, and more. What needs fixed most urgently and how — not just during a pandemic, but permanently?

As part of federal funding received by the state, SB36/HB42, specifically allocates funds to address rural broadband, as well as funding to the local educational agencies to address learning loss.

Do you support Medicaid expansion? Why or why not?

It is extremely important to address the concerns around the hesitiancy of moving forward on Medicaid expansion, especially given the exacerbation of healthcare related issues due to COVID-19.

Is the state’s funding for public education enough? Why or Why not? If you believe funding is insufficient, what budgetary amount would you recommend and how should the money be used?

COVID-19 has emphasized a need to address additional funding of public education in all areas. However, it is a discussion that needs to be expanded beyond taxpayer dollars being used to address the need for budgetary expansion. Serious consideration and conversations should be had with business partners for possible collaborations to increase funding public education in conjunction with using state funds.

DEQ’s budget and staffing has been deeply cut over the past 10 years, which has affected environmental protection, particularly in terms of inspections and enforcement. How should this be remedied?

As a new member, I am still learning the on-going budgetary considerations and am still familiarizing myself with those considerations.

 

New faces at the legislature: Q&A with State Rep. Terry Brown Jr.

State Rep. Terry Brown, Jr., who represents part of Mecklenburg County (Photo: NCGA)

Editor’s note: Policy Watch sent a questionnaire to all new state lawmakers about their plans for their first legislative session. Their unedited responses will be published as the questionnaires come in. State Rep. Terry Brown, a Democrat, works as an attorney in Charlotte.

Name:  Terry Brown Jr.

District:  House District 92

Occupation:  Attorney

Lives in:  Charlotte, NC

Previous elected offices?  N/A

Contact information: [email protected]

General:

What do you think will be the biggest issue at the legislature this year?  

Our biggest challenge as a body will be ensuring that we continue to adequately address the COVID-19 pandemic while still passing an equitable budget that addresses the economic, educational, and environmental needs and values of North Carolinians across the state. This means making compromises and being judicious yet forward thinking with the additional revenue our State has produced in the years since the General Assembly was last able to pass a budget. 

What’s a specific campaign promise that you’d like to deliver on?

I will continue to listen to the needs of my constituents and make good on the promise to work with all members of the General Assembly to introduce forward-thinking legislation targeted at their specific goals, including teacher pay and addressing food insecurity and broadband expansion.

COVID relief/budget:

Do you anticipate another round of state COVID relief funding? If so, what should the amount be?

Another round of COVID funding is absolutely necessary for our state. This funding should be focused and supplement federal funding to address the biggest sources of disparities across the state. 

What groups should be prioritized for relief funding? 

As mentioned above, COVID-19 legislation needs to be specifically tailored to support those in our communities who have struggled over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must address the concerns of our small business community (including sole-practitioners), PPE funding for our front line workers who continue to put themselves at risk in service to our community and  our educators as they chart new territory in virtual/hybrid learning environments. We also must bolster long term rent and mortgage relief program as we continue to deal with the pandemic. 

The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in support systems for people in need. This includes social services, health care, rural broadband, unemployment benefits, and more. What needs fixed most urgently and how — not just during a pandemic, but permanently?

If nothing else the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to collectively examine our vulnerabilities as a state and formulate ideas on how to deal with weaknesses. Much of the legislation introduced this year must focus on the lessons learned from COVID including expanding our unemployment benefits, addressing paid sick leave, and addressing sources of food insecurity. The pandemic has also shown that regardless of whether you live in an urban or rural area we have several gaps in our internet coverage. Expanding broadband and treating it like a public utility is a necessity especially as more of our neighbors work from home and participate in remote learning. 

Do you support Medicaid expansion? Why or why not?

Absolutely. Medicaid transformation is not a red vs. blue issue and it is not just a health care issue. I support Medicaid transformation because not only will it provide healthcare access to our most vulnerable neighbors, it will be an economic boost to our counties as well. 

Education:

Is the state’s funding for public education enough? Why or Why not? If you believe funding is insufficient, what budgetary amount would you recommend and how should the money be used?

I believe that the state should devote more resources into our public education system, including raising teacher pay to the national average, providing for more teachers assistants and support staff, as well investing into our students health and well-being with increased per pupil spending on mental health counselors. 

What can the legislature do to help students recover/catch up from learning loss during the pandemic?

We must work with individual school districts to ensure that the diverse needs of students are addressed. No one sized fits all quick fix is available, however by having a combination of remediation sessions during the summer and examining flexible scheduling we can reduce the amount of learning loss our students will undergo. Our top priorities are to make sure that our students are ready for the next grade level and matriculation so that they are competitive on the next level and in the job market.  

Environment:

DEQ’s budget and staffing has been deeply cut over the past 10 years, which has affected environmental protection, particularly in terms of inspections and enforcement. How should this be remedied?

We must examine the needs of DEQ and work with the new Secretary to determine and  focus on our most pressing environmental needs. As a state that relies economically in large part on our environment and natural resources to fuel our economy and tourism this is essential. We need to reinvest into environmental protections and think long-term regarding funding. 

There has been no meaningful legislation passed to address the widespread PFAS, including GenX, contamination of drinking water. What legislation would you support to address the contamination? (This could include clean ups, source control and stiffer penalties.)

We must take a serious look at environmental regulations regarding contamination of our drinking water. It is not just an environmental issue, but a serious health issue that will have an effect that we may not discover for years. I support legislation to place stringent requirements on the maximum contaminant levels for PFAS. We also must work with DEQ to examine how we can avoid these contaminants all together. 

Communities of color are particularly hard-hit not only by COVID-19 but by environmental degradation and pollution. What legislation would you sponsor and/or support to address the racial, ethnic and income disparities in environmental protection? 

The systemic problems that have historically affected communities of color are still persistent today. From treating predominately Black neighborhoods as dumping grounds for waste to red-lining policies that have isolated communities of color from fresh, healthy foods we must think creatively to address these disparities. I look forward to introducing legislation that is directly targeted at addressing sources of food insecurity which creates long term health issues as well as addressing predatory home buying and rental practices across our state.