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.

Commentary, News

The week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Teachers demand policy changes, cheer Cooper at unprecedented education rally

“Here for our kids” is the common refrain as 20,000+ marchers overrun downtown Raleigh

On Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger—one of the state’s most powerful Republican politicians—told North Carolina’s teachers they’d soon be receiving their fifth consecutive round of raises.

Emily Rex heard Berger’s promise. But the fifth-year, special education teacher—who lives in Berger’s state Senate district in Guilford County—points out she’s received raises in four of the last five years, not that she could much tell after soaring health premiums took their toll.

Rex said she completed her taxes in April. And over the last five years, her take-home earnings have inched up by about $1,000. “Any increase that we’ve had has been consumed by higher payroll deductions,” she said. [Read more…]

***Bonus: Memorable moments from NC’s #RallyforRespect (audio postcard)

2. Process schmocess: Berger, Moore say 2019 budget changes have already been negotiated | Read more

3. Residents voice passionate opposition to proposed methyl bromide operation; regulators remain tight-lipped | Read more

***Bonus reads:

4. Stealth session? G.A. returns, but the agenda (including plans for judicial redistricting) remains under wraps | Read more

5. Speakers at Durham conference: Criminalization of poverty is big and growing problem in NC | Read more

Commentary

Editorial: GOP lawmakers should stop berating and start listening to our teachers

In case you missed it. there was a fine editorial this week in both the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal in response to Wednesday’s massive teacher rally. The message: Republican legislative leaders need to stop their excuse making and name calling and start listening to the message the 20,000-plus teachers delivered. Here are some excerpts:

“The teachers’ demands are simple: more money for them and their classrooms and more respect for a profession blamed for a range of ills.

The facts are these: The average pay for teachers in North Carolina is $51,214. That ranks 39th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. That average has gained eight spots since 2013, and public school teachers are paid better than a lot of North Carolinians.

But the typical N.C. teacher is paid nearly $10,000 less than the national average. Among professions that require a four-year degree, teaching is one of the lowest-paid careers that a college graduate can pick. Because the cost of living has gone up much faster than teachers’ salaries, the typical N.C. teacher has about $5,000 less in purchasing power than a decade ago, before the Great Recession. The recent salary increases have made up some ground, but there is still a long way to go.

There’s more. In recent years, Republican lawmakers took away longevity bonuses paid to veteran teachers and stopped offering higher salaries to teachers with advanced degrees. The legislature also did away with multiyear teaching contracts for newly hired teachers. Teachers want these perks restored.

There’s still more. Teachers want state lawmakers to repair crumbling schools, buy more supplies and hire more nurses, counselors and social workers to help take care of North Carolina’s children. As an elementary teacher from Raleigh told The Associated Press: ‘We’re here to tell our legislators and our representatives that we need more funds to keep our buildings in good shape, to get more textbooks, more resources for our students, to just have a better environment for public education.’”

The answer, according to the editorial begins with Republicans not pretending like the problem has been solved.

“Republican leaders in Raleigh are trying to hold back this sea of red. They point out that they will raise teachers’ pay this year for the fifth consecutive year. (Their proposed 6.2 percent raise would move the average to $53,600.) At a news conference Tuesday, GOP leaders said they’re thinking about awarding bonuses to top teachers or those who teach high-demand subjects.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has a better plan. The budget proposal that he unveiled last week would increase salaries by 8 percent this year and take a big first step toward the national average. (Republicans say it will cost too much to get N.C. teachers to the national average.) Cooper would pay for these increases by holding off on a planned tax cut for businesses and for people making more than $200,000 a year.

Even as GOP leaders were praising themselves for supporting teachers, they couldn’t resist talking out of turn. One Republican lawmaker said before Wednesday’s event that “union thugs” were behind the rally. On the eve of the rally Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he was disappointed that “a million kids are not going to be in school (Wednesday) because a political organization wants to have folks come here to communicate with us or send a message or whatever.

The good news is that the state’s two parties are talking about teachers’ pay. But renewed respect — or ‘whatever’ — for teachers might take a lot longer.”

See below for more hard numbers on the reality of teacher pay in North Carolina:

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