Commentary

New Mexico court ruling on inadequate, unconstitutional school funding should be wake up call for NC lawmakers

On July 20th, a New Mexico court ruled that the state’s school funding system was inadequate and unconstitutional, violating the constitutional equal protection and due process rights of economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners and Native American students. The ruling is an unmitigated victory for the residents of New Mexico, particularly those from underserved communities.

The evidence of New Mexico’s inadequate funding will sound familiar to North Carolinians:

  • New Mexico students lack adequate instructional materials, curricula and teachers.
  • The lack of resources is having a disproportionately negative impact on children from low-income families, Native American students, and English language learners.
  • To allow at-risk students to overcome the barriers they face, the state must provide programs such as pre-K, summer school, after-school programs, targeted class-size reductions, and research-based reading programs.
  • The state’s teacher evaluation system penalizes teachers for working in high-need schools, creating shortages of effective teachers in high-need schools.

These same arguments were echoed by the more than 20,000 educators who marched on Raleigh on May 16th of this year. Their message highlighted how nearly ten years of austerity budgets in North Carolina are making it increasingly difficult for teachers to meet the needs of all of their students. Specifically, there are direct local parallels to each of the findings from the New Mexico case:

  • North Carolina’s lack of adequate instructional materials, curricula, and teachers is evidenced by the 55 percent reduction in classroom supplies, 39 percent reduction in textbooks, and 2.5 percent reduction in classroom teachers from pre-Recession levels.
  • North Carolina’s disproportionate impact on at-risk students is evidenced by widening achievement gaps on the National Assessment of Student Progress.
  • North Carolina funds fewer Pre-K slots than from before the Recession. Districts have little funding for summer school or after-school programs. The General Assembly’s one-size-fits-all class-size reduction plan is forcing districts to abandon targeted class-size reduction plans that focused on at-risk students. North Carolina’s early-grades literacy efforts have ignored research-informed best practices, and has been associated with declining reading scores.
  • North Carolina has a school-based evaluation system that does a better job measuring students’ family incomes rather than how much learning is taking place, needlessly stigmatizing schools with a high proportion of low-income students.

In fact, school funding in New Mexico looks better than in North Carolina. Adjusted to reflect differences in regional wages, poverty, economies of scale, and population density, New Mexico outspends North Carolina by 29 percent:

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Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, What's Race Got To Do With It?

New report confirms: Low federal minimum wage = higher poverty in NC

The latest edition of Prosperity Watch from Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center highlights a new report from the Economic Policy Institute which confirms something that common sense long ago revealed — namely, the low and inadequate federal minimum wage is directly linked to North Carolina’s high poverty rate.

“In North Carolina, nearly 1 in 8 working families (126,000) live below the federal poverty level in the state according to the Working Poor Families Project.

Researchers adjusting the 1968 minimum wage for inflation find that a full-time minimum wage worker would have earned roughly $10 an hour or $20,600 a year in 2017 dollars. Yet a worker paid the federal minimum wage in 2017 could only earn $15,080 working full time.

This falls below the federal poverty level for a worker with one child ($16,543) and far below what it takes to make ends meet in North Carolina for the same family size ($35,710).

Not surprisingly, the data also confirm that a boost in the minimum wage would reduce poverty:

“Boosting the minimum wage to its value in 1968 would have a significant benefit to all workers and particularly workers of color.  That is because workers of color are more likely to be paid hourly wages, engaged in part-time work and working in industries whose pay is at or close to the minimum wage.  The reasons that Black and Latinx workers are more likely to find this type of employment is connected to historic barriers to opportunity, systems that have excluded certain employment from wage standards and ongoing discrimination in the labor market….

Economic Policy Institute researchers found that nearly 3.3 million African Americans and Hispanics would no longer be in poverty had the value of work today earned a minimum wage equivalent to that earned in 1968.

For North Carolina, a similar boost to the minimum wage for state workers would increase the number of Black and Latinx workers living above the poverty threshold by an estimated 328,000.

The poverty-reducing effects of raising the minimum wage would likely taper off as the minimum wage got closer to $15, simply because at those higher wage levels, fewer workers are in poverty to begin with. But, if continuing to raise the minimum wage from $10 to $15 reduced poverty by just 1 more percentage point that would mean 92,000 fewer NC workers would be in poverty.”

 

Commentary, News

Reproductive freedom advocates call for public comments on Trump efforts to undermine family planning

Opponents of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to restrict reproductive freedom have launched a new effort to generate comments on a proposed rule that would undermine the Title X family planning program.

The program in question is hardly new and has long enjoyed wide, bipartisan support since it was first was initiated under the Nixon Administration in 1970. Of course, much that was once settled policy has been disrupted under the Trump administration, which has prioritized criminalizing abortion, openly disrespects women’s autonomy, and has purposely filled key health and human services positions with strident opponents of abortion, birth control, family planning and pregnancy care.

The new rule — which opponents deride as a the “domestic gag rule” — was proposed on June 1, is just the latest in a growing string of attacks on women’s health care pursued by the White House.

Under the proposal, participating medical professionals would be required to withhold critical medical information about the full range of reproductive health care options available, including abortion, and would also allow program participants to withhold information about some types of birth control. Among other problems, the rule would:

  • reduce access to contraceptive methods and services for low-income patients,
  • prevent patients from receiving the full range of pregnancy options available by restricting abortion referrals and counseling,
  • disrupt the Title X health network by creating more onerous tracking requirements on the separation of their funds, potentially closing much needed safety net clinics
  • continue and exacerbate the trend of making reproductive and sexual health care political and stigmatized, rather than a regular part of general medical care.
  • insert out-of-touch politics into our health care (more than 7 in 10 Americans support safe and legal abortion access).

In other words, in its zeal to end safe and legal access to abortion, the administration has proposed a rule that would upend the funding and structure of the Title X program, and likely cut off access to affordable quality reproductive health care for millions of low-income patients.

Tara Romano, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice NC characterizes the proposal this way:

“This is nothing more than an attempt by an administration hostile to reproductive rights to further stigmatize and restrict abortion access, while cynically playing politics with the lives of Title X patients; many of whom are low-income patients, rural residents, young people, and others who have traditionally had less access to quality, affordable health care.”

Arbitrary and politically motivated regulations may leave program participants unsure of what they can and can’t say, as well as leave them open to attacks by political opponents. In order to keep their doors open, some clinics may be forced to deceive their patients. This is unacceptable.”

She adds that the matter is made all the more urgent by the fact that North Carolina has not expanded Medicaid and already stopped state funding of the safety net provider Planned Parenthood — two acts that have greatly increased the number of North Carolinians who lack access to quality, affordable health care.

According to Romano, the deadline for comments to federal officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is next Tuesday July 31 at 11:59 p.m. The department has established a website (which can be accessed by clicking here).

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Lazy editorial shows why North Carolinians need to pay closer attention to Raleigh debates

It’s an understandable sentiment. In these difficult and quarrelsome times, it’s not surprising that a lot of people are tempted to throw up their hands in disgust at all politicians and political parties and mutter “a pox on all their houses.” In some instances, such a sentiment might even be warranted.

But right now, in the case of the debate over six constitutional amendments that will appear on the November ballot in North Carolina, it’s simply flat out wrong to blame all parties equally. Unfortunately, however, that’s what a clunky and poorly researched editorial does this morning in the Hickory Daily Record.

The editorial actually starts off okay — it has a solid headline (“Keep politics out of ballot wording”) and a nice opening paragraph that calls for making the ballot language as clear to voters as possible — but after that, the authors lose their way in a fashion that is sadly typical of many North Carolinians who need to be paying closer attention to what’s going on in their government. This is especially the case in the concluding paragraph, which reads as follows:

“Frankly, it’s hard not to be disappointed by both parties on this one. Instead of fighting among themselves, the Democrats and Republicans should craft a ballot message that can be read and understood by all constituents. Sometimes, it seems, both sides forget they are in Raleigh on our behalf, not their own.”

Say what? How are the Democrats supposed to play any role in this when Republican legislative leaders won’t allow it to take place? Badly outnumbered Democrats at the General Assembly have been accorded literally zero role in the process. The only fighting they’ve done is for an opportunity to be heard — something that they’re often unsuccessful in obtaining.

And while it’s true that two of the three Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission members are Democrats, that commission hasn’t taken any action that could be characterized as anything other than open and transparent. The editorial even acknowledges this.

So what gives with the editorial’s “pox on all their houses” conclusion? Blaming Democrats for the current mess surrounding the six constitutional amendments makes about as much sense as blaming Robert Mueller for Donald Trump’s serial dishonesty.

The bottom line: There have been a lot of instances down through the years in which North Carolina Democrats have deserved criticism for their actions and failures to act. This, however, is certainly not one of them. As Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice noted in a statement late yesterday, Republican leaders are the architects of the current crisis:

“Legislative leaders have made clear their intention to keep the voters in the dark about the true impact of the proposed constitutional amendments that will appear on this November’s ballot. Free and fair elections depend on voters knowing exactly what they are being asked to decide. The vague and deceptive ballot language mandated by this legislature undercuts the work of a bipartisan commission whose duty it is to assist voters in understanding proposed amendments.

“These desperate, last-minute efforts by this legislature to sugar-coat their scheme to disenfranchise voters undermines the principle of checks and balances and erodes public confidence in elections. Their expensive effort at rule-rigging is shameful, petty politics at its very worst.”

Let’s hope all North Carolinians are soon alerted to these hard truths — especially members of the news media who ought to be helping to spread the word.
Commentary, Defending Democracy

Scathing editorial blasts today’s special session, GOP lawmakers and their constitutional amendments

Rep. David Lewis

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer pulls no punches in blasting today’s special legislative session as well as the constitutional amendments set for the November ballot that legislative leaders hope to further camouflage. As the N&O correctly notes,  the GOP plan to seize the power to draft the actual ballot language from a bipartisan panel is laughably transparent:

“In a laughable cover for his call for a special session, [Rep. David] Lewis wrote that it’s needed to keep his party’s politically motivated amendments from being politicized. ‘It appears that the Commission may be falling to outside political pressure, contemplating politicizing the title crafting process, including using long sentences or negative language in order to hurt the amendments’ chances of passing,’ he wrote.

[House Speaker Tim] Moore took all of a day to agree. Now the legislative leaders will eliminate one of the elements built into the amendment process and start trying to carve language into the state’s historic code of governance like it’s the Republican Party platform.”

But, as the editorial goes on to note, the process and the amendments stunk long before this week:

“Should all or some of the amendments pass, legislators would return for a lame-duck session to fill in the details of the amendments. So voters wouldn’t know the specifics of what they were voting on; lawmakers would figure that out later, after the Nov. 6 vote.

It’s difficult to determine if the legislative leaders who put six constitutional amendments on the fall ballot are devious, incompetent or both.

The hallmark of this Republican-led legislature is that its actions are both heavy handed and ham handed. Legislative leaders are not only shameless about bending the law to partisan purposes, but often incompetent in doing so. Republicans have spent millions of public dollars defending these laws, often unsuccessfully, from challenges to their constitutionality.

Much of this flawed legislation could be avoided if the leadership would simply follow the democratic process. Jamming bills through with little notice, scant public hearings and no consultation with Democrats or groups affected by the legislation leads to laws that lack public support and are legally vulnerable.

That’s the process that put this jumble of amendments on the fall ballot. Voters would do well to reject the undemocratic and slipshod process that emphasizes hyper-partisan politics and changes the rules when they get in the way. That rejection should extend to the amendments this process put on the ballot.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.