Ahead of court ordered deadline, Dems, education advocates press for full funding of Leandro education plan

North Carolina legislators face a Monday deadline to tell Superior Court Judge David Lee how they will fully fund the Leandro plan for improving public education.

On Wednesday, House Democrats and education advocates urged leaders of the Republican-controlled General Assembly to find the funding in their final budget negotiations with Gov. Roy Cooper.

Rep. Julie von Haefen said every North Carolina child deserves a high-quality education regardless of their zip code.

Rep. Julie von Haefen

“Investing in the Leandro plan would mean investing in North Carolina children from birth to career, which is in turn an investment in our state’s future and in our economy,” said von Haefen.

“We all want to see North Carolina’s children be cared for, be educated, and be provided a sound foundation for their futures.”

The Leandro plan calls for $427 million in new state education funding this year, which would be just the first phase of an eight-year plan.

The comprehensive plan would fully fund early childhood education, help lower childcare cost, provide a high-quality teacher in every classroom as well as a supportive principal in every school, according to Rep. von Haefen.

Jenice Ramirez

Jenice Ramirez, executive director of ISLA NC, believes the prospect of legislators dismissing the remedial plan and Lee’s court order would seriously shortchange the state’s low-income and Latino students.

“North Carolina is a state with a growing English-language learner population, however we’re also a state that puts a cap on the amount of funding schools can get for these students. That means that some districts regardless of student need do not receive the adequate funding to provide English learner students with the appropriate resources.”

Ramirez said the state’s public schools need better funding for ESL services, more bilingual staff and trained interpreters.

Rev. Paul Ford

Rev. Paul Ford of Action4Equity in Winston-Salem said equitable funding of the pubic schools should be a divine imperative for elected officials.

“We need a biblical flood of resources in order to make things right for all of our children, so many of whom have been robbed of this basic sound education,” Ford told reporters.

House Minority Leader Robert Reives would not venture whether a failure to fully funding Leandro would prompt some Democrats to reject a final state budget deal this fall.

Instead he said legislative leaders negotiating the budget with the governor should look back over the past 30 years, and understand how important this investment could be to the state’s future.

“We got RTP, UNC, State, Duke, Wake, all these places because we did it correctly,” explained Reives. “What they invested in then, made it possible for us to be here today, and to to have the amount of growth and wealth we have in North Carolina.”

For more on what’s included in the comprehensive court-ordered Leandro plan, read this piece by Policy Watch education reporter Greg Childress.

NC Senator calls for resignation of Lt. Governor for homophobic remarks

Sen. Jeff Jackson

State Senator Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) is calling for the resignation of Lt. Governor Mark Robinson after a video surfaced Thursday in which Robinson refers to homosexuality and transgenderism as “filth.”

The video clip shared on Twitter by Right Wing Watch appears to be part of a longer address Robinson, a Republican, delivered June 6 at Asbury Baptist Church in Seagrove, NC.

Robinson, who is widely expected to run for governor in 2024, blasted public schools for their focus on equity, saying it was time for the church to “wrestle this away from those folks.”

“There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth,” said Robinson. “And yes, I called it filth. And if you don’t like it that I called it filth, come see me and I’ll explain it to you.”

Sen. Jackson, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said the remarks were open discrimination and unacceptable.

The Mecklenburg County Democrat noted that no members of Robinson’s party have condemned the remarks:

Earlier this week, Jackson’s home county took steps to approve LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.

On Friday, Robinson refused to walk back his comments.

In response, Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue said the hateful stance is exactly what the state doesn’t need.

Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue

“At best, Robinson’s comments reinforce the need to better fund our schools so that we can ensure that students are not taught to hate each other for their differences.

“Robinson’s recent comments about the LGBTQ community do not represent the beliefs of theSenate Democratic Caucus. It is our hope that no educator would ever teach their students to consider another person to be ‘filth’.

“Lieutenant Governor Robinson’s comments are hateful and serve to divide North Carolina. That’s not the kind of leader this state deserves.”

 

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who like Jackson is vying for the U.S. Senate, offered her own condemnation of Robinson’s anti-LGBTQ remarks on Friday:

Read more about Lt. Gov. Robinson’s mix of politics and religion in this piece by Policy Watch’s Joe Killian.

GOP pols Robinson, Walker, Cawthorn align themselves with movement seeking to end to separation of church and state

The Senate’s proposed budget takes a step to tackle period poverty

As a new student at NC A&T State University, Lena Vann learned how difficult it was to find affordable menstrual supplies.

“As a college student, they were not always accessible or available to me,” she said.

That experience and attending a school with activism in its DNA led Vann to start The Black Period Project, an organization that provides supplies to schools – mostly to Title 1 middle schools in the Triad. The Black Period Project started in 2019 and since that time has delivered hundreds of packs of pads, liners, and wipes along with a resource card so students would know which adults in the school were storing them.

When school buildings were closed in the pandemic, the project delivered hygiene packs to student food pick-up points.

Vann, now a rising senior, said she always keeps hygiene kits in her car for homeless menstruators.

“As someone who feels privileged to attend school, I thought, what about people who can’t advocate for themselves? What about young girls or trans boys? Who is helping them? When I looked at the period advocacy space, there were not a lot of Black women or young Black women. I decided in March 2019 it was going to be me.”

While period poverty for years has been framed as an international problem, there’s more awareness of its impact in the United States. Realizing that some students are missing school because they cannot afford period products, states have begun taking steps to ease some of the financial burden.

The Georgia legislature put $1.5 million in its budget this year for menstrual supplies for schools and community centers in low-income areas, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

A new Vermont law requires schools make the products free in female and gender-neutral bathrooms.

A handful of other states require schools to make supplies freely available in all public school bathrooms or in low-income schools.

In North Carolina, the Senate budget proposes to make $250,000 in grants available to schools for feminine hygiene products.

State Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Durham Democrat, proposed a bill that would make the money available. The state Department of Public Instruction supports the line item. Murdock said that GOP Sen. Deanna Ballard, who helps lead the Senate’s education budget committee, advocated for including the money in the Senate spending plan.

Murdock said she considers the $250,000 funding a pilot project to see who applies for the money. An immediate focus is trying to keep the proposal in the version of the budget the House is writing.

“This pilot program is the first step. We need to take this issue of period poverty seriously, and follow our neighbors such as Georgia,” she said.

Diaper Bank of North Carolina started On the Spot in 2016, delivering period products to schools that want them. Diaper Bank executive director Michelle Old said it would probably cost about $500,000 to supply all the schools.

Teachers in middle and high schools know some menstruating students miss school because they cannot afford hygiene products, Old said.

“We really feel that period supplies are school supplies and dignity is not a privilege and it is not something that menstruating individuals should have to make a choice about,” Old said.

NC Senate leader wants to ban consideration of race in UNC admissions and government contracting

Senate leader Phil Berger said the Senate will propose a state constitutional amendment similar to a California ballot initiative that triggered a decline in underrepresented minority students earning undergraduate and graduate degrees and resulted in fewer public contracts going to minority- and women-owned businesses.

At news conference Wednesday centered on critical race theory in public schools, Berger said the Senate would propose a constitutional amendment similar to what were called civil rights initiatives in California and Michigan.

California in 1996 passed a constitutional ban on affirmative action in school admissions and public contracting. The proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment in Berger’s Medium post is identical to the California amendment language:

“The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, an individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

Berger, a Republican, said the intent was for the proposed amendment to appear on the next primary ballot.

The president of the North Carolina NAACP, in a statement, condemned the proposal.

“The continued frontal assaults on humanity levied by the rogue leader of the Senate is evidence of a man leading from his fears,” said the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman.  “It is apparent that the more wrenches he can toss into an already broken democratic system the better off he thinks they are. Perhaps this will be the catalyst that will cause the eyes of NC to pop open and exercise their right to vote.”

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed an executive order in 2017 stating a goal of obtaining 10% of state purchases from historically underutilized businesses. The order also established an advisory council on under-utilized businesses.

A 2015 study for the Equal Justice Society found that the California amendment resulted in a minority- and women-owned businesses losing $1 billion to $1.1 billion a year in state and local contracts, in 2015 dollars.

Students for Fair Admissions is suing UNC-Chapel Hill in federal court for  considering race in admissions. UNC-Chapel Hill considers race as one of many factors, according to the university.

Edward Blum, an affirmative-action opponent, started Students for Fair Admissions. It is also suing  Harvard University. The First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Harvard’s admissions process in a decision last November.

A federal District Court judge held a hearing in the UNC-Chapel Hill case last year.

The NC Justice Center is co-counsel representing alumni of color who have intervened in the lawsuit. NC Policy Watch is a project of the NC Justice Center.

After California passed its ban, applications by Black, American Indian, Chicano, and other Latinos to University of California schools dropped, according to a 2015 study by authors at UC-Riverside and the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

Most under-represented minority students became at least 40% less likely to be admitted to the more selective UC-Berkeley and UCLA campuses, according to a 2020 study from an economist with the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC-Berkeley. That started a cascade of under-represented minority student enrollment in less-selective colleges.

“Prop 209 caused a substantial decline in the number of high-earning early-career URM Californians that persists more than 20 years later,” the study concluded.

If North Carolina were to ban consideration of race, admissions of students of color would decline at UNC-Chapel Hill,  said Jack Holtzman, an NC Justice Center attorney.

UNC does not use a quota system, he said.

“No specific seats are reserved. That is long gone. Everybody is reviewed with the same process. It is a matter of whether a university would be allowed to look at the whole student, including whether they have experienced racism,” he said.

Experiencing diversity at the university “is part of the complete education of our students,” he said.

Gov. Cooper vetoes GOP bill cutting off federal unemployment benefits

Governor Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday vetoed a bill that would have ended the extra $300-a-week in federal money that unemployed people in the state receive.

Republicans pushed the bill, saying the federal unemployment insurance supplement s contributing to a labor shortage because it keeps people from looking for work.

Others argue that it’s a lack of childcare, worry about contracting COVID, or people seeking jobs better than the ones they had that’s contributing to the struggles employers are having filling vacancies.

More than 20 Republican-led states have opted out of the federal unemployment supplement.

All North Carolina Senate Democrats voted against the bill, making it unlikely that the legislature will be able to override Cooper’s veto. The federal unemployment supplement is set to expire September 6 of this year. Three House Democrats joined Republicans in passing the bill by a vote of 66-44.

Senate bill 116 also directed $250 million from this year’s federal rescue plan be used for subsidized childcare.

Senate Republicans initially proposed offering signing bonuses to people who took jobs, anticipating Cooper would veto a measure cutting off the federal supplement.

Cooper, a Democrat, said in his veto message that ending the supplemental benefit would hurt the state.

“Unemployment is declining with more people getting vaccinated and into the workforce as North Carolina has strengthened work search requirements for those receiving benefits,” Cooper said in a statement.

“The federal help that this bill cuts off will only last a few more weeks and it supplements North Carolina’s state benefits, which are among the stingiest in the country. Prematurely stopping these benefits hurts our state by sending back money that could be injected into our economy with people using it for things like food and rent. I support strong efforts to make more quality childcare available and to provide businesses with funds for hiring bonuses and the bill falls short on both of these.”

ProPublica last year called North Carolina the worst state to be unemployed. Republicans beginning in 2013 restricted eligibility and cut maximum benefits and the duration of benefits.

A working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published in May posited that the federal unemployment supplement contributed slightly to job-finding rates.

The estimated impact of the extra $300 is “that each month in early 2021, about seven out of 28 unemployed individuals receive job offers that they would normally accept, but one of the seven decides to decline the offer due to the availability of the extra $300 per week in UI payments,” they wrote.

Senate leader Phil Berger’s office did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. In a statement on Medium, Berger said manufacturers will end up sending jobs to other countries.

“It’s a shame to see Gov. Cooper incentivize people not to work instead of addressing our state’s severe labor shortage,” Berger wrote.