New jobs report: Big recovery in largest metro areas, most of the state still lagging

The last North Carolina jobs report for 2022 was just released, and the NC Budget & Tax Center published a detailed analysis Wednesday.

Good news? Bad news?

It really depends how you look at it — and especially where you look.

North Carolina added more than 190,000 jobs in 2022. That isn’t just good  it’s 226,000 jobs over pre-COVID-19 levels. But almost all of that growth is in the state’s two largest metro areas, the Triangle area and Charlotte. Those two metros account for 110,000 of those jobs added last year, which the BTC points out is nearly 60% of the net job growth for the year.*

How did other metros do? Not a single one added even 10,000 jobs.

Sixty of the state’s 100 counties still have fewer residents working than before COVID-19. That’s not just a measure of the impact of the pandemic. Nearly half of the counties in the state have never fully recovered from the Great Recession and still have fewer people working than before 2008.

Among the 24 smaller “mircopolitan” cities in the state, 18 are still below pre-COVID employment levels. Seven of those cities Lumberton, Kinston, Marion, Wilson, Roanoke Rapids, Mount Airy, and North Wilkesboro  still have at least 1,000 fewer residents working than before the pandemic.

“We’re looking at some pretty stark divides that need to be addressed,” said Patrick McHugh, research manager at the NC Budget & Tax Center Federal and author of the analysis, in a statement.

“Federal aid and a strong market in general have propelled some city economies ahead, but we’re at risk of replaying our failure to drive a truly statewide recovery,” McHugh said. “Unless legislators in Raleigh are compelled to pick a different path this year, many of the communities, families, and workers who lost out following the Great Recession will be on the outside looking in — again — as we rebuild from COVID-19.”

*…The BTC initially reported this number incorrectly — it has been updated to correct a math error.

Read the full analysis from the NC Budget & Tax Center here.

Biden, McCarthy hold ‘productive’ and ‘frank’ debt limit talks as fiscal cliffs loom

State teacher vacancies grew by nearly 50% last school year

On the first day of school in August, North Carolina’s public schools reported a 46% increase in teacher vacancies when compared to the previous year. A look-in on the 40th day showed a 58% jump in teacher vacancies.

The data in a new report released Wednesday during the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting show the state with 5,540 vacancies on the first day of school compared to 3,792 vacancies the previous year.

Read the full 2021-2022 State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina report by clicking here.

On the 40th day of school, there were 5,091 vacancies compared to 3,213 during the 2021-22 school year.

North Carolina teachers marched for better pay.

Teacher vacancies have been a major concern for school leaders in recent years, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers leaving the profession have cited low pay and pandemic-related trauma. And some teachers share that the culture war around critical race theory, LGBTQ issues and book bans have left them feeling disrespected and underappreciated.

This week, Andrew Houlihan, the superintendent of Union County Schools, told attendees of the Public School Forum of North Carolina’s Eggs & Issues that teacher vacancies hit his district hard this year.

Houlihan said his district is high performing and has not traditionally had recruitment or retention problems.

“Until about two years ago, where we looked around the room and said, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ we cannot find a kindergarten teacher,” he said.

Under state law, a teaching position is considered vacant if it is not filled by a licensed teacher in a permanent assignment; filled by a long-term substitute or interim teacher or filled by a teacher with an emergency license, permit to teacher or provisional license.

Thomas Tomberlin, senior director of educator preparation, licensure and performance at the NC Department of Public Instruction, said the vacancy rate is overstated.

Tomberlin said 3,660 people who hold a permit to teach or provisional license are teaching but the positions are counted as vacant because they don’t meet the definition of a permanent teacher.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that this may be construed as there’s this massive increase in the number of vacancies across the state,” Tomberlin said. “What is changed is we’ve enforced the methodology that’s prescribed in law so that we’re accurately reporting to the General Assembly the state of our teaching profession.”

Schools had the most trouble filling K-5 vacancies in core subjects such as math, reading science and social studies. There were 1,224 vacancies in those subjects. Vacancies in exceptional children programs across grades K-12 were also difficult to fill.

Source: NC Department of Public Instruction

The report showed North Carolina’s teacher attrition rate holding steady at 7.78%. That’s 7,928 of nearly 93,832 teachers. The attrition rate represents a slight decrease over the previous year when it was 8.20%. That year, 7,736 of 94,342 teachers left the state’s public schools. Most teachers cite “personal reasons” for leaving.

“My report to you, the board, is that attrition in the state of North Carolina is one of the most stable metrics we have,” Tomberlin said. “It is annually right around the same number every year.”

Teacher mobility, which shows educators moving from one school to another in the state, increased slightly from 3.31% in the 2021-22 school year. The rate was  3.24% the year before.

NC bill requiring schools to out transgender students to parents draws fire

Sen. Amy Galey

Parents, teachers, and the ACLU of North Carolina criticized a controversial bill moving through the state Senate that would require schools tell parents if their children want to use different names or pronouns at school.

Called the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” Senate bill 49 mirrors proposed legislation the Senate approved last year, with a few changes. Instruction on gender identity, sexuality, and sexual activity would be prohibited in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Last year’s bill did not get a hearing in the House, but the bill would have an easier time this year overcoming a potential veto.

The bill contains a list of information to which parents would be entitled, and ways they should be able to obtain it. For example, schools would have to provide information online about textbooks and other instructional materials used in classrooms and establish ways for parents to object to them.

“Parents do not surrender their children to government schools for indoctrination opposed to the family’s values,” said Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and one of the bill’s main sponsors.

The provision that drew the most fire was the requirement for schools to out LGBTQ students to their parents.

Schools telling parents about name or pronoun changes before the students are ready could compromise students’ safety, some of the bill’s opponents told the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee on Wednesday.

“Many students feel comfortable changing their names and pronouns at school, but may not feel as comfortable doing so at home, due to possible lack of support from their parents,” said high school junior Callum Bradford.

“Notifying parents of their child’s name or pronoun change before the child is ready to tell them directly leaves us more vulnerable and unprotected,” Bradford said. “Many LGBTQ students are already terrified to come out to their family or friends. And this bill only adds an extra obstacle for them. We deserve supportive environments where we can be safe and learn to be social.”

The NC Family Policy Council and the NC Values Coalition, two conservative organizations, support the bill.

Schools withholding information about children changing their name or pronouns “is a breech of trust and violation of a parent’s right to know,” said John Rustin, president and executive director of the Family Policy Council.

But most of the public comments were in opposition. Ann Webb, senior policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, said the right to informational privacy extends to students at school.

“Students have a constitutional right to share or withhold information about their sexual orientation or gender identity from their parents, teachers or other parties,” she said.

“This bill undermines certain children’s safety and is ultimately a part of a national campaign to erase the existence of LGBT students and adults.”

A number of states have passed, are considering, or have implemented anti-LGBTQ laws and policies.

Critics of Senate bill 49 call it North Carolina’s version Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

States have or are considering laws banning gender-affirming medical care for minors.

Eighteen states have passed laws prohibiting transgender student athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, according to MAP.

Jack Turnwald, a trans nonbinary former public school teacher, told the committee they watched queer youth suffer in schools.

“It is unsafe at present to be a trans educator or student in hostile states like ours,” they said.

This bill perpetuates the harm of silencing queer youth and keeping communities ignorant instead of providing the information necessary for folks to understand and support one another. Under the guise of parental rights you are trying to criminalize queerness. You want your children to share their pronouns and come out to you rather than legislating educators to traumatically out them? Try creating an inclusive environment at home that supports your child’s safety.”

At a news conference before the committee meeting, Galey raised the possibility that a Durham Public School policy may violate the bill’s provisions.

“There may be some kind of shielding of parents knowing about the child’s name or pronouns at school,” she said.

The Durham County Board of Education approved a policy last year supporting LGBTQ students that acknowledges some students’ concerns about telling parents.

“In some cases, transgender students may not want their parents to know about their transgender status,” the Durham policy says. “These situations must be addressed on a case-by-case basis and will require schools to balance the goal of supporting students with the requirement that parents be kept informed about their children. The paramount consideration in such situations is the health and safety of the student.”

Racist jury strikes go on trial at the NC Supreme Court

The North Carolina Supreme Court building in Raleigh

Russell Tucker was a Black man facing the death penalty in the South in the “tough-on-crime” 1990s. He deserved the chance to be tried by a jury of his peers — people who might have had similar life experiences and been able to see him as something other than a one-dimensional “monster.” However, a Forsyth County prosecutor stole that chance at justice, which is supposed to be guaranteed by law.

The prosecutor came up with reason after reason why Black people could not remain on the jury. They were “monosyllabic.” They “didn’t make eye contact.” They “lacked a stake in the community.” One by one, the court allowed the prosecutor to send all the Black jurors home. Russell Tucker ended up with an all-white jury that did exactly as the prosecution asked: They deemed a young Black man unworthy of life.

Mr. Tucker, who has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1996, is represented by CDPL Senior Attorney Elizabeth Hambourger, along with co-counsel Tom Maher. On Feb. 8, Ms. Hambourger will argue before the North Carolina Supreme Court that racism illegally shaped Mr. Tucker’s jury. Details about how to attend or watch the arguments are here.

The issue before the court is not whether Mr. Tucker committed a terrible crime; he has admitted to killing a security guard outside a Kmart during a desperate and drug-fueled time in his life. Instead, the issue is whether our state will allow brazen racism in death penalty trials.

The racism we’re talking about doesn’t just affect people on trial for their lives, though all-white juries have been shown to convict more easily, even when defendants are innocent, and to sentence more people to death. Jury discrimination also deprives citizens of their Constitutional right to wield power in our democratic system. Read more