Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

Gov. Roy Cooper won’t veto class size, Board of Elections, pipeline omnibus

Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the class size bill Wednesday
at the Executive Mansion (Photo taken by Billy Ball).

Gov. Roy Cooper says he won’t veto an omnibus bill that eases North Carolina’s class size crisis, despite several parts of the bill that he calls “political attacks and power grabs.”

“Our kids in schools are too important,” said Cooper. “But we do need to talk about the bad parts of the bill.”

The legislation, which he characterized as “a sigh of relief that came too late,” phases in class size caps for grades K-3 over the next four years and offers recurring funding for arts, music and physical education teachers that might have been crowded out by districts’ search for cash to fund new classroom educators.

“The class size chaos that this legislature started caused agony and anger and angst across this state for no reason,” said Cooper.

Meanwhile, Cooper said the deal only “partly” resolves the state’s class size headache, pointing out that—as Policy Watch reported today—the accord comes with no funds for school districts’ construction needs arising from the state mandate.

Cooper said school superintendents were “wringing their hands not knowing what to do” over the infrastructure issues. Many districts will have to spend millions to find new classroom space.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen school superintendents that desperate,”said Cooper. “And these legislators let that problem fester for two years.”

Additionally, the state continues to grapple with a teacher shortage that may vex local school leaders’ efforts to fill more classrooms, a point brought up by the governor Wednesday.

“A smaller class size doesn’t do much good with no teacher in it,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s decision likely has little impact on the bill’s fate, considering the GOP-dominated General Assembly has a veto-proof voting majority on the legislation.

Republicans described the package bill, delivered as a conference report on House Bill 90 last week, as pulling together multiple, urgent issues, including a still-brewing court battle over an elections and ethics board merger, as well as a $58 million environmental mitigation fund that Cooper announced shortly after the pipeline received its permits.

GOP lawmakers say Cooper doesn’t have the authority to oversee that fund. They also suggested the Democratic governor negotiated a “quid pro quo” arrangement to secure the pipeline, which Republican legislators also support.

Cooper said Republicans’ actions “imperiled” that mitigation fund, arguing that he wasn’t sure what would become of the funding now. Legislators say they want to spend the cash on school districts along the pipeline’s route.

The governor also chided GOP legislators for another attempt to merge state elections and ethics boards, a move seen as curbing Cooper’s appointment powers. The state Supreme Court ruled in Cooper’s favor in an ongoing lawsuit over the boards, and a lower court is expected to decide soon how to proceed.

Cooper said this component of the bill is an “unconstitutional scheme.”

 

NC Budget and Tax Center

Evil or just bad policy? Trump’s budget leaves hungry North Carolinians to fend for themselves

On Monday, the President released his 2019 budget, which included devastating cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formally known as food stamps). The plan aims to cut one of the nation’s most important safety net programs by nearly 30 percent, or $213 billion over 10 years.

Although the cuts would have devastating effects nation-wide, the brunt of the cuts would be felt in states like North Carolina, which is the 10th hungriest in the nation and is where 1 in 6 residents receive SNAP.

In order to reduce the SNAP caseload, the Trump administration proposes programmatic changes that would limit who could qualify for SNAP and what benefits they could receive. Right now, adults under 49 years of age without children are subject to a three-month time limit. This proposal would expand that limit to adults without children up to age 62. The plan would also get rid of categorical eligibility, a program which helps many low-income North Carolinians, especially those with children and high child care costs. Additionally, the proposal would punish families with more than six household members by capping benefits and would eliminate funding for SNAP-Ed, a program which helps educate on healthy eating choices.

One of the most absurd proposals in the budget is a major provision which would replace SNAP benefits with a Soviet Union-era government-issued food box. Rather than automatically receiving benefits via an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, families that receive $90 or more in benefits a month (about 80 percent of participants nationally) would receive a “USDA Foods package” which would include “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned fruit and vegetables.” The plan would also rely on states to figure out how to package and deliver these boxes.

There is more than one flaw with this concept. Read more

News

NC Harm Reduction Coalition gets $1 million grant to battle opioid epidemic

The work of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition was given a boost this week when the group received a $1 million grant Tuesday from health care provider Aetna.

From the Spectrum News story on the grant:

 

Healthcare provider, Aetna, presented a $1 million grant to the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a group dedicated to battling the opioid epidemic in the state. The money will go towards staffing their Rural Opioid Prevention Program, which provides education and anti-overdose drug naloxone in Cumberland, Johnston, Vance, Brunswick, and Haywood counties.

“With the rise of fentanyl, especially in the eastern part of the state, every second counts,” said NC Harm Reduction Coalition director Robert Childs. “We’re trying to load these communities up with access to naloxone so they can reverse the drug overdose sight unseen, and that way less people have to die.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein was in attendance for the grant presentation. He says it’s important that rural counties aren’t overlooked in the opioid epidemic.

“Rural counties tend to be disproportionately affected by this crisis,” said Stein. “There are more pills in circulation in a lot of rural counties. The rate of death is greater in rural counties. I think developing strategies that target rural counties and support the groups that are trying to help save lives is really important.”

Regular Policy Watch readers may remember our interview with Robert Childs,  executive director of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.

Last month the group reversed its 10,000th overdose through Naloxone distribution.

Education

Next fix for legislators to address – the nurse-to-student ratio in NC’s public schools

Legislators headed home Tuesday, wrapping-up the special session with a controversial fix to the unfunded class-size mandate. And with that issue off the front burner for now, lawmakers might want to revisit a recent legislative study that found the state would need to spend up to $79 million a year to meet the recommended school nurse-to-student ratio.

Currently only 46 of the state’s 115 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) meet the ratio of one school nurse for every 750 students.

More often than not, the average school nurse in North Carolina covers two to three schools, with the ratio of one nurse for every 1,086 students.

Add to that the challenge of keeping up with a growing number of students with asthma, diabetes, food allergies and other chronic health conditions.

If you missed it over the weekend, take time to listen to Rob Schofield’s interview with Liz Newlin of the School Nurse Association of North Carolina as they discusses the growing demands on these professionals and how the lack of resources impacts classroom instruction:

Read the Final Report: Meeting Current Standards for School Nurses Statewide May Cost Up to $79 Million Annually

NC Budget and Tax Center

Three important ways in which President Trump’s proposed budget shifts costs to North Carolina

On the heels of a federal tax plan that provides tax breaks to the wealthy, foreign investors and profitable corporations, President Trump has released a budget that will make it more difficult for people to get back to work and strengthen their quality of life and ensure thriving communities.

It is unlikely that North Carolina will be able to absorb these federal cuts and, in so doing, ensure that North Carolinians aren’t hurt by them.

North Carolina has scheduled another $900 million in tax cuts to begin on Jan. 1, 2019, and already has identified the need to prioritize class-size reductions, pre-Kindergarten for 4-year-olds, and ensure seniors have health care and food, among others.  Additional needs generated by the failure of the President and Congress to truly connect people to opportunity will not be met with resources under the current tax code.

Here are just three ways in which the President’s budget will push costs to the states: Read more