NC JUSTICE NEWS: Early Childhood Education, NC Health Choice, Budget, Unemployment

June 30, 2009

EDUCATION: Don't cut More at Four, Smart Start
"The best investment North Carolina can make," writes Dr. Stephen Jackson of the NC Budget & Tax Center, "is in our state’s children." Thankfully, our lawmakers have invested wisely in a few well-crafted, carefully targeted programs that give kids the best chance of success in school and life.
Unfortunately, Jackson writes in this week's Legislative Bulletin, those key public investments are at risk.
"These programs, such as More at Four and Smart Start, have helped tens of thousands of families and won national honors," he writes. "But now, with the state budget crisis, funding for these initiatives is in grave jeopardy."
The crux of Jackson's argument:
• Investing in targeted early childhood education has tremendous social benefits. These investments have proven to have significant positive economic impacts. A dollar spent today can save many more dollars later in welfare, education, health and justice-related expenditures.
• More at Four is particularly important to low-income North Carolinians. This high-quality pre-kindergarten program is targeted at low-income children who are more likely to be at risk of later academic failure. North Carolina’s program ranks with the nation’s best, and helps thousands of low-income kids achieve later academic success.
• Current proposals call for millions in cuts to Smart Start, More at Four, and state child care subsidy. Slashing or fundamentally altering programs proven to work is ill-advised, and lawmakers should re-affirm our state’s commitment to investing in children.
BUDGET: Take Action! It's time to come together to pass a budget that works for everyone
It's time to come together. The Governor has proposed a budget. The House and the Senate have passed their budget proposals. Now, during this critical time in our state's history, our elected officials must show courage and leadership by coming together and agreeing on a budget that maintains our past investments in North Carolina's families and communities.
Our state leaders must take a balanced approach to the current budget shortfall, and that means raising revenues. Without new revenues, legislators will be forced to make massive cuts that will cause tremendous pain in the short-term, and jeopardize our long-term prosperity. The Governor, the Senate, and the House have all proposed budgets that include new revenues, and that's progress. Last week, the Governor called on the House and Senate to raise $1.5 billion in new revenues. Now it's time for our state leaders to come together and agree on a budget that's good for all North Carolinians.
What can you do to help? Time is short. Under the state Constitution, lawmakers need to complete work on the budget by June 30. They need to hear from you today. Email your legislators and tell them to say "NO" to devastating budget cuts and "YES" to a balanced solution for the state budget that enacts smart cuts and raises $1.5 billion in new revenue. If we pull together, we can get through this budget crisis. Let's get to work!
HEALTH CARE: Access to NC Health Choice needed now more than ever
Adam Searing, Louisa Warren, and Adam Linker are all defending the critical NC Health Choice program from proposed cuts.
Adam Searing explains that despite claims to the contrary the NC House budget would cut 30,000 children from Health Choice, a program that provides insurance coverage to low-income kids.
Louisa Warren released a report explaining that Health Choice provides the state with much needed federal funds, stimulates our local economies, and serves as a social safety net for children. Nothing about slashing Health Choice makes sense.
And Adam Linker says that getting more children enrolled in Health Choice will be important for attracting a huge infusion of federal funds once Washington passes health reform. The General Assembly will set us back years if it caps Health Choice enrollment now
ACTION ALERT: Support parental involvement in education
North Carolina General Statute 115C-105.41 requires schools to develop personal education plan for every student at risk of academic failure. However, the current statute stops short of requiring parental notice and/or involvement. HB 804 is a minor modification that requires schools to provide parents with some type of notice once their child has been identified as at-risk of academic failure.
Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, introduced HB 804 because as a teacher, she knows the unfulfilled potential of personal education plans. Research has proven that parents are the key to improving educational outcomes for at-risk students. Even more so, we know that parents in North Carolina are concerned about their child's education and have a right to notice of such academic intervention.
Show your support for parental involvement by calling on the Senate Education Committee to amend the Personal Education Plan Statute!
CALL TODAY regarding House Bill 804
To be heard by the Senate Education Committee
TOMORROW, Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 - 11 am in 643 LOB
* Providing Personal Education Plans for at-risk students helps to decrease the dropout rate.
* Forty-nine percent of students in grades three through eight did not earn the equivalent of a passing grade on end-of-grade reading and math tests during the 2007-08 school year.
* Schools must do a better job of utilizing personal education plans to help students before they fail.
* Legislators should support HB 804 because it has the potential to increase parental involvement as well as collaboration between parents and schools.
Make a call today, for every parent in NC who cares.
UNEMPLOYMENT: Three-fourths of NC counties hit double digits
The vast majority of North Carolina's counties -- 82 of 100 -- saw an increase in unemployment during May, according to data released this morning by the Employment Security Commission.
From April to May, five additional counties saw double-digit unemployment, bringing the total number to 72 of North Carolina's 100 counties.
"No county in North Carolina is immune to the labor market crisis," said Elaine Mejia, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center. "Families across the state are hurting, and the new numbers show that economic recovery isn't right around the corner."
Greenville saw the highest month-to-month increase in joblessness, leaping from 10.1 percent to 11 percent unemployment. The highest unemployment rates in North Carolina were found in Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, followed by Rocky Mount.
But metropolitan areas across the state also struggled with a weak labor market in May. Every single metropolitan area in North Carolina saw rising unemployment rates.

"There is no end in sight for North Carolina's struggling working families," said Mejia. "Families and communities across the state will confront the hardships associated with a weak labor market well into the foreseeable future."
Significantly, loss of government jobs began to play a role in growing unemployment. With cuts in state and local spending, more government positions are frozen or eliminated, contributing to the rise in joblessness.
"As more and more working families are thrown out of work, public investment is absolutely necessary," said Mejia. "Government programs don't just stimulate the economy, they provide essential support for people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves jobless."
It's particularly important, Mejia, said, for people to have access to the NC Health Choice program, which provides health insurance for the children of working families who do not have health insurance through their employer. Another way the state can help, she said, is by keeping doors to community colleges open for workers who seek retraining after being thrown out of work.
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