NC JUSTICE NEWS: Future of NC Schools + Marriage Amendment + Education Lottery

September 20, 2011

EDUCATION CUTS: Schools, students hit hard by budget

Recently updated data from North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction shows some startling trends in education: the state's 115 school districts reported having eliminated more than 17,000 educator positions over the past four years.

Unfortunately, North Carolina didn’t have those cuts to spare. The state was already far below the national average in terms of state and local spending on public schools. Cuts have impaired the ability of schools to provide children with high-quality education. Ballooning class sizes and fewer instructional support staff, such as librarians and guidance counselors, have a direct impact on students’ academic well-being.

Administrators and teachers are working hard to make sure students are still getting the education they deserve. Will our lawmakers do the same in the future? Or will the cuts carry on year after year, slowly eroding the hard work of educators across North Carolina? Click here to see a graphic detailing these extensive cuts, and how the lost funding could have been used to enhance education across North Carolina.

MARRIAGE AMENDMENT DEBATE: Lawmakers fall on the side of hate

When the NC House and Senate voted to put an amendment on the ballot last week that could ban all legal recognitions for same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples, they did so in a matter of hours. It took no time at all for the Senate and House to remove the rights of an entire group of people from the state constitution, a document that is typically thought to expand rights, not diminish them. Without allowing time for any public input at all - from constituents, legal experts, community groups, or others - they decided to write discrimination into our state constitution.

Unfortunately for our state leaders, they may realize in May 2012 that they do not speak for the public when it comes to this subject. A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that although nearly two-thirds of North Carolinians oppose gay marriage, less than a third would vote for a ban. 55 percent said they would vote against it, with 15 percent undecided.

Come May, voters will hopefully reject an amendment that strips benefits from same-sex partners of employees and weakens domestic violence protections – among other egregious components of the amendment – simply because these families do not perfectly match their own personal and religious beliefs. Hopefully, voters will show that right is right, and bigotry is bigotry.

EDUCATION LOTTERY: Failed experiment failed to fund schools

During the debate around the creation of the North Carolina Education Lottery in 2005, critics from across the political spectrum predicted that the state would eventually back off of its promises that lottery funds would be used to enhance rather than replace existing education funds.

The reality of what has happened in the years since is worse than what critics predicted: North Carolina spent less on K-12 education in the 2010-11 school year than it did in the last school year before the lottery came into existence, even without accounting for inflation or increases in the student population.

Rather than using lottery proceeds to supplement the state’s funding for these programs and the larger public school system, North Carolina’s legislative leaders have increasingly relied on the lottery to cover up cuts to education. Instead of supporting vital education programs, the lottery has become a tax on the poor that brings gambling into the state’s communities without adding anything to the state’s education system.

CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER CARE: Lunch for older adults, caregivers

Join the NC Justice Center and AARP NC on Wednesday, September 21 for the next Campaign for Better Care community luncheon and make your voice heard on one of the most important, complex issues in North Carolina today.

The Campaign for Better Care aims to make improvements in the health system for vulnerable, older adults, and build a strong, lasting consumer voice for better health care. Come and share your experiences about what you think needs to be changed in our health system, and take advantage of the expertise offered from the AARP and the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). A physician and his staff will be on site to conduct health screens in one of OIC’s mobile medical units.

The free event will be held from 11:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at the OIC Community Health Education Center in Rocky Mount. To reserve your space, contact OIC at (252) 212-3461 or Nicole Dozier at nicole@ncjustice.org. For more information, visit the NC Justice website.

"ICE AGENT" RUSE: Raleigh man defrauds hundreds of immigrants

Next time you see someone walking around with a hat or jacket belonging to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement team – a bold, unmistakable “ICE” in bright yellow letters – make sure you get some proper identification before enlisting their assistance.

Tommie Rand Pierce, a Raleigh resident, was arrested in Utah last week on charges of impersonating an immigration agent and defrauding immigrants. Pierce, armed with a gun and an official-looking ICE hat, told hundreds of immigrants across North Carolina and the U.S. that he could get them legal status. Pierce ultimately tricked immigrants who were trying to complete immigration applications into giving him $5,000 each for his help. Kate Woomer-Deters, an attorney with the N.C. Justice Center, was responsible for notifying the federal authorities of Pierce’s dealings as a fraudulent ICE agent.

It’s believed that Pierce defrauded as many 265 immigrants across the country by filing false claims. Instead of being granted the legal status they had sought and paid for, many of the individuals Pierce “helped” were in fact deported because the applicants had overstayed their visas or had entered the country undetected in the first place.

ENSURING A FAIR WAGE: Ruling would protect foreign, US workers

The H-2B guest worker program allows employers in the U.S. to bring foreign nationals to the country in order to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. However, in recent years it's also become a tool for industries to acquire cheap labor and exploit the workers who participate in the program, many of whom barely earn the minimum wage, let alone a living wage. .

For several years, the NC Justice Center has worked with other advocacy groups for low-wage workers in order to help increase the wage rate for both U.S. and temporary guest workers across the U.S. who are hired by employers participating in the H-2B program. As a result of their efforts, a federal district court in Pennsylvania recently ordered the U.S. Department of Labor to issue new regulations which would significantly increase wages for these workers. Starting September 30, the mandatory minimum wage for H-2B workers will rise by an average of more than $4.00 per hour.

It seems like a sure victory. Yet trade groups from a variety of industries are now attempting to curtail the wage increases by suing the Labor Department. These groups allege that the new rule will harm employers who choose to participate in the H-2B guest worker program. Even worse, they're receiving backing from legislators whose districts would be directly affected by the new rule.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Addressing mental illness issues

Federal law has long commanded the states to deinstitutionalize persons with mental illness; it’s illegal to use federal money to gather up such individuals and lock them away in big hospitals as was the favored practice during the last century. Unfortunately, building a vibrant, modern and lawful alternative to the old model is challenging, and these challenges are made even tougher when state leaders refuse to tackle the situation head-on and, instead, rely upon quick fixes and half measures.

Join NC Policy Watch and Disability Rights North Carolina for a special Crucial Conversation event on this important topic, featuring Joshua Norris. Norris is the Director of Legal Advocacy for The Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO), a nonprofit that has been in the midst of many of the same battles that now confront North Carolina surrounding services to persons with mental illness. Norris will be joined by Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC.

The event will be held on Thursday, Sept. 29 at noon at the Marbles Kids Museum at 201 E. Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh. Click here to register for the event.

JOB DISPLACEMENT: U.S.-China trade deficit leads to huge loss

At a time when the country is in dire need of new jobs, a new report finds that nearly 2.8 million U.S. jobs have been eliminated or displaced since 2001 due to the growing U.S.-China trade deficit.

North Carolina is sixth among U.S. states in jobs lost to the trade gap, with a loss of 107,800 jobs. These jobs losses have had a major impact on total employment in North Carolina, representing 2.61 percent of total employment, the report says.

"The trade deficit has significantly harmed North Carolina’s employment picture,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center. “This report highlights the need for policymakers to take action now to create jobs and particularly focus on the state’s manufacturing sector.”

THE TILLY AWARDS: House Speaker Thom Tillis gets roasted

Last week, House Speaker Thom Tillis was the star of his own awards show. Unfortunately for the House Speaker, however, the first annual "Tilly Awards" was in honor - or dishonor - of all that Tillis’ policies and choices have wrought on North Carolina this past year.

Representatives from organizations across the state – including NC State AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, and the Latin American Coalition – presented Tillis with the “Dreamcrusher” Award, Award for “Increasing Blindness,” “Stop Using Workers as Pawns” Award, and the “Best Impersonation of a Doctor by a Politician” Award, among many others.

"When NC was in a crippling budget crisis, you passed a state budget that laid off teachers and state employees,” said Doug Jackson of telltillis.org. “For going against public opinion and budgetary realities, we hereby present you with the Most Generous Boss award.”

For more videos from the Tilly Awards, visit the NC Justice Center’s YouTube page

 

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