NC JUSTICE NEWS: Get Your Tickets for the Defenders of Justice Awards + Education Roundup + Crucial Conversation

March 31, 2015

SAVE THE DATE: The 17th Annual Defenders of Justice Awards

Mark your calendars! This year's Defenders of Justice (DOJ) Awards ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 14 at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The awards are given by the Justice Center each year to honor individuals or organizations that are making significant contributions in Litigation; Policy Research and Advocacy; Legislative and Administrative Advocacy; and Grassroots Empowerment. Here are this year's honorees:

  • Legislative & Administrative Advocacy: Rep. Susan Fisher and Sen. Gladys Robinson
  • Policy Research & Advocacy: Center for Responsible Lending and Tom Vitaglione, Senior Fellow of Health and Safety at NC Child
  • Litigation: The University of North Carolina's Center for Civil Rights and Former Justice Bob Orr
  • Grassroots Empowerment: Ajamu and Rukiya Dillahunt

In each newsletter over the upcoming weeks we'll spotlight those being honored at this year's event. This week, learn more about our litigation honorees, Rep. Fisher and Sen. Robinson.

State Representative Susan Fisher is a long-time champion for programs and policies that empower and protect low-income North Carolinians. She is in her seventh term representing Asheville and the center of Buncombe County, and serves as Deputy Democratic Leader in the NC House.

Rep. Fisher is a champion of increasing the minimum wage, allowing workers to earn paid sick days, and providing child-care assistance to working families. She also helped lead the effort to secure a state Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers. She is a long-time advocate for increasing the supply of affordable housing and for protecting homeowners from predatory lending practices. As co-chair of the House committee on dropout prevention, she has guided statewide efforts to promote programs that help students stay in school.

State Senator Gladys Robinson is a determined fighter for improving the quality of public education, particularly for those students who are at risk of failure, are low-income, and are being deprived of meaningful opportunities to learn. Sen. Robinson is in her third term in the NC Senate representing part of Greensboro and central Guilford County, and she currently serves as Deputy Minority Leader.

Sen. Robinson is determined to make sure North Carolina lives up to its responsibility to provide a quality education to every student. In recent years, she has sponsored bills that would expand students’ education rights, support teachers, and provide adequate funding to every part of the public education system. This year, she is working to restore funding for the NC Teaching Fellows Program and fix the state’s new system for grading schools, which currently penalizes those schools serving large numbers of low-income children.

Buy your ticket today! You can also click here to learn more about sponsorship opportunities.

TAX SAGA: Latest proposal will only produce harmful revenue loss

Senate Bill 526, the latest Senate tax proposal, is chock full of ill-conceived tax theories that have repeatedly failed to deliver on the promise of stronger economic growth for everyone. While proponents claim SB 526 will boost the economy and help families, the proposal will neither provide any real solutions to the state’s broken economic model nor address declining incomes among middle-class and low-income households. SB 526 will also result in over $1.5 billion in lost revenue for reinvestment in public services and programs—such as schools, public health, and the courts—the very things that are the building blocks of a strong economy.

Coming on the heels of the 2013 tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy and profitable corporations, SB 526 would:

  • Amount to over $1.5 billion in lost revenue for public services and programs by providing deeper income tax cuts, including reducing the personal income tax rate from the current rate of 5.75 percent to 5.5 by 2017
  • Provide huge tax cuts to profitable corporations by further reducing the corporate income tax rate from 5 percent to 4 percent by 2017 and by changing the way profitable corporations can apportion their income
  • Increase subsidies for corporations by expanding the business incentives program

North Carolina needs to reset the fiscal debate: stop the tax cuts and raise the bar through smarter tax policies. Now is the time to set a new course, not double down on the previous tax changes that are hurting working families and costing us all far more than expected. We urge you to take action by writing a Letter to the Editor of your local paper about how failing to raise adequate revenues will leave the state’s economy on shaky ground and harm the quality of life of North Carolinians across the state. Learn more about the proposal at this link.

We also want to hear from North Carolinians filing their taxes or preparing taxes for others this year. With the new Policy Watch feature Your Soapbox — The Tax Shift, we’re hoping to lift up the stories of those who have been most affected by the tax changes made in 2013 and what that means for their quality of life, their communities and public services. We are already hearing personal stories from people and their families who stand to be affected by the tax shift. Share your story using the submission form here.

EDUCATION ROUNDUP: Personal Education Plans, vouchers, UNC Board

The last several weeks have seen a variety of education-related issues pop up at the General Assembly. Here's a roundup of some of NC Policy Watch's latest reporting.

Last week, Rep. Paul Stam announced that he wants to expand North Carolina’s school voucher program fourfold beginning this fall, which would amount to almost an additional 30 million taxpayer dollars. Stam said he’d like to see up to 9,000 more students take advantage of Opportunity Scholarships, which are taxpayer-funded vouchers worth $4,200 annually that students can use toward tuition at private schools. Lawmakers and advocates haven't yet unveiled any legislation as they wait for a state Supreme Court ruling that will decide the constitutionality of sending public funds to private schools that are virtually unregulated, beholden to almost no academic or governance standards. Read more here.

Sen. Jerry Tillman filed a bill earlier this month that would eliminate the require for public schools to offer Personal Education Plans (PEPs), which provide academically struggling, at-risk students with strategic interventions to bring them up to grade-level proficiency. Tillis and other lawmakers argue that the bill will help ease the burden of "needless paperwork" for already overworked teachers. NC Policy Watch's Lindsay Wagner spoke to Sen. Tillman who said “[PEPs] are just a lot of paperwork for a lot of students who really just don’t need them." Advocates such as the Justice Center's Matt Ellinwood, however, still see a need for PEPs or a similar system that offers individualized help to at-risk students, particularly in low-wealth districts that struggle to offer interventions to help students. Read more here.

The UNC Board of Governors, after a rocky start to the new year, visited the General Assembly last week hoping to convince lawmakers to send more money their way. The group asked House and Senate members for $2.59 billion for this upcoming fiscal year, which would fund the 17 campus system (including the UNC hospital system and the N.C. School of Science and Math) at existing levels, as well as $50 million to cover enrollment growth, $8 million to shore up the struggling Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and $3 million for Elizabeth City State University. The request comes after years of cuts in state funding, including a more than $400 million drop in funding in 2011. As a result, the public higher education system has increasingly turned to tuition and fees as funding sources, shifting much of the burden to the 220,000 enrolled students and their families. Read more here.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Can our coastline be saved from off-shore drilling?

Recently, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a draft five-year plan that would make the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts available to oil and gas leasing starting in 2017. This represents a significant shift in federal policy, as there has never been any producing oil or gas wells drilled off the ecologically rich coastlines of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Offshore drilling could threaten the economic livelihood of the coastal communities that rely on healthy waters and clean beaches to support local tourism and fishing industries. It could also damage barrier islands and marsh ecosystems, as well as sensitive wetlands that provide drinking water and hurricane protection to nearby communities.

Join us as we explore this controversial “sea change” with one of the state’s leading experts on the topic, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Sierra Weaver. Attendees will have a chance to get fully up to speed on the rush to drill and learn what will come next after the initial March 30 comment period and how to stay engaged in the issue.

Don’t miss the chance to learn more about this important issue at this critical juncture. Join NC Policy Watch on Tuesday, April 7 at 12:00 p.m. at the Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh.


AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: Join us TONIGHT for an educational forum

As the Affordable Care Act is being implemented in our state, North Carolina lawmakers have blocked the Medicaid program from being expanded. This means that 500,000 working adults remain uninsured this year.

Join the NC Justice Center's Health Access Coalition for a conversation in Belhaven. We'll discuss:

  • the benefits of the Affordable Care Act
  • how Medicaid expansion would help your community
  • implementation of the online marketplace, including Special Enrollment Period and open enrollment

Help us spread the word and join us on TONIGHT, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served. The event will be held at the Belhaven Civic Center at 257 W. Pungo Street in Belhaven.

To reserve your spot, contact Nicole Dozier, 919-856-2146,