NC JUSTICE NEWS: Pre-Kindergarten Debate + Unemployment Worries + Thom Tillis' Town Halls

August 23, 2011

NC PRE-KINDERGARTEN: The debate continues

Gov. Bev Perdue’s executive order allowing all eligible children to enroll in the newly named North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program is under attack.

There’s no debate that North Carolina’s nationally recognized More at Four program, now called NC Pre-K, prepares at-risk children for school and improves their academic performance. Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning stood up for the state’s children when he shot down a provision in the new state budget that limited enrollment for at-risk children in NC Pre-K. Manning maintained that access to high-quality pre-kindergarten was necessary to protect “the individual right of every child to have the equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.”

That ruling prompted the governor’s executive order. But now, the State Attorney General’s office is appealing Manning’s ruling. In addition, Republicans are challenging Perdue’s executive order, saying it could cost the state as much as $360 million, a number that doesn’t accurately reflect the typical demand of the program, even when it existed as More at Four.

Somehow, dealing with the financial woes of the state has fallen on the shoulders of at-risk children. Lawmakers have chosen to ignore the long-lasting benefits of early childhood education not only for the students but for the state at large, pretending that a matter of enrichment and a right to education is simply one of dollars and cents. They should be ashamed of these political maneuverings.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Rate jumps ahead of national average in July

North Carolina’s unemployment rate reached 10.1 percent in July, meaning the state now rests a full percentage point above the national unemployment rate. This is the third consecutive month the rate has gone up, with public-sector job loss creating a huge crater in local economies and the labor market.

The NC Employment Security Commission released figures last week that showed the private sector gained 6,900 jobs for the month. However, these gains were entirely negated by the loss of nearly 12,000 local government jobs – a majority of which were in education – and an additional 300 state government jobs.

All of this begs the question – how are further government layoffs going to help decrease the unemployment rate? How will cutting vital education and public-sector jobs help North Carolina reach and stay on a path toward economic recovery?

After the numbers were released, NC Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt released a statement, saying, “Right now, more than ever, North Carolina needs more investment in education and a focus on job creation.” Nesbitt argued – and rightly so – that such bleak numbers only further demonstrate how this year’s devastating legislative session and subsequent job-killing budget deeply injured North Carolina’s public investments and the future of the state’s economy.

TILLIS' TOWN HALLS: House Speaker defends budget

NC House Speaker Thom Tillis is taking to the road to defend the new state budget. So far, his series of town-hall meetings have covered everything from the voter ID bill and Planned Parenthood funding to same-sex marriage and Medicaid.

Last week in Kinston, voters from all sides came to voice their opinions and ask the Cornelius Republican to justify the legislature’s decisions during the session, especially in terms of budget cuts. Tillis defended the five House Democrats who helped to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s budget veto, and he claimed that talk about partisan “bickering” was exaggerated, as evidenced by the small number bills the governor vetoed. (This, despite the fact that Perdue vetoed more bills this year than any other NC governor in recent history).

Tillis promised that the House would respond to the voter ID veto with a compromise bill, but he also told the crowd in Kinston, “If you’re really mad about illegal immigration, I’m the wrong guy to get out lathered up. It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

Later in the week at a meeting in New Bern, Tillis told reporters that he considers passing the legislative budget his most significant accomplishment as speaker – he did not mention, of course, the jobs that have been lost due to this terrific “accomplishment.”

These town hall events offer a tremendous opportunity for North Carolinians to make their voices heard on these critical issues. Tillis will host the next town hall meeting in Rocky Mount at noon on Wednesday, Aug. 24, with a final event on Tuesday, Aug. 30 in Clayton.

LAROQUE'S DEFENSE: No illegal activity at nonprofits

State Rep. Stephen LaRoque went on the defensive last week at a press conference in his hometown of Kinston, ostensibly to answer questions about allegations laid out in NC Policy Watch’s investigation of the management and financial dealings at the lawmaker’s federally funded public charities. Yet despite talking for nearly an hour, LaRoque offered few definitive answers or rebuttals to the facts in question.

LaRoque defended the high salary he received as executive director of two non-profits – an amount that Policy Watch discovered at one point reached $195,000 – claiming that no taxpayer money had been used to pay his salaries. He told supporters and the press that some of that money had been used to pay employees of LaRoque Management Group, the non-profit he currently runs. However, he refused to say how much the employees were compensated or how long they had worked for LaRoque.

Policy Watch’s investigation discovered that since 1997, LaRoque’s nonprofits, the East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company, received $8 million in federal funds as part of a USDA economic development program for rural parts of the state. At the news conference, LaRoque claimed that the money he receives comes from the proceeds from loans provided with federal money. Yet he has repeatedly declined to make the contract he has with the non-profit available, and USDA’s Rural Development office North Carolina never received a copy of one.

Ultimately, LaRoque refused to apologize for benefiting from the profits made at his nonprofit. “If the profits increases, do I make more money? Absolutely,” LaRoque said. “But this is America and I don’t think profit is a crime.”

It’s safe to say that this will not be the last we hear from Rep. LaRoque. Stay tuned as NC Policy Watch continues its investigation.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Prof. Kenneth Thomas

A lot of people think they understand what works and what doesn’t in the field of economic incentives. Professor Kenneth Thomas of the University of Missouri at St. Louis – a political scientist, author, and economic development expert – is one of those rare individuals to have actually conducted the hard research back up his conclusions.

Join NC Policy Watch and Professor Thomas on Wednesday, Aug. 31 for a Crucial Conversation event that will address economic development subsidies, and what the record in the U.S. and abroad tells us about spending public dollars to grown private businesses.

Don’t miss this chance to hear from a recognized national expert on this most vexing and controversial subject. The event will be held at the Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building in Raleigh at noon, and will include a box lunch in the total cost ($10). Click here to register for the event. Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com with any questions.

 

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