NC JUSTICE NEWS: Teacher Cuts + A Bad Medicaid Proposal + Prisoner Re-entry

January 18, 2011

STATE BUDGET: Char-Meck, UNC proposals just tip of the iceberg

The budget cuts to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools recently proposed by Superintendent Peter Gorman provide a preview of the local impact of state budget cuts on public structures like schools, colleges, courts and hospitals.

School districts throughout the state are anticipating a 10-percent cut in state funding for the next fiscal year. Gorman’s proposal includes the loss of more than 1,500 jobs in Char-Meck schools and increased class sizes in grades 4 through 12. Gorman also recommends scaling back the policy of providing extra teachers for low-income students, thereby reducing the resources available to schools with high concentrations of poverty.

UNC system leaders announced that a 10-percent cut to their funding would put 2,000 people out of work, including 1,000 faculty members.

Putting people out of work at a time when the state unemployment rate is 9.7% makes no sense. It doesn’t have to be this way. Reforming the state’s revenue system could help prevent the worst of these cuts, saving tens of thousands of public- and private-sector jobs, improving the state’s finances, and building the physical and human capital necessary for all North Carolinians to prosper in the years and decades ahead.

CHILD POVERTY: A reminder of who will suffer from budget cuts

Before the new legislative session begins next week and legislators start swinging their budget ax, here’s a reminder of who will be affected if public services and education are cut.

A report from the Southern Education Foundation finds that 8.6 percent of children in North Carolina live in extreme poverty – meaning their families’ incomes are 50% or less of the federal poverty level, or $10,600 for a family of four in 2008.

Extreme child poverty is much higher in the state’s rural areas, at a rate of 12.9%. Four NC school districts had rates that put them among the worst in the nation:

  • Scotland County Schools – 27%
  • Lexington City Schools - 21.1%
  • Northampton County Schools - 20.4%
  • Robeson County Schools - 19.9%

Tax cuts can’t help these children. The only way North Carolina can help them is to heavily invest in their education and provide their families with the health, housing and food assistance programs that can help them work their way out of poverty. Cut those programs and we condemn these children.

HEALTH CARE: Block-grant proposal could undermine Medicaid

In Washington DC, one suggestion for cutting spending is turning Medicaid into a block grant program, a change that would result in higher costs for states and fewer benefits for recipients.

Currently, the federal government picks up a fixed percentage—between 50 percent and 75 percent—of each state's Medicaid costs. Under a block grant, the federal government would provide each state only with a fixed dollar amount of Medicaid funding, with states responsible for everything above that amount.

The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities released a report outlining the risks to states. First, federal funding under a block grant would no longer rise automatically in response to recessions, epidemics, or life-saving but expensive medical breakthroughs. Therefore, an ever-larger share of Medicaid costs would fall to states. In response, states will almost certainly restrict enrollment, eligibility, and benefits. Many people who would currently qualify for Medicaid could end up uninsured, and many Medicaid beneficiaries, such as people with serious disabilities, could lose critical services.

Over the past 30 years, Medicaid costs per beneficiary have tracked costs in the health-care system as a whole, both public and private. So slowing Medicaid costs over the long run requires controlling costs throughout the U.S. health care system—and the health reform law takes some significant initial steps to achieve just that. Addressing Medicaid in isolation from the rest of the health-care system, as a block-grant system would do, is no answer.

PUBLIC EDUCATION: Wake board moves to undermine schools

Last fall, a handful for Wake County voters elected new school-board members whose campaigns were generously supported by an anti-government zealot and a founder of private schools. Now, those new members are refusing to cooperate with an investigation by the agency that accredits the district’s schools. They are openly and unapologetically risking losing accreditation, which would put some colleges and scholarships out of reach for Wake graduates.

…which would erode support to this most vital of public institutions and force parents who can afford it to send their college-bound kids to private schools.

What a sad and yet entirely predictable turn of events. The only thing that surprises us about this is that anyone is surprised.

PRISONER RE-ENTRY: Committee makes solid recommendations

For two years, the NC legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Ex-Offender Reintegration into Society has debated how best to address the problems of recidivism and the reintegration of ex-offenders into society. Last week, the group offered up a broad array of policy recommendations, focusing on two important areas: reducing barriers to employment and moving toward providing organized services with evidence-based standards.

The recommendations represent a big step toward safer communities and second chances for North Carolinians. Reducing barriers to employment can assist offenders with community integration and avoiding further criminal conduct. Law enforcement professionals, service providers, non-profit groups and advocates have all spoken about the importance of employment to ex-offender re-integration.

Taken as a whole, improving access to services and preventing automatic denial of employment opportunities for former offenders would improve community safety. If implemented, the committee’s recommendations could reduce costs to the taxpayer while allowing ex-offenders to lead more productive lives.

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