NC JUSTICE NEWS: A Windfall for Charter Schools + State EITC in Jeopardy + New Healthcare Coalition

March 8, 2011

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Bill would let charters rob traditional schools

The importance of a strong, supported public school system has never been more evident than during the current difficult economy. But public education now faces formidable setbacks in the form of state budget cuts and Senate Bill 8, the proposal to lift the state’s 100-school cap on charter schools.

Senate Bill 8 would take tens of millions of dollars from traditional schools and give it to charter schools, even if those charters don't take on any additional students. For example, Durham Public Schools now faces the possibility that $10 million could be siphoned from the district’s budget under Senate Bill 8 – and that's on top of state and federal cuts.

Under Senate Bill 8, school districts would lose valuable funds and support systems that are instrumental to empowering the future workers of North Carolina. Someone will have to pay for this shortage. Teachers, students, school boards and counties will feel the effects of Senate Bill 8 long after the current state elected officials leave office.

Some state House members and an array of education officials presented an alternative to Senate Bill 8 in a news conference yesterday. The alternative eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools, but it would also institute more accountability for charter schools and would prevent them from accessing certain public-school funds.

Charter schools are not the magic bullet to fix education in North Carolina. They should exist as alternative, supportive measures to the traditional school system, not as separate vacuums for public funds and high-achieving students. Lifting the cap on charter schools and rewarding an experimental model that is still evolving is premature—it would only set in place measures that could fundamentally change public education in North Carolina.

HEALTH CARE: Join Citizens for Responsible Health Care

The bill Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC wrote in an effort to take over health reform in North Carolina is being heard this morning in the House Health and Human Services Committee. Today's meeting will tell us if Blue Cross is going to aggressive push this bill and if the majority legislators are going to let it happen.

The bill would give Blue Cross considerable power over the new health benefits exchange, which the state must create as part of health reform. The exchange is supposed to be an independent agency and a consumer watchdog, but this bill would turn the exchange into a vehicle for maximizing Blue Cross's market dominance and profits.

If you care about ensuring North Carolina has a competitive health exchange that serves consumers, join Citizens for Responsible Health Care. Groups that have already signed on include AARP North Carolina, NC Association of Educators, NC Council of Churches, and the NC State AFL-CIO.

Governor Perdue deserves support and appreciation for her veto of House Bill 2, an ill-conceived anti-health-care bill. The bill was an attempt by Republicans to challenge federal health reform, but it would have hurt North Carolinians in need of health coverage and could have endangered federal health-care funding for the state. Thankfully, Governor Perdue ignored the political games and instead focused on what is best for the people of North Carolina.

 

STATE EITC: NC's working families need you to take action today!

A bill to increase taxes on low- and moderate-income working families could get a hearing before the House Finance Committee this week.

House Bill 93 would increase taxes on 12% of non-elderly families in North Carolina. Legislators are considering this tax increase on working families even as they that contemplate lowering taxes on profitable corporations and letting expire the temporary surcharge on high-income earnings.

House Bill 93 would eliminate the refundable nature of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides an important tax break to more than 800,000 low- and moderate-income working families in North Carolina.

Refundability is important because:

  • It ensures those most in need—primarily low-wage workers with children—get the most from the credit.

  • It offsets some of the sales and property taxes working families pay. The less money a family makes, the greater a share of its income it pays in these other taxes. The EITC makes the tax system fairer.

  • It puts $52 million into local economies. Families tend to spend their tax refunds in close to home, creating the economic activity needed to jumpstart the state’s economy and put people back to work.

 

COMMUNITY COLLEGE: Access to federal loans essential

House Bill 7, which is scheduled for its third reading on the House floor today, would make it harder for many students to afford that much-needed post-secondary education.

This bill—and its counterpart Senate Bill 74, which is being heard before the Senate Appropriations Committee today—would allow individual community colleges to opt out of the federal student loan program. Some college leaders say they don't want to participate in the program because if a high percentage of students default on federal loans, the school could face sanctions. So rather than manage that risk through a number of proven programs, they want to force students to pay for school with more expensive loans, such as high-interest credit cards.

If the governor’s proposed increase is implemented, tuition at North Carolina’s community colleges will have increased by 40 percent since the start of the Great Recession (2007-2008). North Carolina needs more workers with post-secondary credentials if it is to add jobs and get its economy moving. Expanding access to the federal student loan program from the current 21 campuses to all 58 community colleges would provide students with an affordable tool to pay for their education expenses.

 

BAN THE BOX: Durham is leading the way

The Durham Second Chance Alliance, a coalition of advocacy groups, service providers, faith-based organizations, community leaders and residents, are hoping that the City of Durham will lead the way in "banning the box" throughout North Carolina.

Today, supporters of the Ban the Box movement will gather for a press conference at Durham City Hall, in support of fair hiring ordinances for individuals who were formerly incarcerated. Second Chance Alliance’s Ban the Box campaign calls for the elimination of questions about past convictions on employment applications. Durham County and City recently committed to removing the question about criminal history from their job applications. Now, the Second Chance Alliance hopes to spur this practice into fair hiring ordinances, so that the Ban the Box campaign can survive even in the face of changing town leaders and politicians.

With thousands of individuals in Durham County that are on probation or parole, or have criminal convictions, many residents find themselves facing unfair hiring and housing discrimination. The Second Chance Alliance argues that a person’s conviction history should only be considered if it directly affects a person’s ability to do a specific job. Banning the box, on the other hand, will contribute to public safety by promoting stable employment, particularly in low-income communities. Individuals with jobs will be less likely to return to a life of crime, as they thrive as productive members of their families and communities.

 

EDUCATION: Depriving students of access makes no sense

Some state legislators want to prevent undocumented students from attending North Carolina’s community colleges and universities—even though those students pay out-of-state tuition and are therefore a source of revenue for schools.

Full-time in-state tuition for community college is about $5500 per year. Out-of-state tuition is between $8000 and $10000 for a full-time student. So, undocumented students pay more than others in North Carolina, bringing costs down.

And educating these students—many of whom have graduated from North Carolina public schools—makes sense for the state’s economy. About two-thirds of the jobs of the future will require some kind of post-secondary education. North Carolina will need an educated workforce to stay competitive—so keeping young people who want an education out of school is short-sighted and foolish.

LEGISLATIVE ACTION: People of Color Lobby Day tomorrow

Tomorrow, hundreds of citizen lobbyists from around the state will gather in Raleigh for the People of Color Legislative Day. As Rev. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, put it:

"March 9 is not just a day for black, brown, and white people to gather and lobby their elected officials. It’s a day for people of good will of all colors—a diverse quilt that includes black, brown, white and all shades in between—to lobby for an anti-racist, anti-poverty policy agenda that will improve the lives of people of color and our community as a whole and advance the common good."

 

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