Medicaid Expansion

While we often talk about fully funding our public schools, we don’t often talk about fully funding our families. Strong families make even stronger students, schools, and communities. One way to support strong families is to advocate for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.

While many or our children are covered by current Medicaid, most of their parents and even caregivers fall in the coverage gap. Under current Medicaid restrictions, parents with 3 kids making more than $8,004 without disability are ineligible. A stable home life is important for the health and well being of all our children. Sick parents can have a deep impact on our kids. We all know that problems at home can impact their education.

Healthy parents also lead to healthy children. North Carolina has a terrible infant mortality rate. One way to help change that is to provide better coverage to adults. Many North Carolina women don’t get the pre natal care they need.

Listen I get that many think we should stick to education funding topics only. However, healthy families and communities play a key role in our students’ lives. The financial implications are huge. Medical bills can lead to tough financial choices for families, that they shouldn’t have to make. Check out our partners thoughts on the issue and support Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 5.

https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/profiling-north-carolinas-uninsured-how-expanding-medicaid-can-make-a-difference/

https://www.ncchild.org/north-carolinas-leaders-must-come-together-health-care/

https://www.ncjustice.org/projects/health-advocacy-project/medicaid-expansion/expanding-medicaid-in-nc/

https://action.momsrising.org/sign/nc-med-ex-2019/?source=blog

 


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Lifting Up Our Public Schools

It is School Choice Week in North Carolina.  I’m seeing phrases like, “failing public schools” on twitter by some of school choice’s most ardent believers.  I hate the term, failing public schools.  If there is failure, it is the failure of our state to fully fund our public schools.    However,  sometimes those funding failures aren’t clearly articulated to the public.  Sometimes, we put school boards in the hot seat or even county commissioners.  We see our kid struggle to learn, but sometimes don’t ask the right questions as to why this is happening.    We don’t point the finger in the right place.

Public Schools are public.  That means it is up to us to lift them up.  We can vote, we can advocate, we can speak up.  When we see a problem in our schools, it is our job to find a solution that benefits not just our child, but our community as a whole.    We are the public, and ultimately we are responsible for our schools.  We can’t let them fail.  We can’t let our legislators fail our students any more than they already have.

Here lies the biggest struggle.  How do we lift up problems, and not scare away parents.  I get to hear terms like ‘market share’ in meetings now.  It means administrators and even teachers won’t voice their real concern for needs in the classroom.  As a parent, I’m not always aware of the number of TAs our school has or how much a difference that can make to teachers and students.   Many parents may know that their child’s 4th grade class is overcrowded, but not the reason why.

Despite market share and the threat of competition, we need to speak out.  Rarely do we fix problems and issues with our silence.   We need to get educated on the issues facing our schools.  Parents need teachers to speak out.  Parents need administrators to speak out.  When we identify the problems, we can also identify the solutions.    Don’t be afraid to speak up.

As legislative agendas get finalized by many education non profit organizations and advocates, you will hear about some of those problems and solutions.   As parents, as the public, we need to be part of the solutions.  It might mean showing up to a meeting or two.  Maybe your school could benefit from some education issue forums?  Maybe a legislative visit is in your future?  Save Our Schools NC would be happy to help.  Contact us.  We have materials and are happy to share.

So when looking at other choices I urge you to ask hard questions.  Ask if fully funded, how different our already awesome traditional public schools could be?   We need to make the choice in North Carolina to fully fund our public schools.

 

 

School Budget Woes

Sometimes its just depressing…

Last week, Susan and I attended our local Board Advisory Council meeting (in Wake County, each school board member has a BAC made up of parent representatives and the principals of all of the schools in his/her district.  They meet periodically to discuss issues important to the school system).   The topic of the evening was the school system’s budget process, and well, it wasn’t pretty.  But it’s important for us to understand the school budgeting process, so today I’d like to summarize what we learned.  While the information here is specific to WCPSS, I think many of the principles and concerns are applicable throughout NC.

WCPSS is one of the largest school systems in the country, and it has a proportionally large budget, totaling about $1.6 billion from all sources.  About 60% of WCPSS’ funding comes from the State, as part of its Constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education to every NC child.  WCPSS, like the rest of NC’s school systems, does not get to make budget requests of the NCGA.  Rather, the Legislature decides how much money it is willing to spend on schools and the school systems are supposed to make it work (no matter how divorced that amount of money may be from the reality of running a school system).  In addition, the NCGA requires that some of the funds it provides to the schools actually be sent right back to the state as their share of, for example, teacher raises or the state retirement system.  And, of course, the public school systems must pay out of their own budgets for the operation of charter schools.

One way in which school systems deal with the budget shortfalls created by inadequate school funding from the NCGA is that they ask their counties to kick in funds to make up the difference.  In Wake County, about 30% of the budget is funded by the County.  But even in a county as large and as prosperous as Wake County, there’s no guarantee that County leadership will be willing or able to cure budget shortfalls completely.   For example, this past year the County’s budget left WCPSS with a $25 million shortfall.

All of this would be fine (If less than ideal) if it were a temporary situation — if funding for schools was short for one year, or even two.  But in NC, our schools have been chronically underfunded for at least a decade.  And it shows.  Some alarming facts:

WCPSS has 165 fewer buses on the road this year than it did five years ago, even though it has more students enrolled.  Simply put, WCPSS cannot attract enough bus drivers at its current rate of pay, but it cannot afford to raise driver pay any further.  In addition to the obvious downsides (longer bus rides for children), transportation shortfalls have an effect on school assignment and even on the kinds of programs our schools can offer.

In recent years, WCPSS has added 5 million square feet of instructional space since 2008; but spending for maintenance and custodial services has decreased.    As a result, WCPSS spends far less on school maintenance that recommended, leading to long-term facilities issues.

The proportion of adults to children in our schools has fallen, leaving students with fewer opportunities to interact with interested, caring adults during their school day.

One of things drove my husband and I to choose to move to Wake County from Maryland 13 years ago was the quality of the public education system compared to other options on the East Coast.  North Carolina was heralded as a national leader in education.  But a decade of cuts to educational funding has taken its toll, such that many families in this state have never even experienced adequately funded schools.  Getting us back to our proud place as leaders in education will require all of us — parents, educators, and interested members of the public — to demand that our leaders start prioritizing public education again.

 

Creating a Positive and Safe School Climate in North Carolina

More and more studies are showing that having a positive school environment can help promote school safety and wellness.  We are starting to see data come out to back up the idea that having a positive school climate and students connected to the school can decrease violence in our schools.  One researcher, Ron Astor, at the Summit on Student Safety and Wellbeing, spoke of starting out with a welcoming school climate in which programs to decrease violence can thrive. Do North Carolina Schools provide a positive welcoming school climate?  My answer is that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

    We need to first look at our physical space. We have billions of dollars of need for renovations in our public schools.  I can’t imagine how we begin to provide a positive school climate, when we literally have trouble with climate.  We have air conditioning and heating failures.  We have mold. We have insect infestations. What we don’t have is a statewide school bond with dedicated money to address the problem.  To have a safe environment for our students we need to begin by providing them a healthy space to learn. School bonds promote school safety.

      Next, our teachers need care too.  We need healthy teachers. We need them physically healthy and mentally healthy.   Our teachers don’t always feel secure. I’m not just talking about rude or violent students.  I’m saying they need to know that if they have a toothache, they can afford the dental bill.  Teachers can hardly feel mentally safe when they are working multiple jobs and worry about bills.  We need to take care of their mental health as well.  I’m sure teachers don’t feel safe when leaders in the state call them thugs for simply advocating for a better living wage.  This also applies to our principals and staff members. We need better teacher pay and benefits to begin our journey to safer schools.  Better teacher pay, better staff pay, and better principal pay promote school safety.

     Next, our students can hardly begin to embrace a social emotional programs with the testing burden perched forever on their shoulders.  We tell them about kindness and empathy yet also tell them that the fate of their future rests on a scan-tron or computerized test. It is difficult to feel safe with constant anxiety.  We need to decrease the testing burden to begin our journey to safer schools.

      Our legislators need to take a hard look at policies they support that have little payoff and seem to cause chaos and anxiety in our schools.  They need to take a look at the class size mandate and the problems it is causing our school boards and our principals. They need to look at principal pay as well and ISD school takeovers.  We can’t have a positive school climate with legislation that is hindering our progress as a state. No one feels a positive connection to a school system in constant crisis.

      Finally,  we need more adults in our kids’ lives that can help them feel safe.  We need our counselors, we need our nurses and we need our psychologists.  They are professionals in school wellness. They do it best and we need more of them in our hallways.  We need healthier ratios than what we have now. We don’t need limited grants where some counties miss out.  We don’t need limited grants that only last for one or two years. We need permanent funding across the state for support staff to begin our journey to safer schools.

     Creating a welcoming positive school climate is step one to a safer school  We have work ahead of us. We need welcoming physical space. We need a staff that is healthy and connected to our students.  The blueprint for a safe school is out there. We just need the public and political will to get started.

 

Giving Thanks

Education in North Carolina seems to be in perpetual crisis mode.  In all honesty, we have a mess.  We still have a class size mandate that is draining our counties of funds and space.  We have a dreadful principal pay policy with consequences on the horizon.  There are no textbooks in many schools;  there are few TAs.  That doesn’t even to begin to address the many issues our teachers face everyday in the classroom.  It is hard to look back and be thankful.

Yet, I’m very thankful.   What a wonderful experience seeing a bill like HB90 get passed.  It was ugly and dirty, but it wouldn’t have happened at all without us.  It wasn’t what we envisioned.  However, how many times did we hear they wouldn’t take up class size.  How many times were we told it was impossible.  I’m thankful we didn’t listen.

I’m thankful for some solid changes to our General Assembly.  We have broken the super majority in the house and senate.  It may not yield drastic changes, but it will change things in NCGA.  I’m especially proud and thankful for everyone who stepped up and worked on campaigns.  Doors were knocked, text and phone calls sent, and postcards written.  I’m thankful for all the hard work to get us in a better starting place then when I began my little advocacy journey.

I’m thankful I got involved.  I’m thankful that I found my voice and new purpose.  Most of all I’m thankful that I get the chance to interact with all of you. I’ve made real solid friendships.  Somehow over coffee meetings and planning rallies, friendships have been forged.  It continues to drive me forward.  I don’t get out much, well except town halls, teach-ins, or lobby days.  I once went alone not anticipating knowing or seeing anyone I knew.  Now, I go to town halls and education events and I’m surrounded by friends and faces I have grown to love.  I am now part of this great education advocate community, and that is why I give thanks.

So let’s celebrate a little.  Let’s talk as human beings not just as advocates.  Let’s share what we want to get accomplished this coming year.  Regardless of what group you are part of, let’s all work together to make solid positive change to our public education funding.

When: Anytime 5pm – 8pm December 5th, 2018

Where: Jordan Lake Brewing Company: 320 E. Durham Rd., Cary NC

What: A celebration and meeting of education advocates.  Parents, Teachers, Community Members, Advocacy Groups, EVERYONE!

We hope to do this again in other locations in other parts of the state!

 

A Last Word on the Last Day

Well, here we are.  Election Day eve.  To the millions of North Carolinians who have already voted, congratulations and thank you!  If you haven’t already voted, I would like to lead you with a few closing thoughts:

This Democracy thing; it’s hard.  It’s a system of government that demands a lot of its citizens.  We need to research candidates, analyze issues, sift through the rhetoric to find the nuggets of truth, and make decisions, then make sure we are registered to vote and have the time and ability to get to the correct polling place.

And after the election, the work doesn’t stop.  We need to be aware of what is happening in our town halls, our board chambers, our state houses, and in the federal government.   We need to hold those former candidates to the promises they made.  We need to know what our representatives are doing, while also making sure that they know what we want them to do and why it’s important.  And before you know it, there’s another election and it’s time to start all over.

Democracy isn’t easy.  But when it works well, it’s an amazing thing.  Just think:  you, yes you, have the ability to change your world.  You can have an idea on how your town, or your county, or your school or your state should be run, and you can actually make that happen.  You can ask your representatives for help.  And if they don’t, you can run for office yourself, or support candidates that will listen to you.  You can convince other people to support your idea, and suddenly you have a movement.

If you’ve ever thought that you and your voice don’t matter, please believe that they do.   This system of ours doesn’t work perfectly all of the time, and we’ve made some pretty egregious errors in our two and a half centuries as a country.  But every day, and with every election, we have a chance to ameliorate the mistakes of the past and to ensure a better future.

So go out there and vote tomorrow.  Add your voice to the millions who have already voted, and make a difference.  I’ll see you at the polls.

#NixAllSix By Guest Blogger Michelle Burton

 Welcome Michelle Burton our guest blogger!   Michelle Burton has been  a public school library media specialist for 23 years in the state of North Carolina (Alamance, Durham and Wake counties)  She believes all students deserve a high quality, well-rounded education and art, music, P.E. and school libraries staffed by highly educated professionals is apart of every child having a sound basic education.   Please take time to read her thoughts on the amendments on the 2018 ballot.  

The six constitutional amendments that have been placed on the ballot will cause irreparable harm to our state.  These amendments would drastically alter the North Carolina constitution forever, and would be almost impossible to change if they are approved. They were written to purposely deceive North Carolinians in handing over power to the North Carolina legislators by stripping any little power the governor has left, taking away the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens, and destroy any additional funding public schools and many public services that North Carolinians depend on.

 

Here is an overview of the six amendments and why you need to vote against all of them.

 

  1. Protect the right to hunt and fish: Your right to hunt and fish is not under attack. The sole purpose of this amendment is to get conservative leaning voters to turn out and vote during a midterm election. If this amendment passes there may some harm done with regards to wildlife and our environment.

 

  1. Strengthen Protections to Crime Victims: Again, this is another ploy to get more conservative voters out to vote in November. North Carolina already has protections for crime victims in its state laws. Many people do not know that this amendment  is being bankrolled by a California billionaire and if this amendment passes there will be unintended consequences with regard to people being treated fairly in court and having due process.

 

  1. Reduce the income tax cap to 7 percent: This amendment will benefit wealthy people so they don’t have to pay income taxes. If this amendment is passed, sales taxes will go up, property taxes will go up, fees for car registrations and licenses will go up. This will be totally regressive, affecting  low income and middle income people. This amendment will decimate public education, roads, health care and low wealth counties would not keep up with the cost of taking care of their communities and their citizens.

 

  1. Change the process for fulfilling judicial vacancies: Right now, Gov. Cooper, who is a Democrat, has the authority to appoint judges. This amendment would give the authority to the legislature and the legislature is presently dominated by Republicans. Even two of our former Republican governors, Jim Martin and Pat McCrory, said this was a bad idea and have come out against it.

 

  1. Establish an eight-member board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement: This amendment will take the authority away from the governor, who is presently a Democrat, to have control over elections in the state and giving it to the legislature. This will make the elections board four Democrats and four Republicans. If this amendment is passed nothing will get resolved with the elections board and major gridlock will occur.  All five former governors, two who are Republican, have come out against this amendment.

 

  1. Require Voter ID:  All of thee above are bad, but this one is really bad. This law will disenfranchise thousands of North Carolinians from voting because they don’t have proper identification. We as voters are suppose to decide on this amendment without knowing what type of ID would be required. The legislature said they would come back in a special session in December and make that decision. But we don’t know what ID the legislature will require citizens must have to vote.

 

Vote against all six constitutional amendments on November 6.  #NixallSix.

 

Unsafe

A child died today in North Carolina, shot at his own school.

As of right now, I do not know the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and it would be irresponsible for me to speculate.  But I can say, with certainty, that it is a tragedy that a child — any child — had access to a gun with which to shoot another child.  And that the roughly 2,000 children at that school have now, unwillingly, been inducted into a club that already had almost 200,000 members — kids who have also survived shootings at school in recent years.  Will they ever feel safe again?

Will any of us?  I know that in the years since the horrifying shooting in Newtown, Ct., it has become almost a reflex for me to survey my children’s classrooms at Meet the Teacher, noting the places they could hide or escape if necessary.  I breathed a small sigh of relief this year when my 4th grader moved back into the building after spending 3rd grade in a trailer; I’m almost certain that those thin metal structures aren’t capable of stopping bullets.

Our schools are doing the best that they can to keep our children safe, but as usual the needs are great and the resources scarce.  Statewide, we have $8 billion in unmet school construction needs (those trailers aren’t going away anytime soon).  We know that adequate numbers of school counselors, psychologists and social workers can help, but so far we haven’t funded those professionals at sufficient ratios.  And it appears that we as a society can’t even have a real discussion about the thing that could help the most — making guns much harder to access.

Our schools need our help.  There is no real possibility that they can keep every kid safe all of the time, but there is more that can be done.  As you go to vote, think about what your candidates are saying about school safety and what they’re willing to do to support our schools.

Poll Greeting

We finally made it.  It’s voting time.  It all comes down to this, the vote.  We have the opportunity to change things for the better in the state.  This is why on many days you’ll find me greeting voters at the poll.  I’m assisting a representative that has a proven public education record.  I’m also talking to voters about public education and the amendments.

Poll greeting can be the ultimate people watching opportunity.  You have those who want to just get in line and those who are dying to connect.  I’ve talked at length to many who just needed to vent and others who were seeking information.  I had the pleasure of watching a poll supervisor named Peggy help a someone in line who was in pain make it to curb side voting.  I actually babysat someone’s dog so their owner could go in and vote.  Rufus and I had a great time.

That’s not say that poll greeting can’t be stressful.  I find it very stressful to listen to others spew misleading information.  I can actually feel my body temperature rise.  I’m thankful for groups out there engaging voters daily, especially those helping pass bonds or working to prevent the passage of the harmful amendments.  I’m impressed by candidates that may not appear on any slate cards out there talking to voters.  I’m humbled by all the candidates willing to put themselves out there.

Poll greeters can help those unsure of their voting districts, but more importantly they can help swing a vote or two.  I had the pleasure of witnessing a voter confused by the amendments decide during a conversation with another SOSNC member to vote against them.  I happened across the voter in an elevator as we walked to our cars.  She bragged about her no votes.  We make a difference.

If you’d like to make a difference, I can guarantee there is room for you to help.  Contact your party.  Contact your favorite pro education candidate.  There is room at the polls.  Your help is needed.

Now since this much social interaction drains me of all energy, it is time for me to say goodnight.    Oh and of course GO VOTE!

Voting For Education

Early voting is in full swing, so I’m taking a break from the Amendments (Nix all Six!) to talk a little bit about how to spot pro-public education candidates, from state level legislators down to school board.

Nobody (well, almost nobody) ever comes out and says “I do not support public education.”  So in general, you need to dig a little deeper.  Here’s what you’re looking for:

  1.  Specificity

Ponder the following statement, found on one candidate’s  website:

[Redacted]’s background as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has led her to a great understanding of North Carolina’s education system.

 She is passionate about her work in the Senate for improving early childhood and K-20 public education. 

Not very specific, is it?  The candidate claims she is passionate about improving K-20 (what grade is 20th?) education, but provides absolutely no actual information on what she means by that.  There is a chance she might be a public schools advocate, but she certainly doesn’t think education is an important enough issue to merit any kind of specific policy positions. 

Compare and contrast with this candidate:

As a long time public school advocate and PTA leader, I know that every child deserves a world class education, right here in North Carolina. From pre-K through high school, education should be free to students and well-funded by the state. For our state to compete economically and for all individuals to live fulfilled lives, a quality education is crucial.

Our state government needs to restore the respect of our teachers and administrators, respect that has been damaged under the current leadership in our General Assembly.  We need to increase teacher pay, restore pay scales that reward teachers for advanced degrees and experience and end pay incentives based on test scores.  We also need to support ALL students through increased per pupil spending and investment in their school buildings.  We need to provide students the resources to support their social-emotional learning through increased funding for school counselors, social workers and nurses.

As the mother of magnet school children, I understand the decisions parents make every year when it to comes to deciding where their child goes to school. But I also believe that all publically funded schools should be on a level playing field. For years, the current majority in the General Assembly has allowed our tax dollars to flow to unaccountable charter schools and voucher programs. That’s not right. If a school wants to receive public funding, then they need to be completely transparent and provide the same resources that every North Carolina public school provides – like transportation, lunch programs, and additional resources for students.

This is much more informative.  Note how the candidate not only makes explicit her support for public education, but also lists several concrete policies she would like to enact.

2.  Meaningless or misleading claims

Here’s my number one tip for reading a candidate’s website:  If they make any version of the claim “we’re spending more on education than ever before!,” do not vote for them.  Just don’t.  I’ve written before on why this is such a meaningless claim, and anyone making it hopes you just won’t notice.  The same thing goes with “we gave teachers/principals/workers raises.”  Well, that may be true, but did those raises keep up with inflation?  Were other aspects of teachers’ pay decreased correspondingly, making their “raises” illusory?  Did all teachers get a raise, or only some?  (and that doesn’t even touch the principal pay claim, which is such a big issue that it merits its own blog post at a later date.  For now, suffice to say that our most experienced principals face massive (as in up to 30%) pay cuts under the NCGA’s current pay scheme).

3.  Explicit Support for  public schools

Take a look at this candidate’s website:

The 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 state budgets passed during [Redacted]’s tenure all substantially increased teacher pay and overall K-12 education spending in North Carolina.

At long-last, starting teacher pay was increased to $35,000 and average teacher pay to $50,000 thanks to [Redacted]’s commitment to increasing compensation for educators.

The North Carolina House also passed pay raises for principals, assistant principals and other state employees who work in education administration in 2017.

North Carolina has developed a dynamic education system under [Redacted]’s leadership, expanding options for parents through significant charter school enrollment growth, more Opportunity Scholarships for low-income students and pilot-programs like Achievement School Districts to improve low-performing schools.

This candidate supports some schools, all right, but they’re definitely not public schools.  Note his enthusiastic mention of both charter schools and public funding for private schools.  And he throws in a reference to the opposite-of-choice “Achievement School Districts,” an outdated term for a program that seizes high-poverty schools from school districts and turns them over to private managers.  Add in some meaningless/misleading claims, and you’ve got yourself a candidate that deserves to lose.

4.  A clear understanding of their job

A few days ago, I read a quote from a school board candidate that thought the board to which he hoped to be elected should be spending much more money on school safety than it currently is.  I daresay any current member of that board would agree with him.  But school boards cannot raise money; they can only spend what they are given by the various jurisdictions with taxing authority (federal, state and county).  And it wasn’t at all clear that this candidate understood this fact (there is a chance he meant that the school board should cut spending elsewhere to free up funds, but it didn’t sound like that’s what he meant).  You and I could be forgiven for not knowing exactly who is responsible for funding schools, but one would hope a candidate for a seat on any governing body would at least have a basic grasp on its powers.

On that note, a quick primer:  in NC, the state has a Constitutional responsibility to provide a sound, basic education to every child.  That means providing the money to run the public schools.  Traditionally, counties have been responsible for building schools, and many also kick in additional operating funds though they are under no obligation to do so.  School boards have absolutely no taxing authority at all; they must make do with whatever funds the state, county and (to a lesser extent) the federal governments provide.

Armed with this info, get out there and vote!  Bring friends.  Or, better yet, come vote with friends at our “Parents to the Polls” even this coming Sunday, October 28.  Find more info here.