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North Carolina editorial roundup

May 16, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


May 15

The News & Observer says lawmakers should listen to rallying teachers:

How many teachers does it take for a legislature to learn?

On Wednesday as many as 20,000 North Carolina public school teachers are expected to deliver a simple math lesson to lawmakers: If you put less in, you get less out.

The quality of a school and the success of its students are not only a function of money. There also must be inspiration, experience and dedication. But without adequate funding, schools run short not only of their tangible needs, but of these vital intangibles as well. Inspiration gives way to frustration, experience shrinks as teacher turnover rises and dedication is eclipsed by demoralization.

Across North Carolina, teachers have resisted those negative turns, but after years of budget austerity and policy changes that have stung and belittled teachers, they have had enough. Like teachers in other Southern states where school funding has been squeezed to allow for bigger tax cuts, North Carolina’s teachers are fed up and showing up. When the General Assembly convenes on Wednesday, lawmakers will find that their stingy allocations for public schools have not produced savings, but a sea of red - thousands of teachers wearing that bold color in the name of #RedForEd.

A growing need

By now the numbers are familiar:

. When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina’s average teacher pay is 9.4 percent less than it was in 2009.

. North Carolina teacher pay ranks 37th in the nation and is $9,600 below the national average.

. Per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, is 12 percent below the pre-recession level and ranks 39th nationally.

. There are fewer teachers per student than in 2008 and schools have lost nearly 7,500 teacher assistants due to state budget cuts.

. Teachers have lost longevity pay, pay for advanced degrees and protection from arbitrary dismissal.

. As wealthier counties increase local teacher pay supplements to offset losses in state funding, poorer counties are increasingly unable to attract or retain teachers. Some classes are staffed by substitutes for the entire school year.

. Textbook funding is down by more than half. Some books are outdated and held together by tape. Teachers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money on school supplies.

These shortages are made all the more reprehensible by the state’s growing capacity to do more as the national and state economies have recovered. Instead of adequate education funding, the legislature has chosen the easy, but ultimately costly, path of sharply cutting taxes in a way that primarily benefits wealthy individuals and profitable corporations, both of which are enjoying a similar windfall from federal tax cuts.

Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, was in Raleigh Tuesday to give a talk entitled: “Can state lawmakers break their most dangerous policy addiction?” Namely, a craving for tax cuts. Some states, such as Kansas, have realized that reflexively cutting taxes doesn’t bring an economic boom that offsets the loss in state revenue.

“You can see that over time as people felt the impact (of tax cuts) in their communities, they started to see through that storyline and recognized they that they had to reverse course,” Leachman said in an interview.

North Carolina teachers and parents are seeing through that storyline too, but legislative leaders won’t give it up. They plan to go ahead with another round of tax cuts in 2019 that will cost $900 million a year and boost the overall cost of tax cuts since 2013 to $3.5 billion annually.

Legislative leaders supported increases in teacher pay, especially for new teachers. And teachers are scheduled to receive about a 6 percent average pay increase in 2018-19 under the biennium budget. But the increase bypasses teachers with more than 25 years of experience and barely keeps up with what most teachers have lost to inflation. Meanwhile, higher insurance premiums have many teachers taking home less pay. What’s needed is a series of scheduled pay hikes across the board that will take North Carolina teachers’ pay up to the national average.

An outpouring of teachers

Teachers will protest putting tax cuts ahead of education funding Wednesday with their presence in and around the state Legislative Building. At least 38 school districts have canceled classes because so many teachers have taken the day off to go to Raleigh. Some Republican lawmakers and party leaders have criticized the protesting teachers for leaving their students for a day. Instead of criticizing the teachers, who as a group are devoted to their students, legislators should meet with the teachers with an open mind and hear their concerns.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has put forth the proper response to these years of poor funding with an ambitious budget proposal. He would increase the $270 million already budgeted in 2018-19 for teacher raises by nearly $100 million. That boost would be part of a plan to have North Carolina’s teacher pay reach the national average in four years. He would also add $25 million to provide more textbooks and digital equipment and $40 million to hire more school support personnel, including nurses and counselors.

In a joint statement, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore dismissed Cooper’s plan. They said, “Roy Cooper has dutifully followed the same failed tax-and-spend policy playbook that led to furloughed North Carolina teachers, massive education cuts, hiring freezes for state employees and frozen teacher salaries the last time Democrats were in charge.”

Cooper has made a serious proposal. Instead of dismissing it out of hand with tired partisan statements, legislative Republicans should give his proposals a fair hearing. For example, more nurses and counselors might be our most effective approach to reducing school shootings.

The Republican claim that unsustainable spending on schools led to education cuts is a canard. State government here as throughout the United States experienced sharp revenue losses during the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression. Republicans rejected an extension of a temporary sales tax increase proposed by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue that would have softened the blow to school funding. Meanwhile, most states have restored school funding to pre-recession levels while North Carolina has persisted in an austere approach in a healthy economy.

Futures at risk

Apart from sniping at teachers over a day of lost class time, Republican leaders have shown no intention of listening to the message teachers are so urgently bringing to Raleigh. That is a mistake and a disservice to the teachers and the public at large. A notable exception to this cold-shoulder approach is state Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who heads the House Education Appropriations Committee. He makes a real effort to listen to teachers and assess what is politically possible in terms of more funding. Notably, he has agreed to serve on the panel of a N&O forum on Thursday that will explore how to better support teachers.

Berger and Moore would do well to join Horn in listening to teachers as dedicated public servants serving a common and essential mission rather than resisting them as political opponents and special interests seeking more public funds.

Though teachers are at the center of the rally, they are not really the center of the issue. They are coming to Raleigh as advocates for children who do not realize and cannot protest how their future prospects are being diminished by an education that was not what it could be and what it should be.

A child has only one chance at childhood, those fleeting years when understanding takes root and curiosity grows. Assuring that those children receive a “sound basic education” is more than a line in the state Constitution. It is the obligation of one generation to the next. Thousands of teachers will teach that lesson Wednesday.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com


May 15

The Gaston Gazette says the goals of the education march are worthy but the timing is wrong:

Gaston County Schools were closed on May 15.

So too were at least 37 other public school systems around North Carolina, including large urban systems such as Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford and Buncombe counties.

All told, nearly a million of the state’s students - some 65 percent - will have an unexpected holiday today as many teachers from these systems head to Raleigh for the North Carolina Association of Educators’ sponsored March for Students and Rally for Respect.

The march is designed to influence the North Carolina General Assembly as it convenes to consider the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

We have no problem with the goals which the march’s leaders are espousing:

. Raising per-pupil spending to the national average. Currently it is $2,400 below.

. Raising average teacher pay to the national average. Currently it is $9,600 below.

. Restoring higher pay grades for educators who earn advanced degrees.

. Restoring longevity pay for veteran teachers.

No, we have no problem with these goals. If North Carolina is to remain a progressive state with the ability to attract jobs and investment, its public education system must be a funding priority for our governor and our legislature.

Quality, free public education with highly qualified teachers, up-to-date text books, comfortable buildings, and sufficient modern technology is a pillar upon which both our government and our society rest.

What we do have a problem with, however, is the timing of Wednesday’s event.

The month of May is “crunch time” in public schools, and teachers and students both need every moment available to wrap up the curriculum and prepare for final exams.

The month of May is also not the time when parents expect to have their family schedule disrupted by finding the school doors closed and having to make alternative arrangements for childcare.

May is not the time, in short, to garner public good will and gain support for public education by shutting down schools.

In Gaston County, today is an optional teacher workday, meaning that most of the teachers who choose to go to Raleigh will be paid as usual.

We do not believe, as does state Sen. Mark Brody of Union County, that today’s march was organized by “union thugs.” North Carolina is a right-to-work state that restricts union activity and the NCAE is a teachers’ lobby but it is certainly not a union.

Unions have collective bargaining power. The NCAE doesn’t.

Nor do we agree with N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore who labels the march a partisan effort organized by Democrats. The quality of public education is a concern that crosses political lines.

But, we do believe the march and the measures it supports would both have been better served had it been held later in the legislative session, after school had ended, when public educators would have been protesting on their own time.

Timing is a key to success in all of life’s endeavors.

And the timing for this march, no matter how worthy its goals, is all wrong.

Online: http://www.gastongazette.com


May 14

Winston-Salem Journal says North Carolina shouldn’t repeal rules on payday loans:

To its credit, North Carolina was a national leader in saying no to the payday lending that takes advantage of people who struggle to get by from paycheck to paycheck.

Payday lending has been illegal here since the General Assembly passed a law banning such businesses in 2001.

So why would members of Congress from North Carolina be pushing a resolution to repeal a new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule imposing limits on payday lending and other forms of predatory short-term, high-interest loans?

The answer to that question is that there is no good reason.

Yet Mark Walker of Greensboro and Ted Budd of Advance, as well as Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry, Robert Pittenger and David Rouzer, are all sponsors of the resolution.

One motivation no doubt is lobbying from the payday lending industry, which is worried about losing its ability to rake in thousands of dollars in interest and fees from people who can’t afford to pay them.

In 2001, North Carolina leaders of both parties banned payday lending, because they knew it was cruel and harmful to those who could least afford it.

The concept of payday loans is attractive to people who run into problems when they have little extra money in the bank.

The idea is to give people relatively small loans at high interest rates that will be paid off as soon as the borrower gets paid, usually in a couple of weeks.

Too often, though, borrowers find they can’t pay the loan when payday rolls around, so they fall into a trap of taking new loans or rolling old ones over, while the interest — at rates of 400 percent or higher on a yearly basis — mounts up to more than the original loan.

What’s supposed to be a loan of a few hundred dollars paid off within the month can amount to thousands of dollars in debt before it’s paid off years later.

North Carolina was a particular target of these lenders because of the large number of troops and veterans around the state’s many military bases.

Even with the state’s ban, internet payday lenders are still able to prey on consumers here.

The rule under attack now requires that those who make payday loans, loans on car titles and similar loans verify that their customers can afford to repay them.

It also caps the number of times someone can take out successive loans.

That seems reasonable, but the industry says the rule would run many payday lenders out of business.

If that’s the case, they shouldn’t be in the business of preying on people who can’t afford their loans.

Opponents of the resolution fear that repeal would encourage predatory payday lenders to find loopholes so that they can operate in this state again.

That’s what happened for several years after the 2001 ban was enacted, and it took court cases to shut the industry down here.

Currently, lenders can make short-term loans, but the interest rate on small loans is capped at 30 percent.

North Carolina is better off when payday lenders can’t take unfair advantage of working people who find themselves in a bind.

Our representatives should be supporting rules that extend needed protections to more consumers, not undermining the progress the state has made.

Online: http://www.journalnow.com

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