Legislative Update - June 13

June 13, 2014

Greetings

The North Carolina “Short Session” reconvened on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. There has already been a flurry of activity, some of which you may have heard about. Below is a summary of some the things that have happened the last few weeks.

Changes to Common Core are Imminent

On June 4th, the Senate passed a bill (Senate Bill 812) that promises to shake-up the standards that govern education for North Carolina’s children. The bill directs the State Board of Education (SBE) to review the Common Core standards that have been in place since 2010. To accomplish this, the bill establishes an Academic Standards Review Commission, which will be comprised of 17 members. Two members of the commission will be state legislators, one of which will be appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and one of which will be a Representative appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The commission will be tasked with drafting a report of its findings and presenting them to the SBE.

What does this mean for North Carolinians? Should this bill become law, North Carolina will become the second state to repeal Common Core standards. Although Common Core has undergone sweltering criticism recently, what the Republican leadership is proposing will amount to wasting the over $70 million already invested in professional development and the implementation of Common Core standards. Moreover, we are currently only approaching the third year under these new standards, repealing Common Core will surely invite uncertainty into the classroom as teachers will now have to prepare for - a yet to be determined - new set of standards.

Teacher’s pay raise, but at what cost?

A few weeks ago, Senate leaders exclaimed that their proposed Senate budget will pay for the largest pay increase for teachers in modern state history. As you may have heard, the pay increase comes with several intriguing caveats. For one, in order to receive the pay increase, teachers will have to forgo the benefit of tenure and longevity pay. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, is on record essentially saying the proposed pay raise amounts to little more than political “shell games”. Equally as troubling, other areas of the education budgets must be cut to make room for the nearly $470 million in teacher raises. Listed below are a few examples of the proposed cuts:

  • $233 million allocated to funding for teaching assistants will be cut, this amounts to cutting 7,400 teacher assistant positions

  • Elimination of 800 teacher positions

  • 70 school nurses positions will be cut

  • 30% cut to the Department of Public Instruction

By wantonly reducing the number of people tasked with the education and care of our children, the cuts will put more pressure on an already strained education system here in North Carolina. The budget’s implications for education in North Carolina, in addition to the changes to Common Core are a foreboding sign of what is to come so as long the majority leadership contrives this vision for public education.

In comparison, the proposed House budget seems to be taking a more measured approach to education. The House budget, which was released on Tuesday morning, includes a significant pay increase for classroom teachers, which is NOT tied to forgoing their tenure. This budget increases base pay for new teachers to $33, 000, with an average increase in other salaries of about 5%. Moreover, the House budget retains the funding for teacher assistants, which means that 7,400 teaching assistants will not lose their jobs. The House has stipulated that the pay raises are not funded by cuts elsewhere to education. Instead, the pay raises would be paid for by lottery growth. However, relying on lottery receipts brings on a level of uncertainty of how these salary increases will be sustained.

Senate’s Medicaid Stance

The budget that passed through the Senate will also leave 15,000 of North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens without health insurance. The budget adds $206 million to Medicaid, largely to make up for budget shortfalls, yet the elderly, blind and disabled stand to lose their Medicaid benefits. Specifically, the Senate has pushed to “de- link” eligibility for State Special Assistance and Medicaid. This would impact about 11,900 people, who would now have to independently qualify for Medicaid. The other 3,300 recipients are in the Medically Needy program, which is a program that enrolls people who have high medical expenses but whose incomes otherwise, would make them ineligible to receive benefits. These people may continue to qualify if their income meets eligibility. As if things were not bad enough, the Senate budget includes a provision that will restrict funding for Medicaid to only what is required by Federal standards. Should the bill be passed, many Medicaid recipients will no longer be covered for services that include access to prescription drugs, and access to mental health and dental care.

In his pointed criticism of the Senate budget, Senator Josh Stein said, “Let’s create a budget that respects our teachers and does not throw our citizens who are blind, disabled and elderly to the curb.” Indeed, many of the issues highlighted in Senator Stein’s comments are among those that make the Senate budget problematic. You should know that I stand with North Carolinians who oppose these draconian changes to our way of life here in the “Tar Heel State”!

Coal Ash Plan

Senate bill 729 was presented last week to the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee. The bill outlines Governor McCrory’s plan to deal with Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds in North Carolina. Under the Governor's plan, Duke Energy would have three months after the enactment of the legislation to submit proposals for removing the coal ash from the Asheville, Riverbend, Sutton and Dan River locations. However, the bill does not mandate that the 106 million tons of coal ash be removed from the 33 ponds in the state, a move that many environmentalists have advocated for. Senator Apodaca and Senator Berger have, instead, referred to the bill as a “good starting point”. Senate leaders emphasize the importance of allowing Duke Energy the autonomy it needs to handle the clean-up in a “responsible way.”

Like many citizens, I believe the environmental integrity of this great state is very important. What happened a few months ago at the Dan River was an accident. However, it’s time for Duke Power and its shareholders to front the bill to clean up their mistake. Furthermore, as Duke Energy consumers, we should not see our rates climb in the wake of what promises to be a massive, and quite costly undertaking. Duke Energy has a chance to atone for their mistake, let’s hope they do.

Please continue to contact my office to share your concerns on issues or if my office can be of any assistance to you. Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Raleigh.

Sincerely,

Senator Valerie P. Foushee

North Carolina House Senate

District 23: Chatham & Orange Counties

Valerie.Foushee[at]ncleg[dot]net

919.733.5804 (o) 919.754.3268 (f) 919.942.2661 (h)

Just so you know...

You can listen live to the chamber sessions, committee meetings, and press conferences on the General Assembly website: www.ncleg.net. Once on the site, click on “audio” and select House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room, Finance Committee Room, or Press Conference Room.

Office hours...

My office will be staffed Monday through Thursday during the week 8 AM until 5 PM.

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