NC JUSTICE NEWS: Saving Pre-Kindergarten + Gerrymandering + The Jobs Hole

July 19, 2011

PUBLIC EDUCATION: Judge Manning stands up for NC's children

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning ruled yesterday that the state cannot deny any at-risk students access to the state’s critically acclaimed pre-kindergarten services. Draconian provisions included in the budget that diminished prekindergarten services, Judge Manning ruled, violate the state’s constitution.

The ruling is correct—and desperately needed. North Carolina’s constitution guarantees all children a sound basic education. Slashing funding from the state’s highly lauded pre-kindergarten More at Four program by 20 percent and limiting slots that would bar more than 80 percent of the state’s at-risk students from participating would be destructive and wrong.

As Judge Manning wrote:

"Each at-risk four-year old that appears at the doors of the [NC Pre-Kindergarten Program] this fall is a defenseless, fragile child whose background of poverty or disability places the child at-risk of subsequent academic failure. The fact that these small children are at risk is not their fault and they may not be denied their constitutional right to the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education by adults."


REDISTRICTING: Respect the vote, remove the partisanship

Voters deserve to be heard. That’s what makes the partisan process of drawing voting districts so bankrupt: it’s designed to consolidate power, and along the way it disenfranchises poor communities and communities of color.

The answer is an independent redistricting commission, something that Republican leaders supported—until they took over the North Carolina legislature in 2010. Since taking power, GOP lawmakers have engaged in what even right-wing groups acknowledge is a "Republican gerrymander."

It's time to take the narrow self-interest out of this. Voting is a fundamental right, and one that should not be compromised based on partisan interests.

PROSPERITY WATCH: The need for good-paying jobs

As the state recovers from the Great Recession and attempts to close the jobs deficit estimated at 480,000, job creation will be critical. But equally important is that those jobs need to be good-paying jobs if North Carolina families are really to experience a recovery that reduces their economic hardship and provides for greater opportunity.

The 2011 State of the Workforce report includes estimates from Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. (EMSI) regarding the growth in occupations anticipated from 2011 to 2020. Comparing the average hourly wages in those occupations to the state's Living Income Standard in 2010 shows a disturbing trend. The majority of high-growth occupations over the next decade will pay below the Living Income Standard, $22 per hour for a family of four.

Stay tuned -- The Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center will release its updated Living Income Standard for North Carolina and all 100 counties next week.

PUBLIC INVESTMENTS: What we need to avoid disasters

During natural disasters, no one questions the role government should play in keeping people safe and squelching the flames. But this year, wildfires are burning through the state’s funds.

Wildfires have charred more than 100,000 acres in the state so far this year – the average is about 24,000 acres – to the tune of about $20 million. State leaders have cut the NC Forest Service's budget by about 40 percent since 2007, so the agency’s resources are now spread dangerously thin. The Forest Service even sold the state’s only firefighting aircraft last year and has had to borrow aircraft from other states to battle this year’s fires.

Responsible governments make investments that enable them to respond to natural disasters, like tornadoes and wildfires, and investments avoid future disasters, like quality public education, mental-health services, and environmental protections. Right now, North Carolina isn’t make adequate investments in any of these structures, and that means the state’s future promises to be full of all kinds of disasters – environmental, social and human.

COMMUNITY COLLEGES: Budget cuts block pathway to a better life

North Carolina’s community colleges play a critical role in providing quality training for the state’s workers at affordable rates. So, despite the financial pressures of budget cuts and rapidly rising enrollment, the community college system is adding new degree programs to meet the needs of workers and employers.

Based on feasibility studies of skills that are in demand, the State Board of Community Colleges has approved 10 associate degree programs, all of which promise to provide students with the credentials they will need to land good jobs.

At the same time, a recent report from the Program Evaluation Division suggests North Carolina consolidate some of the state’s 58 community colleges, namely those in rural and distressed counties. In many areas of the state, the local community college is the only place workers can get affordable training, and expecting students to travel considerable distance to another campus would pretty much throw affordability out the window. The local community colleges also serve as an anchor of investment, encouraging economic development and supporting civic life.

For many of the state’s thousands of unemployed workers and the towns where they live, community colleges are a lifeline and a vital source of opportunity. The new state budget increases tuition by $10 per credit hour this year and by another $2.50 next year. In addition, budget cuts are expected to lead to layoffs and, therefore, fewer course offerings in some areas. Affordability and accessibility are already suffering. With so many people in need of what community colleges offer, consolidating campuses would be a tragedy.


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