Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Great Recession makes N.C. much poorer

The N.C. Justice Center has dissected new census data and found poverty rose sharply in every region of North Carolina in 2009, highlighting the widespread impact of the recession.
The information released today from the U.S. Census "offers the first glimpse of the impact of the recession on North Carolina’s families and shows even sharper increases in poverty and child poverty than anticipated," the Justice Center reported.
“North Carolina’s families are struggling to get by in this economic downturn and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Louisa Warren, a Senior Policy Advocate at the center. “The Great Recession has pushed more than 168,000 North Carolina families into poverty just from 2008, a startling increase that will put pressure on our public systems as they work to support struggling families.”

The Census’ American Community Survey recorded a large jump in poverty in North Carolina, from 14.3 percent in 2007 to 16.3 percent in 2009. That puts nearly 1.5 million North Carolinians officially in poverty, or making at or below $22,050 annually for a family of four.
Similar to overall poverty, child poverty in North Carolina surged to 22.2 percent in 2009 from 19.2 percent in 2007. More than one in five children in North Carolina are now poor.
Further demonstrating the profound impact of the Great Recession, deep poverty—those living below half the poverty rate—has also risen considerably in North Carolina. In 2009, 7.1 percent of North Carolinians were living in deep poverty, making at or below $11,025 annually to support a family of four, up from 6 percent in 2007. In 2009, an estimated 643,429 North Carolinians were in deep poverty, representing significant distress for North Carolina.
According to the Justice Center, even these numbers may understate the problem. the center noted that "the census data released today were collected in the 12 month period around December 2008 when unemployment remained low relative to its levels in the latter half of 2009. Today’s data is therefore just a first look at the recession’s impact."

As a result of rising unemployment rates, median household income in North Carolina dropped to $43,674 in 2009, down from $46,210 in 2007.
Median household income varied across the state and the country. Robeson County had the lowest (among those for which data is available) median household income at $24,788 and many of the counties with high unemployment additionally experienced low median household income: Surry County’s median household income was $33,159 while Burke County’s median household income was $35,004. Urban counties continued to experience the highest median household income: Wake County’s median household income, the highest in the state, was at $63,609 in 2009 and Mecklenburg County’s median household income was at $52,881.
North Carolina’s median household income remained lower than some of its Southern neighbors and Virgnia, Georgia, and Florida all had higher median household incomes in 2009.
For strategies and more information on the report, go to www.ncjustice.org.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Democrats back out of tonight's debate

The three Democrats running for Mecklenburg County commissioner at-large today backed out of a debate planned for tonight.
Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts and commissioners Dan Murrey and Harold Cogdell, who had said they would participate in the debate on the talk show Speak Out Charlotte, issued a statement saying they would not.
"Given ... the show’s history of promoting single perspective viewpoints, we lack the confidence that this debate will provide the public with any meaningful opportunity upon which to compare and contrast policy differences between candidates," they said.
They also said they had been told that the show would be shared with News 14 and other outlets, but that the News 14 news director knew nothing about that.
Cheryl Jones, the show's producer, said she stood by her offer to make the debate video available to any outlet that wants it. She said the debate, at 7 p.m. tonight at Access 21 studios, would go on without the Democrats, featuring Republicans Jim Pendergraph, Dan Ramirez and Corey Thompson, and Libertarian Jack Stratton.
The Democrats don't look good on this one. Pulling out the day of a debate is bad form. They knew who was hosting it and that Republican former commissioner Jim Puckett was moderating when they agreed to participate. They should keep their word, or not give it in the first place.
-- Posted by The Observer's editorial board

Friday, September 24, 2010

Want to still call it N.C. "Education" Lottery?

Turns out the North Carolina Education Lottery is steadily chipping away at the slice of money that supposed to go to education. So says an investigation by N.C. Policy Watch, a project of the N.C. Justice Center.

The group said Friday that "the chunk of total revenue that educational programs get has dropped to 29 percent, pushing aside a formula etched in state law that calls for 35 cents out of every dollar to benefit North Carolina schoolchildren."

Policy Watch Investigative Reporter Sarah Ovaska said in the report: “That formula change meant a difference of nearly $80 million last year that might have gone to the college scholarships, early education, school construction and classroom reduction programs that the lottery helps fund.”

The report also said that the steady drop in percentage happened without much fanfare, when a loophole was inserted in state law telling lottery officials to hit their 35-percent mark “to the extent practicable.”
The report also took note of a decision Gov. Bev Perdue made during this summer’s budget negotiation to tap the N.C. Education Lottery for $35 million to help cover an expected gap for Medicaid and other federal social service programs for next year.

Read more at http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cost of N.C. High School Diploma? $142,027

The conservative Civitas Institute released a new report today on the cost of a high school diploma in North Carolina. The average cost? $142,027 to educate one student through high school, the report says.

But costs vary according to where you live, the study shows. The highest cost was $265,395 to educate a child in Tyrrell County Schools. The lowest was $100,736 to educate a child in Randolph County.

In Wake County, the state's largest school system, the cost was calculated to be $123,006. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the state's second largest school system, it was $153,703.

To see the report and its methodology, go to http://www.nccivitas.org/media/publication-archive/policy-reports/how-much-does-it-cost-educate-high-school-graduate-your-cou

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

State spending could be lowest in 40 years

With an anticipated $3.3 billion revenue shortfall next year, N.C. lawmakers could reduce state spending to the lowest level in 40 years.

So says a new study released today by the N.C. Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center. The Justice Center's Edwin McLenaghan said the study shows that a “cuts-only” approach - or even a majority-cuts approach - would drive state spending to the lowest level, as a share of state personal income, since 1972.

“Such historically low levels of state spending would cause severe harm to North Carolina’s vital public structures, just when people need state services most,” said McLenaghan.

Gov. Bev Perdue told state agencies earlier this month to begin developind budget plans for the next biennium with cuts of 5, 10, and 15 percent. This would add to the more than two years of severe spending cuts averaging nearly 10 percent.

Across-the-board cuts of 10 or 15 percent would drive state spending to its lowest level since 1972. Even cuts of 5 percent would put state spending lower than all years save one in the past 40 years.

“Protecting our critical investments in state services by reforming our tax system along with eliminating unjustified tax breaks and ineffective business incentives would help to ensure that the state has the healthy, well-educated and well-trained workforce necessary to pull North Carolina out of the recession,” said McLenaghan. “The alternative is fewer jobs and a blocked path to prosperity.”

You can find the report at: http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=node/605

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Former associate editor Tom Bradbury dies

We learned sad news today. Former Observer associate editor Tom Bradbury, long-time member of the Observer's editorial board, died today. He left the Observer in 1999 to head the local Charlotte-Mecklenburg Education Foundation (equivalent to today's Mecklenburg Advocates for Education). He later became a vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta. He lived in Marietta, where he died after a long illness.

Below are excerpts from the farewell column he wrote for the Observer when he left 11 years ago. It says much about Tom, and how he felt about this community. He will be missed:

"I am enormously optimistic as I leave The Observer and 35 years in journalism to become the president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Education Foundation. I am encouraged by the public participation in the foundation's community-visioning process, by the recognition in many parts of the community and government that the public schools are vital, by the efforts of educators - teachers and administrators and many others - to reach every child.

"There are several pieces of very good news that are sometimes overlooked. The first is that the phenomenal growth of the system means more than strains and instability. It reflects a huge personal investment in public education. Second, although we pay great attention to the failures of the public schools - and there are plenty here, as elsewhere - there is also great success. We are not starting from abject failure. Third, there are some very hopeful signs of attention to sharing facts and acting on them.

"The prescriptions for schools are as common and often as certain as the patent medicine ads a century ago, but improving schools is not a simple or one-dimensional matter. First, many of the disagreements over schools are more than simple misunderstandings. The differences often seen on the school board rise not from political friction among the members but from deep differences in the community that elects them. There is more involved than just wanting to do the right thing. Second, education is tough. Reaching every child is much easier to say than to do, much easier for editorialists to call for than for teachers and other educators to carry out. Home and neighborhood and social problems matter. Students aren't widgets, and teachers aren't machines.

"There are certain things that every student must master. As one educator puts it, students can't apply what they don't know. And students who are not prepared for citizenship and life - including functioning in a diverse society in a changing world - are not getting the education they need.

"That said, there is not one path that leads to success for every student. This is one reason I have favored the maximization of choice.

"As parents know, there are any number of practical problems and impediments. When you talk about the community vision for schools, you are talking about bus pickup times as well as test scores, about crowding as well as computers, about everyday details as well as curriculum, about national norms as well as local standards.

"Education is more than policy or operational issues. It is about being human, which means that it is as quirky as our kids and their parents.

"I remember not just the classes of my school years - which I mostly enjoyed - but a mother who stuck with me when subtraction of complex fractions made not a bit of sense and taught me that the world is wide and learning wonderful. As a parent, I remember the fifth-grade teacher at Dilworth Elementary who had my son talking excitedly about the art we would see on the family trip to Washington. I think of my daughter, who sweated for one of the first International Baccalaureate diplomas at Myers Park High School and valued the band as her link to other students and sanity. I look at their success as students and graduates of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's public schools and know firsthand that some wonderful things are happening.

"While life and education are more than schools, and social problems often reach into the classroom, the public schools are our central institution for reaching all children. What we really want for our schools is for kids to have those dreams and reach them. It is that which makes the talk about education so fascinating and so rewarding.

"We have a chance to do some wonderful things here in our schools and our community, to show that this American city - this region - is not like an artillery shell following a soaring but familiar trajectory that ends in a crash."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The price of happiness? $75,000? Less?

New York Times columnist David Brooks writes this week (read it on Wednesday's Viewpoint page) about new wave evangelist David Platt, who became the youngest megachurch leader in America at 26 when he took over as head of a 4,300-person suburban church in Birmingham, Ala. But his recent book, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream,” calls into question a lot of what goes on in many megachurches, which he calls an environment for comfortable Christianity, which urges more and more material things.

Platt says people should give up such wealth. Live as if you made $50,000 a year, he suggests, and give everything else away.

Brooks thinks that general message has struck a chord with a lot of people but he doesn't see "Americans renouncing the moral materialism at the core of their national identity."

Well, for their happiness, maybe they should at least put it in better perspective. That's what a new study cited in Time Magazine this week tried to do.

The study analyzed the responses of 450,000 Americans polled by Gallup and Healthways in 2008 and 2009. It found that no matter how much money over $75,000 people make, they don't report any greater degree of happiness than those making $75,000. On the other hand, the lower a person's annual income falls below $75,000, the unhappier he or she feels, the study said.

This study from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School has caveats, of course. There are actually two types of happiness, it notes. "There's your changeable, day-to-day mood: whether you're stressed or blue or feeling emotionally sound. Then there's the deeper satisfaction you feel about the way your life is going — the kind of thing Tony Robbins tries to teach you. While having an income above the magic $75,000 cutoff doesn't seem to have an impact on the former (emotional well-being), it definitely improves people's Robbins-like life satisfaction."

Researchers found that lower income did not cause sadness itself but made people feel more ground down by the problems they already had.

So, what do you think?

Is there a monetary number you associate with happiness or life satisfaction? Has all the emphasis on material things made people less happy?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Poll: 40 percent of teachers discontented

A new poll has some disheartening news about the nation's teachers. About 40 percent of the 4 million k-12 teachers nationwide are discontented and disappointed with their jobs shows. And more than half of those unhappy teachers work in low-income schools.

Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates conducted the research which showed that only 14 percent of those "disenchanted" teachers rate their principals as "excellent" at supporting them. Nearly three-quarters cite "discipline and behavior issues" in the classroom as a drawback to teaching, and 7 in 10 say that testing is a major drawbacks as well.

By contrast, the 23 percent of teachers who the researchers dubbed "idealists" and the 37 percent they labeled "contented" were more likely to say their principal was supportive, more likely to say their school was orderly, and more likely to say good teachers can make a difference in student learning. But fewer of them worked in low-income schools - just 34 percent of the contented and 45 percent of the idealists.

The researchers said their "Teaching for a Living" survey can't decipher whether the disenchanted are bad teachers, or good teachers trapped in bad schools, or whether the idealists are effective in the classroom or just more optimistic. But they said the survey does reveal something about what teachers believe their problems are, and could help explain why some things work and others don't in success in the classroom.

What do you think?

Find the survey at http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/teaching-for-a-living

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Potholes in Hawaii, snarls in Calif. - N.C.?

South Carolina gets high marks and North Carolina middling grades in state highway performance and cost-effectiveness, according to the Reason Foundation's 19th Annual Highway Report released today. S.C. ranked 6th and North Carolina ranked 21st.

The study ranked each state's interstate highways and state-controlled roads in 11 categories, including costs per mile, congestion, pavement condition, deficient bridges and fatalities. National performance improved greatly in 2008. South Carolina ranked 1st in total highway disbursements, 48th in fatalities, 22nd in deficient or functionally obsolete bridges and 38th in urban Interstate congestion. North Carolina ranked 34th in fatalities, 41st in deficient or functionally obsolete bridges and 42nd in urban Interstate congestion.

Overall, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas hade the most cost-effective state highway systems. Rhode Island, Alaska, California, Hawaii and New York have the least cost-effective roads.

The nonprofit found improvement in conditions nationwide but attributed it partly to the recession: people are driving less which has helped slow pavement deterioration and reduced traffic congestion and fatalities.

Drivers in California, Minnesota, Maryland, Michigan and Connecticut are stuck in the worst traffic. Motorists in California and Hawaii have to look out for the most potholes on urban Interstates.Rhode Island has the most troubled bridges in the country, with over 53 percent of bridges deficient.

The full Annual Highway Report with detailed state-by-state analysis is online here: http://click.email.reason.org/?qs=d3d26cde737ab2ea7169e92d9be8c7894ca975ff4fca9385698df62ba63d16cb