The General Assembly’s now settled in for its “short” session. It has already dealt with some of the most urgent business concerning response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a significant portion of special federal funding North Carolina received.
The legislature continues to leave critical items unfinished or ignored. There is still the opportunity, in the coming weeks to deal with these most pressing issues and needs that remain unmet.
Meeting these needs now will position the state and its citizens to move ahead as our economy kicks back into gear and social lives reengage. Now, as much as ever, the legislature should take the steps to accomplish the following:
Support implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report released by Superior Court Judge David Lee, so the state meets its constitutional mandate to provide every student with an opportunity for a sound basic education in public schools — no matter where they live. In the more than two decades since the Leandro ruling North Carolina has, according to the report, lost ground in meeting the court order and our constitutional requirement rather than moving closer to it.
Expand Medicaid to the 650,000 working North Carolina citizens who are currently denied access to health care. It is no exaggeration that this is a life-and-death matter. It is particularly critical as hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed citizens now have nowhere else to turn for healthcare coverage.
Adopt non-partisan criteria and a non-partisan system for creating congressional and legislative election districts. North Carolinians have not had a truly representative legislature or representation in the U.S. House of Representatives for a decade. We have witnessed stonewalling, dishonesty and use of the courts for stalling fairness and reform. Enough is enough.
Approve the requests state Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell presented March 26. They will help assure the fall election will be open and as many voters as possible will have the opportunity to cast ballots. Also, match the federal funding for elections to make early voting plentiful and accessible; expand opportunities to vote by mail; and allow additional flexibility for ballot processing and polling place workers.
Demand transparency and accountability to the administration of private school vouchers. Taxpayers deserve to know that their money is really supporting education; programs that don’t discriminate; and demonstrate that pupils are learning.
Provide adequate resources to assure that the state’s prisons are properly staffed, that critical vacancies are eliminated and that they are equipped with modern equipment and technology to assure the safety and security of the facilities, those who staff them and the inmates.
Enact a competitive compensation plan for teachers and principals — and do it before anything’s buried in a proposed state budget. It has been well-documented how badly North Carolina lags in teacher pay and now we see embarrassing reports indicating our pay for school principals is even worse!
Fully reestablish the Teaching Fellows Program. Along with improving pay, we need to re-open the pipeline to get our best and brightest leading our classrooms, not leading the exodus to other states.
Develop major bond issues — they are now especially affordable and responsible borrowing that will also create jobs and inject needed capital into the state’s economy. Voters should be offered: $2 billion for K-12 public schools; $500 million each for community colleges and University of North Carolina System facilities; $800 million to help local water and sewer projects; and $100 million for historic, cultural and other state facilities.
None of these items are new. They have been around and discussed in detail. It is time the roadblocks holding these issues back were removed to clear North Carolina’s road to recovery.