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NC Voucher Program Ruled Unconstitutional

On Thursday, a Wake County judge ruled against the state’s new school voucher program, immediately ending the transfer of millions of public education dollars to fund private schools. The judge found fault with the “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” set to begin this school year.

Chris Fitzsimon with the North Carolina Justice Center explains the reason behind the court’s ruling,  “It seems to clearly violate the constitution of using public money for a private purpose. This program allows our public taxpayer dollars to go to entirely unaccountable, unregulated schools and we have not idea where this money is going.”

Judge Robert Hobgood said the funds should be “exclusively used for establishing a uniform system of free public schools.” Supporters of the voucher program argue that it is increasing access to educational opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to lower-income families.

Hobgood also noted that private schools receiving the voucher funds are largely unregulated and therefore, are not obligated to demonstrate improvement in student performance.

Fitzsimon says based on the judge’s ruling, the vouchers won’t be dispersed, leaving qualified North Carolina families unclear whether there will be funding for their child’s private education this year, “The judge was clear that funds will be frozen. It’s my understanding that no funds will be dispersed until there’s either a trial that finds this program constitutional, or the Court of Appeals rescinds the stay.”

In 2013, state lawmakers allocated 10-million dollars for the “Opportunity Scholarships” to begin this fall. The vouchers are worth $4,200 dollars apiece.

Scratch That Itch: How Climate Change is Bugging Us

This time of year, it’s hard to step out into the yard without getting a bite from a mosquito, fire ant or tick. If you think these pests are becoming more common, it may not be your imagination, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

In North Carolina, warmer temperatures, reduced rainfall and the introduction of non-native species like fire ants all are affecting whether people can enjoy the outdoors, explains report author, Dr. Doug Inkley. “It’s not our imagination. This is already happening. We must take action now, for our children’s future, for our outdoor experience future. These things are happening now.”

Inkley says deer ticks are another growing problem in North Carolina, and that warmer winters are allowing the population – known to carry Lyme disease – to spread quickly. The report recommends supporting limits on carbon pollution and alternative energy sources to curtail climate change and thereby decrease the spread of problem pests.

The EPA is in the process of establishing carbon pollution limits for existing power plants and is accepting public comment.

Morganton resident Richard Mode with the N-C Wildlife Federation says increased outdoor pests and extreme weather are reminders of how the Tar Heel State is affected daily. “These are things that impact people. It’s not political – it’s a real issue that impacts humans, wildlife, wildlife habitats, our outdoor experience, and things that we love about living in North Carolina.”

In addition to creating problems for humans, pests like fire ants are also impacting the agricultural industry.

Inkley says they damage at least 57 species of crops and other plants. “Fire ants do eat, and are pests in, various agricultural crops. They’re also a problem for our wildlife, because you know fire ants – you don’t want to ever get messed up with fire ants.”

Fire ants are believed to have been transported to the country by ship from South America in the 1930s and 40s. They bite with a venom that can cause burning and blistering, and can even be deadly to humans and animals.

Teenage Driver Safety in North Carolina

teendriversincarThe Highway Patrol will be focusing on education and enforcement. Troopers across the state will be educating teenage drivers by implementing teenage driver safety plans and will be working with school administrators in offering any assistance in the area of highway safety. Education however is just one part of the solution. Increased enforcement visibility in and around all school zones will be observed.

On Monday, August 25, schools operating on traditional calendars will begin with more than one million students attending North Carolina’s public schools.  Students will be traveling to and from school and school related activities during the morning and evening rush hours, which happen to be the busiest times for a teenager to be driving on North Carolina’s 78,000 miles of roadways.

Research has shown that teenage drivers lack the experience of seasoned drivers and are more likely to be distracted while operating a motor vehicle.  According to the National Highway and Transportation Traffic Safety Administration and the UNC Highway Research Center revealed some staggering facts:

Approximately two-thirds of the people killed in fatal young-driver crashes are the young drivers themselves or their passengers

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of fatalities involving young drivers occur on rural roadways

One out of four 16-year-old drivers in North Carolina is involved in a car crash every year and nearly half of these crashes are serious enough to result in injury or death according to the U-N-C Highway Safety Research Center

16-year-olds are three times more likely to die in a car crash then other drivers

Sixty-one percent (61%) of all young driver fatalities were NOT wearing their seatbelts

Fifty-four percent (54%) of the vehicle’s occupants were killed as a result of NOT being restrained

Studies have shown that the combination of inexperience and the natural impulsiveness of the adolescent years contribute to this increased risk in being involved in a fatal crash.  Given this information, it is not surprising that traffic collisions continue to be the leading cause of teenage deaths in North Carolina.

In addition, the new school year brings an increase of school buses on North Carolina highways. Motorists should be cognizant of their presence. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration an average of 24 school-age children nationwide die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year (11 occupants of school transportation vehicles and 13 pedestrians).

 

Rural Counties Remain Killing Grounds for Traffic Deaths in NC

carHaywood County has some of the safest roads in the state, according to AAA Carolina’s 20th annual ranking of the most dangerous counties for traffic.

Rural Counties remain the killing grounds for traffic deaths in North Carolina. Despite a reduction in traffic deaths in 2013 and less traffic on the road, three people on average die every day in the state in a traffic crash, according to the study.

Pedestrian deaths represent one in six of every traffic fatality in the state, with the majority of these deaths occurring in the more heavily traveled urban areas.

Graham County had 180 crashes and four deaths, despite having less than one tenth of one percent of the total vehicle miles traveled in the state, making it the top county with highest probability of being in a fatal crash, based on AAA’s analysis of 2013 data from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Traffic deaths have been declining annually since 2010 in North Carolina – 1,162 last year, aided by safer cars, fewer miles driven and amped up law enforcement.

Graham, Alleghany, Alexander, Bladen and Vance counties top AAA’s list of dangerous counties for traffic fatalities last year. The five counties combined for 40 traffic deaths, despite having only two percent of the state’s total vehicle miles traveled.

Take a Deep Breath:Health of NC Children Impacted by Ozone

Luna Willhelm,5, has asthma. Her parents believe it was caused by poor air quality in the environment and the family believes someone should be held responsible

Luna Willhelm,5, has asthma. Her parents believe it was caused by poor air quality in the environment and the family believes someone should be held responsible

This school year, thousands of North Carolina children will go to school with an inhaler to treat asthma. According to the CDC, nationwide almost seven-million children have asthma, which is just over nine-percent of their population. In some cases, environment is believed to play a role in the medical condition. It’s why groups including the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air have spoken out in support of the EPA’s efforts to strengthen carbon pollution limits this year.

Rebecca Cheatham moved her family to Charlotte from New York for better quality of life and air, but she feels it was too late for her daughter, who now has to carry an inhaler. “I think that the environment was totally responsible for her developing asthma in the first place. We have no family history, we don’t smoke. There’s no known triggers. Except for when we lived in New York, she was exposed to heavy-duty amounts of particulate matter.”

In July the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA for failing to ensure that North Carolinians are protected from lead and ozone air pollution. According to the American Lung Association, in North Carolina, more than 860-thousand people have illnesses such as asthma and pulmonary disease that may be the result of ozone pollution.

Cheatham says as a precautionary measure, they monitor air quality levels when deciding when to let their daughter play outside or participate in things such as gym class, but believe it shouldn’t have to be this way. “There’s no reason for us to have polluted air. There is no reason. There are many other ways in which we can do the things we need to do as a society that don’t pollute the air. ”

According to medical experts, children are at greater risk because of immature lungs and immune systems and breathe more rapidly than adults. The EPA will finalize carbon emission rules next June

Haywood Regional Hospital Now Owned By Duke Lifepoint

It was announced Friday Morning that MedWest Haywood and Duke Lifepoint Healthcare have finalized Duke LifPoint’s acquisition of the 169 bed medical center and its affiliated assets. Duke Lifepoint will invest a minimum of $36 million in capital improvements at Haywood facilities over the next eight years and provide resources that will help it enhance and expand its services. Medwest Haywood will n ow be known as Haywood Regional Medical Center.
“As part of Duke LifePoint, Haywood Regional will be better able to meet the changing needs of our community,” said Frank Powers, Chairman of the Haywood Regional Board of Trustees. “We are delighted to finalize this acquisition and begin our collaboration with Duke Lifepoint to improve the health and well being of people throughout this region, create new opportunities for our staff and physicians, and strengthen our medical center for the future ahead.”

Created in 1927, Haywood was the first county hospital in North Carolina. It offers a comprehensive array of services including orthopedics, spine services, cardiology, general surgery, women’s care, emergency medicine, and behavioral health. In addition to its medical center its campus is home to a health and fitness center, the Haywood Outpatient Care Center, and the Homestead, an inpatient hospice facility. Haywood Regional also operates two urgent care centers located in Hazelwood and Canton.
Duke LifePoint is honored to welcome Haywood Regional to our system,” said Lifepoint Chairman and Chief Executive officer William Carpenter III. The physicians and staff at Haywood Regional have shown inspiring dedication and commitment to their patients and community. We look forward to working with them to build on a great tradition of care that exists here and transform health care delivery in Clyde and beyond.”
As part of Duke Lifepoint, Haywood Regional will support its local community by becoming a local taxpayer. A local board of trustees will be established to ensure a strong community voice in Haywood’s long-term strategic direction. “Haywood regional has played a central role in the health care infrastructure of Haywood County for nearly 90 years,” said William J. Fulkerson, Jr., MD, executive vice president of Duke University Health System.” “The Duke LifePoint team is pleased to partner with the medical staff and employees to further strengthen Haywood Regional’s ability to advance Health care throughout the region.”

Duke LifePoint’s acquisition of Haywood Regional was approved by the Haywood County board of Commissioners and the local Hospital Authority Board.

John Luke Carter To Enter American Idol Competition

Webster’s John Luke Carter is expected to compete in the qualification rounds of this season’s American Idol Competition. Carter is planning to enter the competition in New York and if he makes it past the qualifications then he will have the opportunity to appear before the celebrity judges and a chance at a national tv appearance in September in Brooklyn. Carter graduated from Smoky Mountain High School in 2009 and is a member of the Praise and Worship Team at Webster Baptist Church where his father is the pastor. North Carolina has been quite successful in American Idol competition with the last winner being an Asheville resident.

Mountain State Fair Tickets

The N.C. Mountain State Fair will return to the Western N.C. Agricultural Center for another run of family fun Sept. 5-14, and advance tickets are now available.

“There’s no time like fair time, and with savings of $2 on admission tickets and 50 percent on ride tickets, there is no time like right now to buy advance tickets,” said fair manager Matt Buchanan.

Advance tickets are available through Sept. 4 at the WNC Agricultural Center, WNC Farmers Market and area Ingles stores. Advance tickets are not available online this year; however, additional Ingles ticket locations have been added in the mountains and upstate South Carolina.

Advance tickets are $6 for adults 13-64, and $2 for children 6-12 and seniors ages 65 and older. Groups with 30 or more people can purchase advance tickets for $5 per person. Ride tickets are available in advance for $7.50 for a sheet of 12 tickets. Family Fun Packs are also available for $35. The cost includes five admission tickets, tickets for four rides and food coupons for a selection of fair vendors.

“With more than 100 acts performing throughout the fair, we’re one of the best entertainment values in the area,” Buchanan said. “Buying in advance or as a group makes it even more affordable.”

This year’s entertainment lineup will feature a mix of new attractions and traditional favorites. Stilt Puppets, a roaming band of acrobatic stilt walkers, will make its fair debut. Other new acts include illusionists Josh Knotts and Lea, dog stunt show K9s in Flight, and naturalist Carlton Burke. Sea Lion Splash, which debuted in 2013, will return for another year of playful antics.

In addition, there will be live music on the Heritage Stage, racing pigs at the Hogway Speedway, newborn calves in the Mooternity Ward, and other fan favorites during the fair’s 10-day run. More information is available at www.mountainfair.org or by calling 828-687-1414.

Senate, House Budget Agreement Provides Largest Teacher Pay Raise in North Carolina History

House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) held a joint press conference Tuesday to announce details of the $21.25 billion budget agreement reached between Senate and House conferees this past weekend.

 

The budget will provide public school educators an average seven percent raise – averaging $3,500 per teacher. The $282 million investment will be largest teacher pay raise in state history – moving North Carolina from 46th to 32nd in national teacher pay rankings.

 

It will also preserve teacher assistant positions, protect classroom funding and continue to give superintendents broad flexibility to tailor classroom spending to their districts’ needs.

 

“Making positive and historic changes to the status quo isn’t easy – and we commend our Senate and House colleagues for their hard work, patience and perseverance in crafting a plan that provides the largest teacher pay raise in state history without raising taxes,” said Senate Leader Berger and Speaker Tillis. “Investing $282 million in pay raises will make North Carolina competitive nationally and encourage the best and brightest teachers to make a long-term commitment to their profession, our students and our state.”

In addition to the teacher pay raise and preservation of classroom funds, the budget agreement will:

  • Reform and replace an archaic 37-step teacher pay system with a six-step schedule and a transparent compensation package;
  • Preserve current Medicaid eligibility;
  • Provide most state employees a $1,000 pay raise and five bonus vacation days;
  • Increase pay for step-eligible Highway Patrol Troopers between five and six percent;
  • Maintain funding at current levels for the state’s university system; and
  • Fulfill the commitment to extend supplemental pay for teachers with Master’s degrees who have completed at least one course in a graduate program as of August 1, 2013.

The budget will also boost early-career teacher pay by 14 percent over the next two years to $35,000 – making North Carolina a leader in the Southeast and fulfilling a promise made by state leaders in February.

The full budget compromise bill will be posted to the North Carolina General Assembly website at www.ncleg.net on Wednesday.

NC Attorney General Comments on Same Sex Marriage Appeal

North Carolina’s attorney general said Monday his office will no longer defend the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in court after a federal appeals court ruled a similar prohibition in neighboring Virginia unconstitutional.

At a news conference about two hours after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was announced in Richmond, Va., Attorney General Roy Cooper said the ruling made it highly likely North Carolina’s ban will be overturned. North Carolina is part of the 4th Circuit.

Cooper, a Democrat, said further opposition to the four federal lawsuits challenging his state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would be “futile.”

Gluten-free Doesn’t Automatically Mean a Healthy Choice

As more food choices labeled as “gluten-free” show up on store shelves across the state, a warning that just because it’s free of gluten doesn’t automatically mean it’s a healthy choice.

The founder of Mary’s Gone Crackers, Mary Waldner, welcomes more options for those, like herself, who have celiac disease. But she says the label can blur the line for consumers when it comes to nutrition, as many gluten-free foods are high in sugar to improve the taste. “I think so many gluten-free companies, they don’t care what’s in the food. I see it as an opportunity to really look at our food and see what’s in it, and not replace it with gluten-free junk. ”

The gluten-free industry is now pegged at more than 23-billion dollars annually – with sales up more than 16 percent over the past year (Nielsen).

 

Gluten-free often is characterized as a diet trend.

Waldner thinks it’s here to stay, whether or not the food choices are made because of a doctor’s note. She adds that because of the new awareness of gluten, the public is learning that decades of eating processed foods come at a cost. “Our guts are in bad shape. We’re eating such highly refined foods. We have been doing damage to our digestive system, and I think wheat is a very hard thing to digest.”

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease is one of the world’s most common genetic autoimmune disorders, affecting about one-percent of the population.

Tarheel State Could See Impact of Marriage Amendment

When it comes to North Carolina’s “Marriage Amendment” all eyes are on a Richmond, Virginia courtroom this week. The U-S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is expected to rule any day on a case challenging Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. Because the Tarheel state is part of the same circuit, that ruling could impact the legality of Amendment One.

Attorney Chris Brook is with the ACLU of North Carolina, “It would not immediately invalidate Amendment One. I think that a favorable ruling out of the Fourth Circuit would make Amendment One legally indefensible.”

In North Carolina, the ACLU has filed two federal lawsuits challenging the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The most recent, filed in April of this year, involves three married, same-sex couples seeking recognition of their marriage, in part because one member of each couple has a serious medical condition.

Lennie Gerber and her partner of 48 years are one of those couples. She says time is everything to them as Pearl faces failing health. “I’m fully aware of how we have had to fight for every step along the way of everybody’s civil rights. So, it’s just one more stone that has to be turned, and I have every confidence that it’s going to be so. They only question is, whether it will be done in time for us.”

Brook says while the trend of overturning same-sex marriage bans seems to be on the fast track nationally, couples like Lennie and Pearl have been waiting a lifetime. “It is imperative to remember that you know we are representing clients that cannot wait months, years, for this to be resolved in the court system. They need their marriages recognized so they can fully take care of their spouses and children.”

The ACLU notes the impact North Carolina’s “Marriage Amendment” is having on same-sex couples, involving their children, medical decision-making, Social Security Insurance survivor benefits and more.

Mosquito Virus Warnings In NC

State health officials are urging North Carolinians to remain diligent in personal efforts to protect themselves from mosquito bites.  The reminder comes on the heels of Thursday’s announcement by Florida health officials that they have confirmed the state’s first two locally acquired cases of the mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya (chik-en-gun-ye). Sometimes referred to as CHIKV, the virus has been spreading throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America, and has now reached the continental United States.
“Until now, people in this country who have become sick with the virus were travelers who acquired the infection abroad,” Acting State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings said.  “The cases confirmed in Florida shows that the virus could eventually be transmitted in North Carolina as well.”

So far this year, the nine cases that have been confirmed in North Carolina were people who recently traveled to the Caribbean.  Chikungunya virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and the Asian tiger mosquito that is commonly found in North Carolina could effectively transmit this virus.  At this time, there have not been any cases of the disease known to have been acquired in North Carolina.

Dr. Cummings strongly encourages residents to take precautions against mosquito bites at home as well as when traveling to places that already have chikungunya and other mosquito-borne viruses.

“Perhaps the easiest and most effective thing to do around the home is to empty any containers that can hold water where mosquitoes breed,” Dr. Cummings said.  “When traveling to areas known to have mosquito-borne viruses, we recommend that people take personal precautions to prevent mosquito bites and to immediately consult a medical provider if they develop a fever in the two weeks after their return home.”

Symptoms of chikungunya usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.  Symptoms typically include the sudden onset of fever and severe, often disabling, joint pains in the hands and feet.  Many patients feel better within a week; however, the joint pain may persist for months in some people.  Newborns exposed during delivery, adults over 65 years and people with chronic medical conditions have a greater risk for a severe form of the disease.

To protect yourself and your family against mosquito bites in North Carolina and abroad:

  • Wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
  • Reduce time spent outdoors, particularly during early morning and early evening hours when mosquitoes are most active. However, you should exercise precautions against mosquito bites at all times.
  • Apply EPA-approved mosquito repellents such as DEET, picardin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 to exposed skin areas. Always follow guidelines when using mosquito repellent.
  • Since mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, spraying clothes with repellent containing permethrin or another EPA-registered repellent will give extra protection.

DHHS’ Division of Public Health strongly recommends that all North Carolina residents take measures to decrease environmental conditions favorable to breeding for the species that could transmit this infection, the Asian tiger mosquito. This mosquito is an aggressive daytime biter, breeds in small water containers and does not travel long distances.

To reduce mosquito breeding areas around your home:

  • Remove any containers that can hold water;
  • Change the water in bird baths and pet bowls frequently and repair leaky outdoor faucets;
  • Cover rain barrels with tight-fitting screens or lids;
  • Keep gutters clean and in good repair; and
  • Use screened windows and doors and make sure screens are not torn and fit tightly.

Mysterious Pig Virus in NC Concerns Environmentalists

Pigs continue to die in large numbers in North Carolina – and while pork producers work to stop the virus that’s killing them, environmentalists are working to make sure the bodies are being disposed of properly.

Larry Baldwin with the Water Keeper Alliance says the virus known as PED (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea) has killed an estimated two to three-million pigs in the state since it first showed up in June of last year. He says there’s a lack of transparency from the pork industry and lack of state regulations regarding the disposal of the dead pigs.

“What we have seen to some degree in North Carolina is improper burial, we’ve had a couple of facilities that we have documented from the air where the burial pits were left open for days, the animals were laying in the groundwater , you could see vultures and other birds of prey that were feeding on these animals.”

Baldwin says the Water Keeper Alliance, in conjunction with eight of the state’s River Keeper organizations, sent a letter to the state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler requesting that he inform the public about the scope of the problem, as well as regulate and oversee the swine industry’s handling of the dead animals. Baldwin claims the response from the commissioner’s office was dismissive and vague. There are about 25-hundred pig farms in North Carolina.

Baldwin says improper burial of the pigs is a big concern for the eastern part of the state – as the groundwater is very close to the surface, which means you don’t have to dig down too far to get your drinking water from a well.  “So you’re throwing the hogs in the ditch, they’re decomposing and now that’s actually going into the groundwater. So you’ve got the nutrients from the dead hogs that are now going into the groundwater. ”

The PED virus kills primarily piglets, and has spread to more than 45-hundred farms in 30 states. The good news, says Baldwin, is that there is no evidence it can be spread to humans.

North Carolina Has Greatest Increase in Poverty

A new Census Bureau report finds a dramatic surge in the past decade in the number of Americans living in communities with concentrated poverty, with the greatest increase in North Carolina. Other states that experienced big jumps include Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina.

 

Nationally, about 77 million people or 25.7 percent of the U.S. population lived in poverty areas in 2010. Of the 45 million U.S. residents in poverty, more than half lived in high-poverty areas in 2010.

 

Among the four main U.S. regions, the Midwest had the greatest increase in people living in poverty areas from 2000 to 2010, at 9.8 percent. It was followed by the South at 9 percent, the West at 5.9 percent, and the Northeast at 3.3 percent.

 

Compromise Reached on Teacher Pay

Senate Republicans offered a compromise proposal in open budget negotiations Tuesday that would provide North Carolina public school teachers an average 11 percent permanent pay raise – without requiring them to make a choice on whether to keep tenure.

The $468 million increase would be the largest in state history and would boost North Carolina from 47th in overall teacher pay to the middle of current national rankings and from 9th to 3rd in the Southeast, propelling the state ahead of Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina.

The plan, which reforms and replaces the archaic 37-step system with an entirely new base pay scale designed to attract and keep the best teachers in the classroom, would provide more than a $5,800 average salary increase per teacher in the first year of implementation.

Keith Dean Installed As AMVETS Commander For North Carolina

Keith Dean of Sylva was installed at the Commander of the AMVETS Department of North Carolina on June 8th in Greensboro. Dean has been a member of the AMVETS for fourteen years and has held positions as the local Post 441 Chaplain and Post Commander for eleven years. At the State level Dean served as the Chaplain, then progressed through the leadership ranks from Third Vice Commander to the position of the First Vice Commander which he held last year. Dean will officially take office on July first and will oversee the operations of the 32 hundred member organization in North Carolina. To be a member of the AMVETS a person must have served in the military and received either an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions. The AMVETS National Service Officers are trained to assist local veterans with preparing their documentation for enrollment into the Department of Veterans Affairs and to file a claim. AMVETS also has an hold an essay contest for high school students and a recognition program for JROTC students. They also volunteer at VA Hospitals and long term care facilities. For information about AMVETS call Keith Dean at 586-6170 or by cell 506-9957.

Teachers Waiting For Details Of Senate Compromise Pay Bill

Raleigh, N.C. – Senate Republicans offered a compromise proposal in open budget negotiations Tuesday that would provide North Carolina public school teachers an average 11 percent permanent pay raise – without requiring them to make a choice on whether to keep tenure. The $468 million increase would be the largest in state history and would boost North Carolina from 47th in overall teacher pay to the middle of current national rankings and from 9th to 3rd in the Southeast, propelling the state ahead of Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina. The plan, which reforms and replaces the archaic 37-step system with an entirely new base pay scale designed to attract and keep the best teachers in the classroom, would provide more than a $5,800 average salary increase per teacher in the first year of implementation. “The Senate’s number one priority in this budget is to provide teachers with a dramatic pay raise – one that will truly move the needle and make North Carolina competitive,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham.) “By cutting the strings attaching the raise to voluntarily giving up tenure early, we’ve proven just how serious we are about giving teachers the largest pay raise in state history,” said Senate Education/Higher Education Co-Chairman Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph.)

Voter Turn Out Numbers: Not Just Black and White

Turnout was up for black voters overall in the state’s May primary, but further analysis reveals plenty of shades of gray in the data. Statewide, 44-thousand more African-Americans cast their ballot, but turnout is actually down in more than half of the counties in North Carolina where blacks make up a large portion of registered voters. Democracy North Carolina – a nonpartisan group – analyzed turnout county by county.

Executive director Bob Hall explains “We can’t brag about any of that and we really ought to be helping make voting more accessible and more exciting to people. They need to recognize that people that are elected have a tremendous impact on their lives.”

Attorneys representing the state in a lawsuit regarding the recent voting-law changes are using the increased turnout to argue that the new laws are not causing voter suppression. According to the analysis by Democracy NC, 82-percent of the increased black vote occurred in the 12 counties where there were highly contested races.

Mecklenberg County saw the biggest increase in African-American votes, but the county was the center of a highly anticipated Democratic primary in the 12th Congressional District. Hall says it’s important to understand the overall statewide increase is influenced by a handful of counties.

“The bulk of the increase happened in a handful of counties where there were African-American candidates in the D1emocratic primaries running against white candidates generally, and it galvanized the communities,” said Hall

Recent voting law changes in North Carolina decreased the number of early voting days and will require voters to provide a government-issued photo ID in 2016.

 

White House Recognizes NC Program That Helps Formerly Incarcerated

Two-decades ago, when Daryl Atkinson served 40-months in prison for a first-time, non-violent drug crime, he never imagined he would later be invited to the White House for recognition of his work to help others with a criminal record get jobs. Atkinson now works as an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where he helps others find work after they’ve paid for their crime. “America is a land of second chances. Within our country, America had not been giving second chances to people with criminal records.”

Atkinson was recently recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his work. According to the Second Chance Alliance – in which Atkinson plays an active role – one-point-six million North Carolinians have a criminal record. Alliance data indicates that someone with a criminal record is 50-percent less likely to receive a call back after filling out a job application.

The “Ban the Box” campaign is one program that got the White House’s attention. With the help of the Durham Second Chance Alliance, Atkinson succeeded in getting the city of Durham to remove the box asking about criminal convictions from their employment application.  “Since the policy was passed, the hiring rate for the city has increased every year, and these numbers and these increases have occurred without any increases in workplace crime.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice also offers help to people convicted of crimes to regain the ability to work, obtain professional licenses for their skills, and vote