Here we go again.
A year ago, North Carolina students – our most precious resource – started school with 5,000 teacher positions vacant across the state.
A year later, with school to start in two weeks, it appears our children are about to do the same. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools alone, the shortage has grown from 400 teachers at this time last year to 500 vacancies this year.
And what has the NC General Assembly done to supply teachers for this state’s children – for this state’s future?
Nothing to repair the state’s broken teacher pipeline. Nothing to build confidence that teaching – the profession that creates all others – is an appreciated,
essential role in our society.
From news reports, casinos seem to command higher priority in the prolonged negotiations over a state budget that’s now six weeks overdue in a legislature where Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
Republicans arguing over casinos? Only in the fantasy world of 16 West Jones Street, where legislators need not follow the calendar the rest of the civilized world follows.
Some legislative leaders have even suggested they could pass “mini-budgets” with raises for teachers and state employees before school begins – as if teachers decide where to teach the day before school starts.
The fact is that most teacher contracts are signed in the spring. So the earliest raises – whenever they are approved, if at all – could have significant impact will be the spring of 2024, in time for the 2024-25 school year.
So much for responding to a crisis.
So much for averting another one.
And so much for North Carolina’s
myFutureNC goal of having 2 million young workers with credentials or degrees by 2030. Good luck with that.
Senate leader Phil Berger made clear this week that it’s unlikely there will be a vote on the budget until the second week of September.
Meanwhile, teachers and bus drivers – people who do abide by the Gregorian calendar and state school-attendance laws – will start school as scheduled (if not sooner), not knowing how much they’ll be paid this year.
That’s a profound act of faith in a legislature that has repeatedly dashed their expectations.
It’s fitting that numbers were released last week that showed nearly half a million North Carolina schoolchildren were considered “chronically absent” in 2021-22.
You might say legislators are at the very least tardy as well.
Or they simply don’t care.
Rather than completing our state’s business on time, legislators made time to take the past month off for vacations and conferences.
Though there were undoubtedly budget delays when Democrats controlled the General Assembly, “The legislature needs to get to work,” Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said last week. “They continue to walk off the job and stay on vacation, like they’re in Europe or something.”
Even conservative columnist John Hood said this week that long legislative sessions don’t make for better government.
“I am aware of no evidence to suggest that longer sessions are better than shorter ones. It doesn’t improve the quality of public services, or hold taxes and regulations down, or enhance public knowledge of state government and its operations,” Hood wrote.
“North Carolina should stop being the exception and adopt what is really a commonsense rule. Set deadlines. Meet them. Then go home already.”
JUST AS URGENT, IF NOT MORE, is expansion of Medicaid to as many as 600,000 North Carolinians who don’t have health insurance.
The reason they don’t already qualify for Medicaid is they
work, even without insurance. They are the working poor.
After more than a decade of resistance from the General Assembly, Cooper and legislative leaders agreed in March to expand Medicaid. But they made it contingent on passage of the state budget – guaranteeing Cooper bitter pills to swallow if and when he signs that budget.
Cooper’s Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley said last month that if legislators can approve a budget by the end of August, the state can implement Medicaid expansion by Oct. 1. If not, expansion won’t happen until December.
Those are dates. But they affect living, breathing human beings.
“Lives are hanging in the balance,” Kinsley said.
As a vivid illustration of the legislature’s refusal to act, Martin General Hospital in Williamston suspended operations Aug. 3. Cooper’s office noted that it is the 7th rural hospital in the state to close since North Carolina could have approved Medicaid expansion in 2014.
It’s unconscionable – hypocritical – for people who profess empathy to deny health care to their fellow man.
And it’s fiscally unconscionable to forego $500 million a month – $6 billion a year – in federal reimbursements as the legislature delays.
It’s just plain stupid.
For those who pontificate that government should be run like a business, successful businesses meet deadlines.
Legislators need to finish their work in that fantasy world of Jones Street.
Then yes, go home already.
Editorial cartoons by Dennis Draughon, first featured on the Capitol Broadcasting Opinion website