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WEEKLY STATE UPDATE

WEEK OF JULY 13, 2018

IN THE HEADLINES

This Week in Raleigh

All's quiet on the Raleigh front this week, at least as far as the North Carolina legislative building is concerned. Meanwhile, members are gearing up for competitive races this fall.

On Thursday, second quarter financial reports became public, and the North Carolina Democratic Party announced a whopping $5.8 million in cash available. That is a record-breaking amount of money on hand heading into the 2018 elections.
Some of the top donors included: 

Reid Hoffman - $500,000: The founder of LinkedIn, has made reinvigorating the Democratic Party his mission, after selling his company to Microsoft. 
John Grisham - $40,000: Yes, the John Grisham, donated significantly to the state's Democratic party this year. The best-selling author currently resides in Chapel Hill, NC. 
Senator Dan Blue - $140,000: Former Speaker of the House Dan Blue, who now serves as the Senate minority leader, gave generously to his party. 
Senator Jay Chaudhuri - $120,000: A first-term Senator and rising star in the party, Chaudhuri represents part of Wake County. 

In comparison, the $1.3 million in the North Carolina Republican Party's war chest may seem like small potatoes. But Republicans in this state do things a bit differently than the Democrats. The Republican party's top elected officials are expected to give some of the money they raise for their own campaigns to other conservative candidates. Take Senator Phil Berger, for example, with $1.6 million in his own coffers. He will likely use a large portion of that money to help other individual Republican Senators running in November.

In that sense, comparing war chests is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but it doesn't make the Democratic Party's record amount of funds any less impressive. It is a sign that North Carolina Democrats are organizing in anticipation of a blue wave. One thing's for certain: the 2018 elections are bound to be the among most expensive in North Carolina history. 


Making Headlines

Some teachers have declared their right to resist NC legislators. How far will they go? - News & Observer
A group of teachers is organizing educators from across North Carolina to take steps, potentially including protests and strikes, if state legislators don't agree to make a series of education changes.

Cooper Unhappy Constitution Amendments on Ballot, Not Bonds - US News
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper says he would rather the Republican-controlled legislature had put a statewide school bond on ballots this fall, instead of several constitutional amendments.

North Carolina governor ‘hopeful’ to win Apple campus despite the company’s silence - WRAL
Despite a lack of news over recent weeks, Apple is rumored to be eyeing Research Triangle Park in North Carolina for a new United States campus.

North Carolina's Elections Board Says Democrat Can Challenge Senate Leader Phil Berger - WFAE
The Republican who is arguably North Carolina's most powerful politician could yet face a Democratic challenger after the state elections board decided Thursday that Jennifer Mangrum did enough to establish her residence in the district now represented by state Sen. Phil Berger.

N Carolina Gov. Cooper Announces $7M for Workforce Training - WCHL
Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday he’s tapping into a federal program that could provide grants of up to $1,000 per semester for students close to finishing their degree or credential.

Rural North Carolina

Roughly 200 representatives of counties throughout North Carolina gathered Thursday for the first-of-its kind symposium on how to improve the lives and economic prosperity of people in the state’s rural communities.

“We want to make our entire state progress, all 100 counties. I believe we can do that,” Gov. Roy Cooper said to kick off the two-day conference at the Carolina Hotel.

The conference, called “Energizing Rural North Carolina,” centers on five building blocks of reform — education, workforce, infrastructure, health and leadership.

Eighty of the state’s 100 counties are considered rural, many suffering from a lack of access to quality preschool programs, teacher turnover, an undereducated workforce, a scarcity of high-paying jobs and other factors that organizers of the conference began to address Thursday.

Catherine Truitt, chancellor of the nonprofit online Western Governors University North Carolina, provided sobering statistics about public education in North Carolina. In some rural counties, Truitt, said a quarter of the teachers leave the system every year.

The high turnover results in more lateral-entry, inexperienced and ineffective teachers taking over, she said, causing further erosion in the ability of students to learn.

Truitt said 26 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare, and only a third of freshmen entering North Carolina’s public college system will graduate within six years.

Truitt said those problems, which are not unique to North Carolina, will likely worsen as the country moves into what she called the fourth revolution, the full-scale advent of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.

“It is imperative that we get a handle on educating our students,” said Truitt, who believes the entire educational system must move away from its assembly line, “one-size-fits-all model.”

After Truitt’s 25-minute speech, county representatives seated around tables spent a few minutes among themselves discussing what they learned and how her message can translate to their own communities. The method will be used throughout the conference, which was attended by representatives from 65 counties, including Cumberland, Bladen, Moore, Scotland and Sampson in the Cape Fear region.

The symposium also featured success stories, such as a 1-on-1 digital learning initiative in Rutherford County that has helped lead to a significant and sustained boost in students’ test scores.
Among those attending the conference was Teddy Warner, director of business development for the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Economic Development Corp.

“We hope that by attending events like this one, we can learn about more ways to bring new ideas and resources to Cumberland County,” Warner said. “Growing up in Hope Mills, I know what great communities we have and the great people that live in those communities. We simply hope to find more ways to help people find jobs and have a better quality of life.”

John Swope, executive director of Sampson County’s Economic Development Commission, said the conference will help his county “keep moving forward.”

“We just can’t wait for someone else,” Swope said, noting that Sampson has many of the same problems other rural counties face, including health care, education and a lack of sites to attract significant business and industry. The county commissioners recently put $1.75 million into a reserve fund earmarked for site acquisitions. Swope said that money, combined with additional funding, should help Sampson County level the playing field when it comes to industrial recruitment.

The symposium was organized by the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, with help from the N.C. Department of Commerce, the N.C. Rural Center, the Golden LEAF Foundation, N.C. State’s Institute of Emerging Issues, and the N.C. Economic Development Association.

Mike Hawkins, a board member of the Economic Development Partnership, said he hopes county representatives will drive home thinking about what they learned during the conference and how to apply that knowledge to their communities.

“What we’re really trying to do is to provide inspiration for these local leaders to go back to their communities and affect real improvement, to move the needle within the five building blocks,” Hawkins said.

The conference dovetails with an initiative Cooper unveiled in February called Hometown Strong, which aims to form state and local partnerships to improve economies and well-being in rural areas of the state.

“We need more of our state leaders talking about the good things in rural North Carolina,” said Cooper, who grew up and practiced law in rural Nash County. “We need to sell, sell, sell these attributes for rural North Carolina.”

The conference resumes at 8 this morning with discussions about infrastructure, health and leadership." (Greg Barnes, Fayetteville Observer, 7/12/18)


Healthcare

A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s foster care system has North Carolina caregivers, social workers and advocates scrambling to figure out how the new laws will affect thousands of children currently living in group homes.


"The Family First Prevention Services Act, which Congress and the president enacted in February as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act, includes extensive reforms to the way the federal government funds state-level foster care programs.

The legislation eliminates federal funding for foster children residing in congregate-care settings, such as group homes. The intent is to encourage other types of placements, but the new law lacks a coherent solution to the expected influx of children who already live in group homes and will be forced to transition into family-based foster homes.

But those caring for children in group home settings say the new law is shortsighted and will leave many kids without options.

“There is a need for homes like us” said Joe Leggett, CEO of the Falcon Children’s Home in Cumberland County. “There’s nowhere for many of these kids to go. Group homes need to be part of the solution.”

Advocacy and governmental groups across the country, such as NC Child, the County Welfare Directors Association of California and the New York Office of Children and Family Services, have also expressed concerns about some major provisions of the new law.

The law’s full effects will remain unclear until the federal government sends guidance documents to the states; however, it appears that the law doesn’t include adequate funding for recruitment, retention and training of the new foster families who will be needed to care for the number of children who will be leaving group homes, say these groups.

The FFPSA was proposed and approved as a response to the growing need nationwide for foster care as a result of the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities throughout the country. The idea is to provide services to the parents of children who are at risk of entering the foster care system in an effort to make that foster care placement unnecessary. The Children’s Defense Fund called the measure “long-overdue historic reforms to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care, emphasizes the importance of children growing up in families and helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to their special needs when foster care is needed.”

Other observers don’t necessarily oppose this endeavor but are concerned about unintended consequences.

Specifically, any funding under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act that was formerly used to reimburse states for spending related to congregate care for foster children will be diverted to services and programs that are designed to keep children out of foster care entirely.

Title IV-E funds will be used for in-home parenting support, mental health support and substance abuse treatment for up to a year.

That’s a significant deviation from previous funding strategies for child welfare initiatives.
Title IV-E funding has traditionally been used solely to support children whom state agencies have already taken from their homes rather than to help parents avoid the need for foster care placements.

Spokeswomen for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the New Hanover County Department of Social Services told Carolina Public Press that their organizations have not yet received guidance from the federal government about how to actually implement the provisions of the law.

Some portions of the law, including federal reimbursement for residential child-parent substance abuse treatment programs and kinship navigator programs that help connect kinship care providers with services, will be implemented in October.

Reimbursements for most children in congregate care will be cut off in September 2019 unless states choose to extend that deadline for up to two years. However, reimbursements for prevention services won’t be made available to states during the extension.

The decision about when to implement the changes and whether to opt into the deadline extension will be made by the secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The logic behind diverting funding away from group homes was the idea that foster children are often warehoused in those settings when a family-based foster home would be more appropriate. The law makes an exception for facilities that serve teen mothers and victims or potential victims of human trafficking, and facilities that meet the standards of being a “qualified residential treatment program.”

But for those facilities that house foster children in a residential setting without a clinical component, a major source of funding is going to dry up.

That eventuality has residential facilities concerned for their future — the president and board chair of the Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth and Families in Buncombe County, in an April letter to donors, called the passage of the FFPSA “course-altering” for facilities like theirs.

“For some children and youth, family-style residential care like we provide is the best environment for their situation,” Black Mountain Home President Tom Campbell and board Chair Bruce Henderson said in the letter.

“While some of our programs will continue to receive funding, our original residential program will be seriously at risk. This is an important piece of our continuum, providing care primarily for older youth, large sibling groups and youth who have faced multiple placements and for whom there are few viable options.”

Leggett, at Falcon Children’s Home, told CPP that the inclusion of the FFPSA in the budget bill was “shortsighted” and that he thinks representatives of group homes should have been included in the legislative conversations about how the law will affect foster children.

Falcon currently houses 90 foster children. Leggett said about 65 of those children would have to find new placements if the FFPSA were to be implemented today.

“We provide a place for a population that hasn’t been able to find a foster home,” Leggett said.

“If they could be in a foster home, they would already be there.”

Leggett said group homes are a “last resort” for many of the foster children whom Falcon serves, either because they’re part of a large sibling group, have had behavioral issues at family-based foster homes or are older children who have had a difficult time finding placement.

In North Carolina, about 2,000 children live in residential congregate-care settings that don’t include mental health services, according to Whitney Tucker, research director for NC Child, a Raleigh-based children’s advocacy group.

Should that number remain steady over the next several years, those 2,000 children potentially would be forced into new housing arrangements when the law’s provisions take effect unless the state and counties choose to make up the funding shortfall.

“The reason that they are in congregate care is often because they are part of a large sibling group where they’ve flown out of previous foster care placement and are stabilizing in a group home setting or they are just done with foster family settings and are just waiting to transition out of foster care altogether, so they’re older kids,” Tucker said in an email to CPP.
“North Carolina has a history of closing mental health residential group homes with the idea that kids would be better off in family settings and community-based services (which in intention is correct), but in reality what happened was that the community-based treatment options were not available and kids actually ended up in more restrictive placement as a result.”

The state’s foster care system is already overtaxed, with county social services agencies often scrambling to find placement for children, according to Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child.

While state and federal policies suggest keeping sibling groups together and keeping foster children in the same county and school system they were in when they were living at home, the absence of an adequate number of foster homes could mean that those sibling groups are broken up or that children are moved away from the area they’re familiar with.

“Without some significant focus and investment at the local level, it’s going to be challenging for county DSS agencies to significantly increase the number of foster families and then make sure that the foster families are available and make sure the foster families have the training and clinical consultation they need to care for the children,” Hughes said.

“The intent of all of the legislation is good for kids. In terms of the implementation, we’ll have to wait and see what the outcome is.

“Family First is a piece of legislation that has enormous potential to prevent children from experiencing trauma by going into the foster care system, as well as cost savings for the state. That has a huge potential to be beneficial for kids. The question, as with all legislation, is in the implementation.” (Michael Gebelein, NC Health News, 7/13/18)

Education

Nearly one in five North Carolina students is not attending a traditional public school, and that percentage is likely to continue rising as more families choose alternative education options.


"For the third year in a row, enrollment has fallen in North Carolina’s traditional public schools even as the number of students continues to rise in charter schools, private schools and homeschools. The percentage of the state’s 1.8 million students attending traditional public schools has dropped to 80.8 percent and is continuing to fall rapidly.

“Families are more attuned to and used to having choices at their fingertips, and that is entering education as well,” said Brian Jodice, interim president of Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina. “We’re no longer in this mindset that because I live at this address or this ZIP code I have to attend this particular school that works for many students but doesn’t have to be the only choice.”

But what’s seen as an expansion of school choice by some is viewed by others as part of an effort to undermine the state’s traditional public schools.

“North Carolina has already embraced the privatization, the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) agenda of dismantling public schools in favor of their donors who’d rather try to monetize what should be a public good,” said Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project.

The education landscape has changed considerably since Republicans took control of the General Assembly after the 2010 election. Changes have included:

Eliminating the 100-school cap on charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow. A total of 12 new charter schools will open this fall, raising the number statewide to 185. This year, legislators also allowed four Mecklenburg County towns to create their own municipal charter schools. 
Creating the Opportunity Scholarship program that provides up to $4,200 a year in vouchers for lower-income families to use to attend private schools. 
Creating two different programs for parents of special-needs students to attend private schools and pay related education costs. 
Making it easier for home-school students to take classes from people who are not their parents."  (T. Keung Hui, News & Observer, 7/13/18) 
UPCOMING DATES
The NCGA will reconvene on November 27th, 2018. 
To see archived weekly state updates, please click here.

CONTACT US

Call us at 828-213-1221 or email us at advocacy@msj.org.