- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Feb. 10

Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal on teacher pay raise a good first step, but much more needed:

North Carolina’s public school teachers have not been treated well over the past five years and they’re responding with their feet.

Veteran teachers are leaving their jobs, either teaching elsewhere or changing professions.

On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory and his Republican legislative allies proposed an approx-imately $200 million, 14-percent, teacher pay raise over two years. It’s a good first step, but we’re glad that Republican leaders recognize it is only a first step.

Teachers have long explained that they don’t enter their profession to get rich, and they say they understand that they will be paid less than other comparably educated people. But they also say they must support their families, and that they want security and re-spect.

Since the 2009 General Assembly, under Democratic control, failed to provide a raise, teachers have been under assault, first financially with salaries that didn’t keep up with inflation and then with attacks on their benefits and security.

Teachers have not only gone without raises, they’ve seen their health insurance premiums rise, their classroom supply funds cut, their class sizes increased while their teaching aides have been fired. The 2013 legislature eliminated their best avenue to increased salaries, ending the stipend for advanced degrees earned in the future. (The governor’s website said Monday that a pay increment will be extended only for those who finished their graduate programs by July of last year.)

Then the legislature took away their job security, too. Teachers in North Carolina didn’t have tenure in the sense that university professors have an almost guaranteed lifetime job. What they had was guaranteed due process, the opportunity to get a fair, informed and impartial review of their performance in the case that their employer tried to fire them.

Security is important to teachers. Many find it as important as salary. But the legislature stripped it from them.

On Monday, McCrory talked about showing teachers respect, something his allies have not done lately. The proposed raise is nice, but it is only the first step in healing the pain inflicted recently on teachers.




Feb. 9

Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer on decision buys time to fix flawed reading program:

Third-grade teachers, students and parents likely breathed a sigh of relief after Thursday’s State Board of Education decision to let local school districts administer their own versions of new reading tests.

The rollout of the state’s “mini-test” series has been a disaster.

Some legislators blame N.C. Schools Superintendent June Atkinson for not properly implementing the program they devised. Others say the program, intended to ensure literacy, is fundamentally flawed.

Either way, no one in our classrooms deserves to be caught in a political crossfire and kept in suspense about whether they had an alternative to filling the rest of the year with mini-tests to keep youngsters out of summer reading camps.

We urged the state board to take action swiftly following testimony before a legislative committee that exposed serious doubts about the new testing regimen. While the decision to authorize local testing variants, as provided under the law, should have come sooner, we’re nevertheless pleased with the move.

This takes educators and students out of a chaotic high-pressure situation.

It also buys time for legislators and Atkinson to take another look at the program and provide some fixes.




Feb. 7

Asheville (N.C.) Citizen Times on farm bill passes, but ‘Hunger Games’ still very real here:

North Carolinians who need food stamps are safe, for now.

The Senate on Wednesday passed and sent to President Obama a five-year, $1 trillion farm bill that essentially keeps the food stamp program intact. The bill also includes Payment in Lieu of Taxes money that is so important to several rural Western North Carolina counties, Swain in particular.

Passage is yet another sign that Congress is getting past gridlock. The votes were 251-166 in the House and 68-32 in the Senate. Among those who represent WNC, only Republican Sen. Richard Burr voted no.

The bill was supported by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and by the two Republicans who represent the mountains in the House, Patrick McHenry of Cherryville and Mark Meadows of Glenville.

Food stamps will be cut by some $8.6 billion over 10 years. The savings come from eliminating a tactic by which some states used the winter-heating program to increase food-stamp eligibility. North Carolina is not one of those states.

“I’m relieved that the farm bill is finally getting resolved, and it’s not going to include any deeper cuts in North Carolina than is already happening,” said Cindy Threlkeld, executive director of MANNA FoodBank.

But, “That doesn’t mean we don’t need to worry about hunger,” she added. Benefits dropped Nov. 1 when a temporary increase put in place during the Great Recession expired. On top of that, the delay in processing food-stamp applications in North Carolina has created added stress.

“I think you could talk to any food pantry person in the 16 counties in the western part of the state, and you’re going to get the same answer,” said Susan Williams, coordinator of the Grace Episcopal Church Food Pantry in Waynesville.

“The need is there. The need is not going away. We have many of our clients who are working, they’re taking care of kids. We have seniors who have taken in their grandchildren.”

Meanwhile in Raleigh, the political appointees Gov. McCrory put in charge of our state’s Health and Human Services department have bungled the food stamp program so badly that the federal government has threatened to pull funding. As of a month ago, more than 6,000 families had been waiting more than 90 days to get applications processed.

The state has until March to come up with a fix. The U.S. Department of Agriculture “expects North Carolina to take whatever steps are necessary to fix these system issues as quickly as possible and deliver benefits to eligible clients in a timely fashion,” a department spokeswoman said.

The appointees have tried to shift the blame to Washington, citing changes required by the Affordable Care Act. That won’t fly. The ACA affects all 50 states and other states are not having such problems.



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