Key Legislative Issues in Medicaid, Education

NC Senator Dan Blue
By Cash Michaels –

As the Long Session of the 2019 NC General Assembly rolls on, NC Senate Minority Dan Blue (D-Wake) says there are several important issues that African Americans should be paying closer attention to.

Every citizen, especially minorities and lower-income residents, should add their voices in support of Medicaid expansion for the poor; funding for college voter photo IDs; more funding for historically black colleges and universities; and more precise measuring of school achievement scores.

Medicaid Expansion

Despite the state’s eligibility, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s vow to make it happen, the Republican-led General Assembly continues to block Medicaid expansion to approximately 626,000 poor people in the state. estimates that 208,000 North Carolinians “…have no realistic access to health insurance without Medicaid expansion.”

Since 2011, three-quarters of the states have expanded Medicaid coverage, which would provide affordable coverage to more than 500,000 of those currently unprotected; create an estimated 13,000 jobs within five years; and help rural hospitals keep their doors open. Currently, 40% of North Carolina’s rural hospitals are operating in the red, and five have closed since 2014.

On the first day of the 2019 General Assembly session, all 55 NC House Democrats jointly introduced HB 5, which would close the coverage gap affecting state residents who are ineligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and do not enjoy private or employer-provided insurance. So far, Republican leaders have refused even to hold hearings on the bill—though they have passed bills naming ice cream the official State Frozen Treat and designating the osprey the official State Raptor.

“You’re talking about working people,” says Sen. Blue, “working people who don’t make the big bucks, people who really need access to quality healthcare. Yet there is all of the [Republican] opposition to expanding it as the other 38 states have. There’s a big fight going on that.”

Voter ID Funding for College Students

As of March 19, only five of 17 UNC campuses across the state had had their student photo identification cards approved as appropriate ID for voting during North Carolina elections. State lawmakers are still haggling about such details as student photos being officially taken, and the schools verifying official information like Social Security numbers. Sen. Blue says lawmakers need to decide on funding efforts to ensure that student photo IDs are in uniform compliance with voting requirements. “There has been no money available to issue acceptable IDs, and we need to make sure that all of these students have an opportunity to vote, using reliable identification.”

The new Voter ID law passed last December is still in force, even though the Voter ID amendment, which authorized it, passed last November, was struck down in February by a Wake County Superior Court judge. That ruling is being appealed.

Increased Funding for HBCUs

On February 20, student representatives from all of North Carolina’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) went to the legislature, telling state lawmakers that their schools deserve more funding in the coming budgets.

“Throughout their history HBCUs have received significantly less funding than their white counterparts,” Surrayyah Chestnut of North Carolina Central University said during the “HBCU Day of Advocacy.” “Decades of chronic underfunding have made our institutions more subject to the dangers of accreditation issues and unpredictable housing crises.”

Senate Minority Leader Blue agrees. “HBCU funding. That’s a critical matter, and the UNC [System] Board of Governors has not been responsive to many of the needs of the HBCUs, especially on capital funding. Some schools have equipment that is outdated, buildings that are outdated… There’s no real push to correct a majority of these [budget shortcomings].

Blue adds that Fayetteville State now wants to be a part of the $500 tuition program, which has boosted student enrollment at the three pilot UNC System schools it was implemented in.

Sen. Blue recommends that, in addition to the critical need for affordable housing statewide in the face of increasing gentrification, North Carolinians need to call or write their legislators, and register their concerns about these issues and more, whether they’re Republican or Democrat.

“These are some of the issues that are critical to the African American community,” says Sen. Blue.

School scoring bill passes House

A secondary education bill, HB 354, which passed the NC House in late March, would change the scoring formula that rates schools’ achievement.

Under current law, schools’ grades are based on student test scores, with 80% of the grade coming from how students perform on specific tests (achievement) and 20% on how scores improve during the year (growth). Schools are graded on a 15-point scale, but that is scheduled to drop to a 10-point scale.

According to Democratic legislators and education experts, because 80% of the school’s grade is based on how well students test—rather than how good the teachers are—schools with lots of students from wealthy families outperform those with higher proportions of low-income students, even if the wealthier students’ scores are only average.

As a result, a school with top-notch staff and students whose performance improves dramatically throughout the year—so that their test scores rise significantly, even to the same average as at the wealthier school—that school will still “underperform” for the simple reason that its students’ improvement counts for only 20% of the school’s rating.

HB 354 is designed to correct that imbalance, counting growth (student improvement) for 50% of a school’s grade and overall average for the other 50%. That way, a school coasting on its laurels will not outperform one that is succeeding at improving its students’ performance.

Another bill, HB 362, would keep the grading system on a 15-point scale rather than reduce the measure to 10 points; a third, HB 266, would assign one score for a school’s achievement level and a separate score for growth. None of the three is expected to pass in the State Senate, solidly controlled by Republicans who have long expressed a preference for spending tax money to support private-school vouchers rather than on improving public schools.

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