Issues and concerns facing the citizens of the NC House District 94
In the last several years, public education has come under attack by the very body that has a constitutional obligation to provide for and support it – the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). Since Republicans gained control of the NCGA, teacher salaries have plummeted, falling to as low as 47th nationally in 2013-2014. Now, teacher pay ranks 37th; as a result, our educators suffer from “wage penalty,” meaning that they cannot compete with those having a comparable degree. Teachers have lost tenure and due process, both protections against arbitrary firing. They have also lost pay increases for earned graduate degrees and funding for professional development. At the same time, N.C. teachers have been evaluated under a “revolving door” of testing standards; and their schools have been placed under an A-to-F grading system that reflects more about the individual school’s poverty level than about the quality of its teachers and the performance of its students.
Per pupil spending ranks a dismal 39th (2017 data), leaving North Carolina with one of the most poorly funded school systems in the United States and our students without the resources – from textbooks to technology – to be successful in the classroom. Presently, our state spends $9,528 per student, well below the national average of $11,934.
While public schools have been starving for adequate assistance and support, the state has allowed charter and private schools to thrive. Both charter and private schools are funded with money normally reserved for traditional public schools – tax payer dollars. I have no problem with either type of school as long as both are held accountable for how they spend that money, how well qualified their teachers are, and how diverse their student population may be. Unfortunately, charter and private schools can operate independently of that accountability.
As a result of the current “state of affairs” for N.C. teachers, teacher morale has plummeted along with salaries, and the state now faces a shortage of qualified educators to fill its classrooms. Enrollment in the UNC System’s Colleges of Education, which prepare over 30% of N.C.’s teaching force, has decreased 28% since 2007. Now the state is exploring less stringent standards for and “alternate” methods of licensing teachers.
Community colleges and public universities are also suffering under the present restrictive environment. Every year they, too, are required to send back to the state millions of dollars – dollars that they have designated for areas they need to address. How can any institution plan adequately and wisely under those conditions?
If elected, I will work to …
- Make our schools safer by employing more school counselors, social workers, and resource officers and by including more mental health crisis training for faculty and staff.
- Increase per pupil spending to provide much-needed supplies and resources.
- Restore teacher salaries to pre-recession levels and institute a comprehensive teacher compensation plan.
- Restore due process, career status, professional development funding, and graduate degree pay.
- Place a cap on the number of charter schools until research on their value has been completed.
- Stop public tax dollars from being used to fund the private school voucher program.
- Develop a Teacher Recruitment Program.
- Protect retirees’ benefits.
- Develop a better process for funding our community colleges and universities.
Health care costs in North Carolina have risen dramatically in the last several years. Currently, our state has the 10th highest costs in the nation. People pay much more for prescription drugs, medical procedures, and emergency room visits. Many employers do not offer health insurance; and many citizens, especially low-income families, cannot afford to pay for coverage. Still others are being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions.
The above circumstances are forcing many people to make difficult decisions about how to manage their daily lives. These are the concerns that I have heard from people in Alexander and Wilkes counties as I have gone door-to-door:
- “I sometimes have to choose between paying for my chemotherapy or buying food for my family.”
- “I cannot afford to stay home from work and take care of my elderly mother. But, when I cannot find someone to stay with her, I have to miss work. I cannot afford to keep doing that.”
- “I am a cancer patient. I have problems paying past medical bills and still affording the necessities for me and my family.”
- “My health insurance premium is $1,200 a month. That takes most of my salary.”
- “I can’t afford emergency care, so I just don’t go, whether I need to or not.”
- “I cannot afford to pay for the insulin prescribed by my doctor, so I get it from another source. I just hope it is as effective as what has been prescribed, but I don’t know.”
All of us have a basic human right to health care. However, our nation is the only highly developed country in the world not providing its citizens access to universal health care. That is just wrong! Thousands of Alexander and Wilkes citizens are still uninsured. The Affordable Care Act provided our state the opportunity to help those people by expanding Medicaid. However, North Carolina’s leaders rejected that offer. As a result, more than 400,000 North Carolinians were denied health care access; and our state lost approximately 43,000 jobs in the health care field. In addition, rejecting Medicaid funding has cost North Carolina $6 billion thus far.
If I am elected, I will work to …
- Expand Medicaid so that all citizens have health insurance (lowering the cost for everyone) and access to preventive care and screening for potentially fatal illnesses.
- Guarantee access to affordable health care for all North Carolinians.
- Lower health care costs.
- Establish county or regional mental health centers to help address the opioid crisis.
- Establish a Nurse Recruitment Program to address the current shortage of nurses in our state.
Though the nation’s economy has begun to recover, North Carolina still suffers from the effects of the 2008 recession. Many obstacles continue to stand in the way of economic opportunity. Those obstacles include a growing wealth gap between upper income citizens and everyone else, the continued push for economic development in metropolitan areas but not in rural areas, and a generally slower rate of job growth statewide than in the nation. Additionally, although unemployment has declined, areas wages have not risen very much and there has been increasing economic racial disparity. Under this racial wealth gap, minority groups continue to have unequal access to affordable housing, education, and employment opportunities. Those conditions create an even greater income and wealth gap for minorities.
Many people now are having to work two (and sometimes three) jobs just to make ends meet. The current minimum wage simply is not a “living wage” that enables workers to be competitive in the present economy. We must increase the minimum wage in North Carolina.
We must also provide training for the jobs that are in demand, and we must provide retraining for people who have lost their jobs because of the changing economy and workforce needs. Locally, we have lost jobs in crucial areas such as manufacturing. More and more of the jobs now in demand are in the service industry, and many require knowledge in new technologies. For instance, workers will need a different skill set to get jobs in areas such as automation in manufacturing. Our business leaders, our community colleges, and our school systems must continue to work together to assess the workforce needs of our communities, to offer training, and to publicize training opportunities.
Additionally, we need to provide more assistance for small business owners in our counties. Small businesses create approximately two-thirds of new jobs in our state. They have suffered under sales tax increases on goods and services, and they need more tax breaks. Also, we should make it easier for people to start a small business.
Finally, we must do a better job of recruiting businesses to North Carolina, especially to rural areas. Our state has fallen behind the nation in creating enough jobs to meet the demands of a growing population. Recruiting more businesses, such as clean energy industries, will help us create more job openings.
If elected, I will …
- Work to address the racial wealth gap.
- Develop new job recruiting strategies to attract more businesses.
- Promote job training programs for new and displaced workers.
- Raise the minimum wage to at least $10 per hour.
- Provide more tax breaks for middle- and lower-income citizens.
- Restore the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Support small business development.
North Carolina’s beautiful environment, from the mountains to the beaches, needs more protection. In recent years, we have seen laws passed that consistently undermine environmental safeguards and weaken the work of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Our legislators have provided polluters amnesty from prosecution for damaging our air, land, and water; and, they have allowed those polluters to pass the cost of clean up to taxpayers. Actions of the N.C. General Assembly have included easing restrictions on coal ash groundwater contamination, repealing laws to allow mega-dumps (huge landfills) taking garbage from other states, decreasing the number of air and water quality monitors (leading to the slow detection of GenX in the Cape Fear River), permitting landfills to spray garbage juice over people’s properties, lifting the moratorium on fracking, failing to protect drinking water reservoirs such as Jordan Lake, and promoting offshore drilling.
The above actions on the part of our legislators have placed the health and safety of the citizens of our state at great risk – all in the name of profits for and from large corporations. Not only do those actions indicate a disregard for the health and well-being of the people, they also reflect a lack of understanding of the seriousness of neglecting the protections necessary to having a safe environment. With the destruction and environmental pollution caused by recent hurricanes, we absolutely must reinstate the measures necessary to create and maintain a safe and healthier North Carolina for all citizens.
North Carolina’s Infrastructure is in dire need of repair and development. Our transportation infrastructure (railroads, roads, bridges, and airports) serves the entire state and affects our economy. However, that infrastructure must be funded so that we can maintain, repair, or replace older sections. Also, we must improve broadband access to all N.C. communities. The future of health care, education, and business depend on that access. Unfortunately, rural communities are often left out of the access equation. More efficient roads, better transit, and further advanced internet connectivity will enhance our ability to attract businesses and will strengthen our economy.
If elected, I will work to …
- Hold polluters accountable for the damage they cause and not allow them the ability to pass on clean-up costs to taxpayers.
- Protect all elements of our environment, ensuring that we have clean air and water and preserved land areas.
- Promote a bond referendum to address the deficiencies in our transportation infrastructure.
- Expand high-speed internet connectivity throughout the state, addressing the needs of rural communities first.
- Reinstate the cuts made at the Department of Environmental Quality so that the DEQ has the necessary personnel to do its job.
GUNS and THE SECOND AMENDMENT
I support the Second Amendment. I am not running for office to repeal the Second Amendment. I am a gun owner and believe in the right to be armed. However, I do not support that right for mentally incompetent individuals. Therefore, I support increased efforts to make sure that ownership is granted only to law-abiding citizens who have the mental capacity to use a gun in a safe manner.
I also believe that no one needs an assault weapon in his/her possession. Such weapons are weapons of mass destruction and do not belong in the hands of our citizenry. Our legislature’s gun policies have been aimed at catering to special interests more than to the Second Amendment or public safety. Now, people can have guns in the workplace, bars, restaurants, state parks, and vehicles as well as in their homes. They have a right to defend themselves and their property with immunity. People can even have guns on school property as long as those guns are locked in their cars.
Law enforcement personnel have spoken out against the N.C. General Assembly’s above legislation; North Carolina’s citizens should as well.
If elected, I will work to …
- Require universal background checks for all gun sales.
- Ban bump stocks.
- Raise the age for purchasing an assault weapon to 21 (if that law still exists).
- Implement violence restraining orders to prevent domestic abusers from possessing a gun.