Saturday, March 12, 2011

A note from Ellie Kinnaird

Dear Friends,
I heard from many of you disagreeing, indeed distraught, over my vote on charter schools. In fact, I encountered the same from some of my colleagues who feel this will draw funds from our regular public schools. And I agree with the arguments if the bill is not fixed in the House to require new charters to provide food and transportation so that all children can attend even if they are poor and haven’t a way to get to the school they feel fits them best. One of the original reasons for charter schools was to free teachers from so much bureaucracy. My Person County superintendent tells me they have to send 160 forms to the Department of Public Instruction. My hope is that the regular schools will also be freed, because their administrative requirements mean they have to have several layers of administration just to fulfill those burdens.

This has been a highly partisan week. The Republicans have been out of power for so long that they are in a hurry to enact those measures that they have not been able to when the Democrats were in control of the agenda. And one can certainly understand that.

In spite of 77 percent of people polled believing that people harmed by medical errors should be awarded damages, the Senate passed a bill giving complete immunity to emergency room doctors for injuries they caused by negligence. They also capped the amount a person could recover for damages such as mutilation, disfigurement, paralysis, brain damage, loss of limb, or even death. About 63 percent of persons polled totally opposed such a restriction. People who suffered many of those injuries wrote and sent us pictures of the horribly injured; children who have life-long seizures and paralysis, loss of arms, legs and a nose; and people who are permanently paraplegic from medical negligence. But even those cases didn’t move the supporters of the bill.

A bill allowing community colleges to not offer federal loans to students passed. About 362,000 students nationally took out private higher cost loans in 2007-08 when they could have taken out safer, more affordable federal Ford loans with a fixed interest rate of 6.5 percent. The rationale is that if a community college has too many defaults on federal loans, they cannot issue Stafford and Pell grants for three years. But the threshold is 25 percent in three consecutive years or 40 percent in one year. Whereas the default range in North Carolina is from 7 percent to 16 percent. In addition, the community colleges have “bank day” when the private banks come on campus to offer credit cards, checking and loan opportunities. Most community college students work or have families to support and need low cost federal loans. Many community college students end up using credit cards, the most expensive loan, to pay for books and supplies, which can be a major part of their costs along with living expenses.

Another bill that I voted for removed testing requirements for high school Algebra II, Civics and Economics, U.S. History and Physical Science. For years, teacher, parents and students have complained about “teaching to the test.” Interestingly I heard another viewpoint from a young teacher who graduated from East Chapel Hill High and UNC-CH. He teaches in a low-performing school now and feels his students need the goal of passing the test to achieve in these subject areas and compete for college slots.

Another bill that passed requires that an agency cannot adopt a rule that results in additional costs on those subject to the rule except in an emergency, a federal regulation or court order. One wonders what effect that would have on environmental rules for industrial swine farms, or nursing home oversight.

As you know, I go outside the legislative activity in my reports to observe and comment on the wider world. In the jobs and the economy area, Duke University has forged a partnership with a large medical center in India to study diseases and the development of new drugs. And BCBS outsourced lower end jobs this year. In another interesting piece, federal taxes are the lowest as a share of the economy since 1950.

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