North Carolina Students Push Past Bad News For Good Policy Proposals

Nov 26, 2013Wilson Parker

Members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network in North Carolina refuse to be discouraged by the state’s bad news, and propose policy changes that would make a difference for their state.

North Carolina has been in the news quite a lot recently, and for almost uniformly bad reasons. North Carolinians have watched as their legislature passed one of the nation’s “most wide-ranging” voter ID laws, enacted the “harshest” cuts to unemployment insurance during the recession in the entire country, banned the use of modern science to project sea level rise,  attached a restrictive set of requirements on abortion providers to a motorcycle safety bill in order to ramrod it through, and made a host of other questionable decisions about our state and its future.

But I’m happy to say that students in North Carolina aren’t discouraged. I’ve watched my peers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) – from diverse perspectives – engage with the issues our state is facing. At the UNC chapter of Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network – and at our sister chapters across the state – we’re trying to do our part.  Last year, we published a journal focused on policy issues in North Carolina. The journal was a big success, covering a wide array of policy topics and getting more than 15,000 hits online.

We just finished our second volume and we hope it will be an even bigger success. Like our first edition, it contains a variety of forward-thinking ideas for our state and its future. Here are some quick takeaways:

North Carolina should expand access to Dual Enrollment

North Carolina currently offers high school students the option of taking courses at nearby community colleges and receiving credit towards both their high school diplomas and a college degree. These programs give North Carolinian students skills they can use in the workforce, additional preparation for their college educations, and – by reducing the number of semesters they need to receive a diploma – make it easier for students to complete their college educations. They are especially helpful to low-income students who seek to minimize the financial burden of education after high school.

In our journal, Kate Matthews argues persuasively that North Carolina should expand this program to enhance the effectiveness and equity of its high school programs. Furthermore, because these programs “utiliz[e] available resources rather than funding new initiatives,” expanding them is a highly cost-effective way for the state to improve education in North Carolina.

North Carolina shouldn’t give rapists parental rights

“In 31 states, including North Carolina, a rapist can assert the same custody and visitation rights that other biological parents enjoy.” This may be the journal’s most frightening sentence. But Molly Williams’s article does more than raise awareness about this serious problem: it also offers a solution. Williams suggests that North Carolina should adopt legislation modeled after bills in other states which give courts the option of terminating parental rights if a child was conceived as a result of incest or rape.

Wake County Schools should take a page out of Forsyth County’s book

North Carolina’s Wake County Schools – like its legislature – have been getting the state in the news for the wrong reasons. Many commentators, including Stephen Colbert, have criticized the school district for eliminating its diversity plan.

Students at the Wake Forest chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network have a proposal that will help Wake County meet the needs of all its students. Forsyth County and Wake County have similar needs: both contain major North Carolina cities (Winston-Salem and Raleigh, respectively) and both serve diverse student populations. In order to provide its most ambitious students with a variety of curricular options, Forsyth County created a “Career Center” which offers a variety of Advanced Placement and technical courses. Students remain enrolled at their home high schools but travel to the Career Center for part of the day. Transportation is provided by the school district. Not only does the Career Center expand students’ curricular options; it makes those options available to all students in the district, no matter which high school they happen to attend. The Wake Forest chapter makes the case that Wake County should consider a similar program.

North Carolina should use a “foundation funding” approach rather than a “flat-grant” model to fund its schools

North Carolina’s current funding model for public schools pays for districts’ basic costs, but requires localities to pick up the rest of the bill and makes no allowance for economic differences between districts. Consequentially, Ioan Bolohan writes, “geographic socioeconomic differences lead to inequalities in the resources available to schools” which result in “inadequate funding and disparities in educational opportunities for students.”

Instead, Bolohan argues, North Carolina should adopt a foundation funding model that establishes a minimum tax rate across all school districts and provides state funding on an adjusted basis to make up for economic disparities. This approach, he writes, has improved outcomes and reduced inequality in states as diverse as Ohio, Massachusetts, and Texas. We can only hope North Carolina will be next.

Wilson Parker is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying Economics and Philosophy. He is Co-President of the UNC Chapter of Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Editor-in-Chief of the North Carolina Undergraduate Journal of Public Affairs. 

Photo via Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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