News: Quick Takes

CJ Politics Week in Review, April 13-17

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s this week’s review:

Coronavirus worries: A little more than 70% of North Carolinians are concerned about catching COVID-19, a Civitas Institute poll found. Significantly more people are worried now than in March, when a Civitas poll reported 48% were concerned about catching the highly contagious virus. A majority of respondents approve of Gov. Roy Cooper’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, with 43% strongly approving and 41% somewhat approving. Eleven percent disapprove. Harper Polling, on behalf of the right-leaning Civitas Institute, surveyed 500 likely N.C. voters April 5-7. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.38%. 

Wake death: Wake County had its first death from COVID-19 on April 15. A 81-year-old man died of complications associated with the respiratory virus. Statewide, 131 people have died of COVID-19. Mecklenburg County has the highest number of deaths, at 19 as of Friday morning. 

COVID-19 money: The federal government has sent North Carolina more than $2 billion from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for COVID-19. The General Assembly will have to appropriate the money, which sits in the N.C. Treasury. Lawmakers are waiting for the final rules for appropriating the money, Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said in a news release. “The good news is the legislature has some pretty recent experience with this sort of thing,” Brown said. “We expect to adopt the same protocols that the Democrats adopted in 2009 for deploying the legislature’s constitutional role in appropriating all funds.”

Postponement of UNC’s vote to raise tuition and fees: The University of North Carolina System will wait until May to vote on proposals that would raise tuition and fees, a committee of the system’s Board of Governors decided April 16. Originally, the board was set to decide in March on a proposal that would bump tuition up an average of 2.7% for new resident undergraduates, and mandatory student fees an average of 2.4%. But the BOG will continue to hold off as it waits to assess COVID-19’s economic fallout, said Temple Sloan, chairman of the BOG’s Budget and Finance Committee. By the time the board holds its May 20 meeting, UNC will know how the state plans to handle its budget, Sloan said. UNC’s enrollment numbers will be in, too, giving the system a read on how many students will actually attend UNC this fall. Most UNC students have moved off-campus and, all are completing the semester’s classes online. 

State superintendent grievances: An emergency meeting of the N.C. State Board of Education grew tense when Superintendent Mark Johnson asked SBE Chair Eric Davis about a $250 million request the board sent to the Office of State Budget and Management. The request wasn’t on the board’s agenda, but Johnson wanted to know whether it would be shown to the public. All things would be made public, in due time, SBE Vice Chair Alan Duncan said. Duncan and Davis tried to move the discussion to the board’s agenda, but Johnson did not. The state superintendent said Davis wasn’t being transparent. Davis signed a contract that violated procurement laws and directed money to one of board member J.B. Buxton’s clients, Johnson said. Additionally, Davis developed a formula that excluded Mecklenburg County schools from receiving emergency money, the state superintendent said, and the board has sent a request to OSBM without revealing its contents. “I would encourage the State Board leadership to act with transparency and include the state board on all of leadership’s decisions,” Johnson said. Davis did not respond to Johnson’s charges. Board members Amy White and Olivia Oxendine indicated they hadn’t seen the $250 million request and asked to see the document. Carolina Journal obtained the ask from OSBM, which totaled $256.5 million and includes:

  • $80 million for Child Nutrition Services 
  • $50 million in recurring funds for Whole Child Support
  • $75 million for a Summer Bridge- Jump Start Program
  • $1.5 million for K-3 Literacy and Core Instructional Support for COVID-19 Response
  • $50 million for Digital Teaching and Learning Resources and Professional Learning Opportunities