As our schools are set to begin the new school year, students are both nervous and excited, parents are encouraging their children and helping them get ready, backpacks are filled with school supplies, teachers are getting classrooms and lesson plans prepared, as well as the many other things that are required for a new school year. Administrators are finalizing many details and last but not least support personnel are getting school facilities clean and in order. Everyone is full of anticipation as we welcome another school year. N.C.’s first public school started in 1840, which means N.C. Public Schools are 175 years strong this year. The theme for school administrators in this school year is “N.C. Public Schools — Every child’s chance … every community’s future.” For more information on the importance of a quality public education, I urge you to go to this website: www.everychildschancenc.org.
As your state senator, I am honored to serve and support our public schools so that our students will grow and achieve their highest potential. Over the last two years, I have visited schools throughout the district and listened to teachers and instructional support as they explain what works in the classroom, what is needed, and how to move our schools and our students in the right direction. I look forward to your continued thoughts and ideas on how to help our children learn and be more successful in the classroom and in life. To help our children, we must support our education professionals and all those who work so hard to provide a quality educational experience for our children. I hope you will join me and thank teachers and all those who are involved in educating our children.
Recent news stories have focused on gerrymandering and I often get asked what does the term gerrymandering really mean. Simply put, gerrymandering is to divide into political districts so as to give advantage to certain political parties or people and to redraw political boundaries in such a way that certain seats are protected for partisan purposes. How does this affect the N.C. legislature? Depending upon the way these lines are drawn, very few legislators represent geographically balanced, cohesive, and diverse districts. For many years, some of the foremost experts in legislative and congressional redistricting argued for a new way — for the creation of an independent commission free of politics and partisanship tasked with drawing our lines in a way that fosters geographical balance, cohesiveness, diversity, and most importantly, maps that are constitutional. I favor an independent commission because when we do not have fair maps, we cheat the voters out of having choices on the ballot. In 2011, legislators met behind closed doors to develop and then pass new maps that our state must abide by for the next 10 years, a practice used in the past by both political parties. As a result, 19 of the 50 N.C. senators have no competition in November, and 59 out of 120 House of Representatives have no contender. N.C. citizens deserve better. In my view, the districts and should not be drawn by those currently in office. One of my legislative priorities is to work to eliminate gerrymandering in the future.
How does our recently enacted N.C. state budget affect veterans? Veterans make up almost 8 percent of our population, giving N.C. the distinction of ranking ninth in the country in the number of veterans. As our veterans return from tours, some remain active, some will retire, and others will move into civilian life. As many explore job opportunities, it will be critical that their military experience is counted in such a way that prevents them from having to jump through more loopholes to gain certifications they may already have. This year, I supported the Credit for Military Training bill to enable our veterans to showcase their skills and certifications earned in the military when seeking a relevant state license or certification. As your state senator, I want to be sure that we are doing everything possible and to show veterans our appreciation and honor their service and sacrifice. Our state budget funded the following efforts:
- Uses $4.7 million to provide employment services, including job training, to homeless and at-risk veterans in rural areas of our State. Increased support for substance abuse services.
- Establishes a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Subcommittee of the Health and Human Services Oversight Committee to look at services available to patients who suffer from TBI, deficiencies in care and treatment, thus determining needs and strategies for helping this population.
- Creates a $5 million reserve to cover 90 percent of the cost of tuition and mandatory fees not otherwise covered for every eligible veteran, spouse, or dependent relative enrolled as an undergraduate student at a N.C. university or at one of our 58 community colleges. To be eligible for grants under the Yellow Ribbon Program, a student must federal guidelines.
Finally, I will update you once more upon our adjournment about the important issues that are pending. As always, please feel free to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about state policy matters. In addition, if you or a loved one has an issue with a state government agency, please call on me and my staff to help: Gene.firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-733-5953.