BLOGS: Keeping Up With Jones Street

Friday, October 25, 2013, 9:14 AM

Money Well Spent

During the quiet times of the interim between legislative sessions I plan to share a little bit about the structure and mechanics of legislation, politics, and how decisions are made in North Carolina.

     The North Carolina General Assembly is comprised of two equal chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. It also has a Legislative Services Office which provides the support and business services to the Legislative Branch. The new kid on the block is the Program Evaluation Division which provides a blend of research and performance audit functions to legislators so that they make informed decisions about state government programs and funding. Division employees are non-partisan, professional staff who work for all legislators but answer to a legislative committee which sets the Division's agenda, receives reports, and recommends legislation.

     John Turcotte, a longtime Program Evalution professional who started his career in the 1970s in the Mississippi Legislature before leading Florida's program, then starting North Carolina's in 2007, observed that program evaluation took off in the late 1960s and early 1970s as WWII veterans began to seek elected office across America; they had literally fought in the trenches for their country and they wanted a hand in guiding it forward. The majority of states have had this function, within the legislative branch, for decades but North Carolina resisted. This then-Democratic state relied on the State Auditor for all audit functions.

     Performance Evaluation is hot right now in North Carolina. Republican electoral victories in the past two cycles following decades of Democratic control in state government set the stage. New leadership wants to make its mark on the state and it relies on Program Evaluation for the underlying research and recomendations as they tackle some of the tougher issues - like school choice, operations at the Department of Public Instruction, administration at UNC, return on investment for Pre-K programs to name a few.

     Here's an example: with the growth in charter schools North Carolina is wrestling with how to treat a new trend - public virtual charter schools. How do you count these students? Where does their per-pupil state funding go? How is their education evaluated? How does the virtual education provider get paid? Who can be a virtual education provider? These questions have been considered by the Legislature in the past year, as well as by the State Board of Education. Legislators asked and the Program Evaluation Division presented a report this week: Overview of School Choice Options Provided by Colorado's Douglas County School District: this study examines Colorado's Douglas County School District to determine whether its approach to school choice can inform education policy-making in North Carolina.

     More about the Program Evaluation Division can be found here: http://www.ncleg.net/PED/index.html. They also keep up-to-date information on how North Carolina compares to all other states in a variety of areas like taxes, population growth, per capita state debt and more. Be sure to check that out here: http://www.ncleg.net/PED/Reports/documents/NCCompares/2013%20How%20NC%20Compares.pdf.

Friday, October 11, 2013, 10:47 AM

"This is 9-1-1 -- please state your emergency"

If government officials are keeping a dossier on me they know I dial 9-1-1 more than your average person, and I wonder what they think about that. I think it's because I live on a pretty exciting bend on a pretty exciting road where people like to crash. Just two weeks ago a young man in a black SUV took out our fire hydrant in broad daylight -  he was missing his turn and overcompensated.  He left part of his front end at the scene as he sped off. I dialed 9-1-1. No blood and guts this time.

And I happen live on a block that is on the border of two first responder districts, so both respond. If you have a thing for firefighters, come be my neighbor.

I got to thinking about all of this as the Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety was hearing from the Director of the 911 Board and the Director of the State Division of Emergency Management. The 911 Board is charged with setting and collecting a fee that is used to buy equipment for 911 Call Centers in our counties, setting stardards statewide and updating maps, regularly, with the help of Emergency Management. I 'm good with that. In that presentation they were discussing the good progress of creating backup systems for when there are 911 Call Center outages. There have been 19 so far this year. Yikes.

I was most interested in the updating of maps.  As we know, North Carolina is growing fast. I attended UNC in Chapel Hill - it's in the southern part of town.  I grew up off Weaver Dairy Road - in the northern part of town.  While in college I became a certified EMT and had a regular overnight volunteer shift with the South Orange Rescue Squad - lights and sirens - the works. As soon as folks found out I knew my way around northern Chapel Hill I was assigned there, and I had to kiss the EMT action of the Unversity, college athletics and downtown goodbye. It was a bummer. It makes sense, though, because I knew my way around the roads in the northern part of town and the maps were outdated as soon as they were printed. And they were paper maps and our shift was at night. We visited a lot of homes, restaurants and ball fields of my childhood.

So as I think about the functions of government that I appreciate in the shadow of the federal government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate in Washington, funding the infrastructure that gets our first responders where we need them is one worth supporting.

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