Friday, April 18, 2008

NC Legislative Update: Friday Wrap Up

This has been another busy week at the General Assembly. As the calendar ticks down to the start of the short session, it is becoming more evident that the interim committees are finalizing their legislative proposals and budget requests.

Let’s start with a committee whose work is making headlines across North Carolina this morning.

Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities/Substance Abuse:

Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities/Substance Abuse Joint Legislative Oversight Committee released its draft proposals on Thursday. These proposals followed a presentation by Secretary Dempsey Benton who presented Governor Easley’s proposals.

Governor's Proposal:

The proposal was heavy on mental health policy. It included funding for the State’s share of a 60 bed adult admission unit at Dorothea Dix following the Dix merger. It also included funding for additional staff at the State psychiatric hospitals and proposed that the department retain a consultant to follow up on the staff to patient ratio issue.

In the hot topic issue of Crisis Services the Governor did include a proposal to establish a statewide network of DD START Crisis Teams. A total of 9 were proposed. In addition there would be the procurement of 187 community inpatient beds to assure availability on a 24/7 basis and 24 DD crisis respite beds. The Arc of North Carolina was pleased to see the Governor include people with developmental disabilities in his crisis services proposal.  

The most hotly debated proposal coming from the Governor was the proposal to do a voluntary regionalization of Local Management Entities. The proposal is to merge down from the current 25 LMEs to 9 LMEs over three regions. This was the most aggressive of all the proposals. The consolidation of LMEs will be regionalized around Cherry, Central and Broughton hospitals. The consolidation would occur over a three year period. Many of the committee members expressed concern over the aggressiveness of this proposal considering that the short session is only expected to last eight weeks. There was also concern voiced regarding how this consolidation would affect an already fragile system.

Oversight Committee's Proposal:

The draft proposals for the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee were also heavy on mental health policy.

The committee did recognize the importance of the Housing 400 Initiative and its success in moving people with developmental disabilities/mental health/ substance abuse into independent living options in their communities. The committee is proposing to appropriate $10 million to the Housing Trust Fund and $2.5 million to DHHS for recurring operating support for approximately 500 units.

CAP/MD DD Waiver:
The Arc of North Carolina has been participating in a Department lead workgroup around the issue of the tiered waivers. The MH/DD/SA Legislative Oversight Committee included in its draft their proposal for a tiered waiver and the monetary caps of each waiver. The proposal looks like this:

-Tier One – up to $10,000
-Tier Two- between $10,001 and $25,000
-Tier Three – between $25,001 and $75,000
-Tier Four – greater than $75,000

Senator Martin Nesbitt did ask a question of staff regarding the structure of the waivers and the monetary caps. He expressed that the numbers were not set yet and requested the Departments input. Leza Wainwright stated that she would take the proposal back to the workgroup and the Department. The next MH/DD/SA meeting is scheduled for next Thursday. We expect a report back on these numbers based on what the workgroup of stakeholders, providers, advocacy organizations and the Department have created.

IOM (Institute of Medicine) Study
Also included in the proposal is a request to study and report on the transition for persons with developmental disabilities from one life setting to another. This study would include barriers to transition and best practices for successful transitions. Some of the topics would include transition for adolescents leaving school including adolescents in foster care. The study will also look at the growing problem of people with developmental disabilities living in aging homes. Also studied is the transition from developmental centers to other settings.

The other big discussion topic during this meeting was single stream funding. It is clear that the expansion of single stream funding to more LMEs is important to this committee.
No vote was taken on the proposal. The vote and further discussion will occur at the next Oversight Committee meeting on Wednesday, April 23, 2008.

Dropout Prevention:

Second hot topic during the interim is the number of students who dropped out of high school in North Carolina this year. (There were 23,000 students who dropped out this year. Of that number 4,050 students had a disability). The Joint Legislative Commission on Dropout Prevention and High School Graduation released its recommendations this week.
The committee put forth 10 recommendations. The recommendations are as follows:

System of Sharing Information about Dropouts
-This recommendation will require legislation directing the State Board of Education and the State Board of Community Colleges to cooperatively develop a system for sharing information about students who have dropped out of the public school system prior to graduation.

Early Intervention Programs
-This recommendation comes with a request to the General Assembly to fund More-at-Four and Smart Start early intervention programs for at risk students and to expand these programs when more funding becomes available.

High School Redesign
-Committee urged that consideration be given to Ninth Grade Academies, smaller school settings, themed academies, and flexible school schedules.

Parental Involvement and Communication Between Schools and Parents
-This recommendation also came with draft legislation. The committee recommends that the General Assembly appropriate funds for a drop out prevention coordinator in each high school that failed to attain a 65% 4-year cohort graduation rate for the 2006-2007 school year.

School Climate and School Safety
-Committee members addressed in this recommendation the need to create a safe school environment. Encourages the enforcement of local board policies and procedures to prevent acts of harassment, bullying or discrimination. The committee stopped short of supporting House Bill 1366: School Violence Prevention Act.

Rigorous Academic Courses and Less Remediation

-The recommended that schools to offer accelerated instruction and support for students identified as not being prepared for coursework at the next grade level.

Career and Technical Education Courses

-Commission encourages schools to offer high-quality CTE courses in high-demand, high-skill, and high-wage fields.

Impact of Raising the Compulsory Attendance Age
-The Commission encourages that the UNC Board of Governors study raising the compulsory attendance age from sixteen to seventeen or eighteen. To be included in the study would be a determination of the fiscal impact.

Differences in Risk Factors that Lead to Males and Females Dropping Out
-The Commission encourages the UNC Board of Governors to conduct research to determine if there are gender-based differences in the factors that cause females and males to drop out.

Dropout Prevention Grants
-At the start of the interim committee, there was a presentation regarding the sixty programs that received grants to target dropout prevention. This last recommendation comes with three different draft legislation proposals.The first address the lack of technical assistance to aid in the implementation of dropout prevention programs that were funded. The second recommends that the Performance Evaluation Division of the General Assembly develop a plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the first sixty grants awarded. The third recommendation recommends that the Joint Legislative Commission on Dropout Prevention and High School Graduation continue to monitor both existing and future grants.

Public School Funding:

Another issue at the General Assembly, is how to we fund the schools so that our children receive the educational supports they need. The real question here is do all the funding formulas need to be reviewed and possibly changed. Well on Wednesday of this week the Public School Funding Formula Committee presented its proposals.

The short-term recommendations are:
• Low Wealth (technical changes)
• Mentoring (program design)
• Textbooks (growth)
• Transportation of Pupils (fuel reserve, maximum ridetimes)
• Academically or Intellectual Gifted (funding level, identification)
• At-risk (treatment centers)
• Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Funding (funding level)

All of these proposals were voted on an approved by the committee. We will have more information and a breakdown of these proposals next week.

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