Students and school staff at Inborden Elementary in Halifax County, North Carolina walk the halls on the first day of in-person classes March 15, 2021. (Image by Billy Ball) Back to School
Students and school staff at Inborden Elementary in Halifax County, North Carolina walk the halls on the first day of in-person classes March 15, 2021. (Image by Billy Ball)

C&P’s Senior Editor Sarah Ovaska shares her thoughts on what important issues we’ll be talking about in 2022. 

Generally, I prefer looking ahead as opposed to back. So I’m sharing my thoughts on what we’ll be talking about in 2022, rather than what we dealt with in 2021.

Yes, a lot went on: the horrifying Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, the continued rampage of COVID, and an economic recovery that exacerbated our existing inequities.  

Truth be told, a lot happened besides the gut punches listed above.

We held a successful presidential election with record turnout even amidst our worst public health crisis in a century. We got vaccines that work, and work well, against this life-changing virus. And I’m personally grateful that our public schools returned to teaching kids in person where they learn best, in classrooms from dedicated educators who worked tirelessly through this pandemic.

Here are a few more issues we’ll be dealing with this coming year in North Carolina.

Better Healthcare Coverage

North Carolina remains one of the dozen  states stubbornly refusing to take the federal government’s offer to foot most of the cost of bringing uninsured adults into the Medicaid program.

The obstructionists in this case are members of the Republican-led state legislature, who refuse to entertain expanding Medicaid despite overwhelming public support and backing from the state’s healthcare systems and business communities.

It’s a move that could give up to 500,000 North Carolinians access to health care. Things like doctor visits when you’re sick, screenings for cancer, diabetes treatment and preventive care that keeps people alive, well, and out of emergency rooms.

There was hope in 2021 that Gov. Roy Cooper could convince the holdouts during budget negotiations, or that the US Senate would pass the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan, which would extend coverage to the 4 million people in non-expansion states like North Carolina.

Neither of those things happened, and we’re back to hoping the powers that be make the change, either at the federal or state level.

Of course, the most important people here are not the politicians, but those that can’t get the help they need.  

 I’ve talked with many people stuck in the Medicaid gap over the years as a reporter, nearly all of whom are considered the working poor.

People like Chrissy Burk, a Fayetteville mom who told me in September how her contract janitorial job doesn’t offer health care and she has to go without needed medication.

She said she wishes politicians, whether in Raleigh or Washington, would realize, “’Okay, these people need help. How can we help them in their situation get the help they need, to help their families survive through these tough times?’”

We’ve got that same wish, Chrissy.

Help for NC’s Struggling Public Schools

North Carolina’s shamefully underfunded schools have been a reality for years. Our teachers and school staff aren’t paid nearly what they get in other states, and our school systems have long backlogs of needed repairs.

The state is especially failing children in the state’s poorest corners, where largely Black, Native and Latino children live. This violates the North Carolina Constitution’s pledge that ““equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

Leandro v. State of NC, a still-pending lawsuit filed in 1994 by parents from low-wealth school districts in Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance, and Cumberland counties, has been trying to get the state to live up to that pledge. And this year, a ruling from a state judge sought to force the NC General Assembly to inject the public education system with $1.7 billion in needed funding.

But the Republican-led legislature balked at that, despite this year’s revenue surplus, and an appeals court blocked the funding order.

This coming year, we’ll see if the NC Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, will step in and deliver on our promise to the children. 

Get the Mute Button Ready for Campaign Commercials

The big election for North Carolina’s US Senate seat is coming up  this November. It’s all the more reason everyone must be able to easily exercise their right to vote.

US Sen. Richard Burr is leaving his post at the end of the year, and the vacancy is a true toss-up in our most purple of purple of states. Expect to see a lot of attention and money spent on commercials and candidate outreach.

Cheri Beasley, the former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice and the first Black woman to be elected to statewide office in North Carolina, is almost  certainly the Democratic candidate choice. Republicans will have a primary this May that so far looks to pit former Gov. Pat McCrory against US Rep. Ted Budd.

We’re going to be hearing about this election A LOT, and Cardinal & Pine will be breaking down what’s at stake for you in the outcome.

The US Senate is split down the middle right now between Republican and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker. But procedural roadblocks like filibusters  have left a lot of legislation stalled.

Vital items such as voter protections, police accountability for the outsized death toll when engaging with Black people, and the Build Back Better plan that would have given us guaranteed paid family leave, child care subsidies and help with senior’s medicine costs, are all awaiting their chance on the US Senate floor.

So, the winner of North Carolina’s Senate race is likely going to tilt that balance one way or the other.