BY WILL LINDSEY
As a proud North Carolinian, I’ve frequently found myself explaining the state’s policies and politics to critics. For citizens of our state, it feels like we can’t catch a break.
I don’t think the country will soon forget the stain of NC House Bill 2 in 2016. The bill removed anti-discrimination protections from the LGBT community and required transgender people to use bathrooms in public facilities that aligned with their sex at birth. This bill garnered attention for all the wrong reasons as we lost business, events and public trust.
Around the same time, the Electoral Integrity Project released a study concluding that North Carolina was no longer a democracy by objective standards. On the metric of district boundary fairness, NC ranked alongside Iran and Venezuela. It is no surprise, then, that a panel of three federal judges recently found the state’s congressional district to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
If the political problems weren’t enough, our state recently faced two devastating hurricanes: Florence and Matthew, causing existential flooding and billions of dollars in damage. We’ve only just begun responding to the challenges rising from Florence.
While this list is exhausting, it should not define my state. As a North Carolinian I am proud of the dedicated public servants still working for its citizens. Many legislators are still constructing good policy, including an innovative and important program supporting community college students in NC: The Finish Line Grants.
Through the Dukakis Fellowship, I had the opportunity to work for North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and his policy team. Governor Cooper and the team have prioritized workforce development and training individuals for careers. After months of hard work, our team’s energy culminated in a statewide program, the Finish Line Grants. Finish Line Grants provide emergency funding to community college students who have completed 75% of their degree or program who face one-time financial hardships. It’s one of the first state-wide programs of its kind.
When I first arrived in the office, we were amid the legislative budget process. Unfortunately, the initial Finish Line Grant proposal was not funded, largely due to significant tension between Governor Cooper and the conservative NC legislature. Despite this setback, innovative policymakers and executives found a way to push the Finish Line Grants forward, recognizing the significant tangible impact in improving the lives of community college students in North Carolina. To advance the program, we leveraged federal funding from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
We worked closely with the Governor’s policy team, the Community College System Office, the Division of Workforce Solutions, and numerous community colleges to design a partnership application to enroll both local workforce boards and community colleges in the program. This was a true team effort, engaging stakeholders across the state to consider the best way to ensure those facing financial emergencies had the access to education and work force training they deserve.
We ultimately launched the program in July and several community college and workforce development board partnerships have already received Finish Line funding. Students will be able to start receiving grants this semester. Leaders in government and industry are excited about what this could mean for both education and workforce development in our state.
The Finish Line Grant program has momentum and marks an important step in not only providing educational opportunities for citizens, but also connecting individuals with workforce and job resources across the state.
This summer was a refreshing window into how policy makers can push good outcomes for citizens. Students at HKS should look to this example as a testimony to the power of state government. While it can be disheartening to see negative headlines, wherever you may live, there is still a space for public servants to positively impact the lives of citizens in need.
Will Lindsey is a 2018 Dukakis Fellow in North Carolina. He is a joint-degree student at Harvard’s Kennedy School and Harvard Law School. A native of Durham, NC, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014.
Edited by Matt McCalpin