*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story omitted the news that Judge Hobgood also ruled in favor of allowing Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger to intervene in the case and defend the school voucher program.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled Wednesday that the state can begin to disburse school voucher funds in advance of a final court ruling that will determine whether or not the program is constitutional.School vouchers

The funds for school vouchers, formally known as the Opportunity Scholarship program, were previously scheduled for disbursement to private schools on September 15, according an affidavit by Elizabeth McDuffie of the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority.

But shortly after a scheduling order was issued in June for a final ruling on the program’s constitutionality to be held August 22, the SEAA moved up its school voucher disbursement date to August 15, sending $10 million taxpayer dollars out the door to private schools prior to the possibility that the program would be found unlawful.

Attorneys filed a motion earlier this month to block the early disbursement of voucher funds, concerned about the harm that could result from providing families with potentially worthless vouchers just as they send their kids to private schools this fall. Also unclear: how would the state recoup those funds if the state is forced to shut the voucher program down.

In his ruling today, Judge Hobgood said he wouldn’t move the summary judgment court date up before the state disburses the funds, nor would he issue a temporary injunction that would force the state to hold back the voucher funds until a decision on the case has been made.

Judge Hobgood also ruled in favor of allowing Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger to intervene in the case to defend the school voucher program.
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It may be mid-summer, and the Outer Banks may evoke memories of beaches, lighthouses, and wild horses, but UNC journalist and educator Sara Peach reminds us in this must-read National Geographic multimedia essay (photos, videos and maps) that memories could be all that remain in a few short years.

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Among the scientists Peach interviewed is East Carolina coastal geologist Stanley Riggs, who contributed to a controversial report warning that “North Carolina could face 39 inches (1 meter) of sea-level rise by 2100, as glaciers melt and ocean waters warm and expand.”

As she describes, that report got a chilly reception from state lawmakers:

The report prompted a backlash from coastal developers and climate skeptics—and in 2012, from the state. Lawmakers in Raleigh considered a bill that would have prohibited state agencies from planning for accelerated sea-level rise.

Environmentalists were outraged, bloggers snickered, and even comedian Stephen Colbert weighed in: “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal,” he joked. “Problem solved.”

Eventually, the state settled on a watered-down version of the law: a four-year moratorium on sea-level regulations, and an order for a new scientific study of sea-level rise, due out in 2015. In May, a state commission asked the science panel to limit its next sea-level forecast to 30 years.

The irony of the whole argument, Riggs says, is that the coast as we know it is already vanishing. “Sea-level rise and storms are taking out eastern North Carolina today—not a hundred years from now. They’re doing it today,” he says.

For more on the problems with erosion on the Outer Banks and the related access issues, read here.

 

 

The U.S. Senate yesterday voted 50-43 to confirm Pamela Harris to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, taking the seat vacated by Judge Andre Davis, who assumed senior status in February.

Harris is a Georgetown Law professor and previously served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Policy at the United States Department of Justice.

Harris moved quickly through the Senate confirmation process after being nominated by the president in May.

Once Harris is sworn in, the court will have its full complement of 15 judges. She will be the fifth woman on the court, and the sixth Obama appointee there — joining four Clinton appointees, three Bush II appointees; one Bush I appointee; and one Reagan appointee.

Here’s a little more about what Harris brings to the court from this article in the New Republic:

Harris’s professional experiences, by contrast, give her a uniqueand exceptionally broadnetwork of professional relationships. She has experience in the corporate law world, as she was a partner at a leading Washington law firm. She has taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Harvard Law School, and now Georgetown. She has served in the government in both the Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of Legal Policy in the Justice Department.  Her experience on the Board of Directors at the American Constitution Society for Law and Public Policy (ACS) gives her unique experience in an organization that is both a public interest and a social movement operation.

The governor hasn’t been out in the public much this week, at least not in places where reporters could ask him about the $21.3 billion compromise budget Republican legislative leaders announced yesterday.

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Gov. Pat McCrory

But Gov. Pat McCrory’s office did take care Tuesday night to give last-minute notice to the state’s press corps that the governor would speak about the budget,  just at an event reporters were barred from attending.

Sent at 7:25 p.m.  Tuesday, an emailed media advisory from McCrory’s press office notified reporters that the governor would speak in 20 minutes, at 7:45 p.m., for the N.C. Sheriff Association’s annual banquet in New Bern.

McCrory’s talk would include “an update on the immigration issue many states, including North Carolina, are facing. The governor will also provide an update on the ongoing budget negotiations back in Raleigh.”

(It’s worth nothing here that, though details about an average teacher pay raise of seven percent in the budget deal were announced yesterday by legislative leaders, the actual budget has yet to be publicly released.)

McCrory’s media advisory from Tuesday night also noted that the event was closed to media — meaning any reporters who could have scrambled with 20-minutes notice to hear his thoughts on these two big public policy issues wouldn’t be welcome.

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TeachersHeadline-hunting legislative leaders got what they wanted and needed (for now) with yesterday’s latest budget announcement. They wanted the story to be first and foremost about big teacher raises and it appears pretty clear that they got that. Media outlets around the state are reporting that central component of the proposed budget agreement this morning and millions of North Carolinians are waking up to the news — even if it’s frequently tinged with skepticism.

The problem with this story, of course is that, by all indications, the pay raise is being purchased at an enormous price — i.e. big cuts everywhere else –including education — along with tiny and inadequate pay raises for other public employees (including education personnel).

In short, though many details remain to be seen, the central and disastrous driving force behind this year’s budget — last year’s regressive and backward-looking tax cuts remain in full force. As budget analyst Tazra Mitchell wrote here yesterday:

There are better choices available that will put North Carolina on a stronger path to recovery for children, families, and communities across the Tarheel state. For starters, lawmakers need to face the reality that we can’t afford further tax cuts and stop the income tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next January. Doing so will save approximately $100 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the 2015 calendar year. These revenues would go a long way towards reversing the most damaging cuts that were enacted in the aftermath of the Great Recession. That’s a short-term fix.  A longer term fix requires restoring the progressive personal income tax structure so that revenues are stable and more adequate.

The only saving grace of the budget is this: the message it sends to progressives. As dreadful as the budget is — both for the near and long term — it does serve to remind progressives of the power of advocacy. Read More