News

Advocates warn budget’s K-12 grading reforms could harm schools, communities

Republican-authored state budget reforms to North Carolina’s school performance grading system have the potential to harm local schools and their communities, public education advocates are warning this week.

As Policy Watch reported on Tuesday, a controversial budget provision tucked into the state legislature’s now approved spending deal (page 68 of the bill) will, beginning in 2019-2020, convert the school grading system to a more stringent 10-point scale—rather than the current 15-point scale—and retain a much-maligned grading formula derived mostly by performance scores and not growth.

Currently, 80 percent of the grade is determined by performance, and 20 percent is determined by growth.

This week, Katherine Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA), which lobbies for districts’ central office leaders across the state, said K-12 leaders hope lawmakers will consider a formula that’s closer to a 50/50 split.

“If you’re moving children and you’re growing as far as your achievement, then good things are happening in that school,” said Joyce. “We think that should count for more.”

Meanwhile, the 10-point scale is likely to shift grades for a number of schools. Current law allows for a score of 85 to count as an “A.” However, the new grading system approved by the legislature sets the bar for an “A” at 90 or above.

“Suddenly a school is going to look like it’s performing a lot worse from one year to the next,” said Joyce. “That would be concerning to communities, to  parents, to businesses. It would negatively impact economic development. There’s nothing new happening at the school. It’s just a matter of how the state is grading.”

An earlier House version of the budget sought to maintain the 15-point scale and established separate grades for performance and growth, but it’s the Senate system that emerged from the legislature’s conference committee negotiations this week, much to the chagrin of school and district advocates.

While Joyce complimented a handful of provisions in the final legislative budget—including a boost in the funding cap for students with disabilities and more than $35 million in funding for principal and assistant principal raises—the association continued to push an overhaul of a grading system that they say unfairly stigmatizes struggling schools that are making gains.

The N.C. School Boards Association, which advocates for local boards of education at the legislature, criticized the reforms as well.

Leanne Winner is director of governmental relations for the NCSBA.

“The public education community has been asking for years for a more equal reflection of growth that we think paints a more accurate picture of what is actually going on in those schools,” Winner said. “If a child comes in two or three grades below their current grade level and makes a year and a half or two years worth of growth but still may not be at grade level, that is a yeoman’s amount of work for that teacher to accomplish.”

House lawmakers approved the budget for the third time Thursday, and it’s now bound for the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who’s been openly critical of the spending plan.

Environment

Update: DEQ posts map, permits and info about ongoing GenX investigation

This map shows where DEQ is sampling for the presence of GenX, an unregulated chemical, which Chemours has discharged into the Cape Fear River. GenX has been detected in public drinking water in Wilmington. (Map: NC DEQ)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality will test water from 12 locations in and near the Cape Fear River for GenX, an unregulated contaminant found in Wilmington’s drinking water.

The sampling sites include the Chemours outfall near Fayetteville, a well in Wrightsville Beach and water treatment plants in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

DEQ has posted a map as part of its new section devoted to the GenX investigation on the agency’s home page. Sampling results, which will be used to analyze drinking water safety, will also be posted here. A lab in Colorado and another at an EPA regional office in Research Triangle Park are testing the samples. Chemours, which manufactures Teflon-like materials that produce GenX, has agreed to pay for the analysis and sampling. Results could become available in a month.

Copies of the air quality, hazardous waste and wastewater discharge permits are also listed on the site. The wastewater permit expired on Oct. 31, but has been “administratively continued” until a new permit is issued. Chemours’s application for a renewed wastewater discharge permit is also listed on the DEQ site.

DEQ says it is also “pushing the EPA” for guidance on regulating GenX.

According to DEQ, the EPA is developing an updated health screening level for the chemical. State health department officials have said that the concentrations of GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water present a “low risk” — although the levels are derived from Chemours’s own computer modeling and not actual sampling. However DHHS is reviewing available health data and asking the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance on GenX’s health risks.

 

Commentary

The Senate version of Trumpcare: Worse than we’d imagined

Reporter Amanda Michelle Gomez at Think Progress has the latest in a story entitled “Senate’s health care bill shreds Medicaid and essential health benefits, and more”:

“Any hopes that Senate Republicans would moderate their House colleagues’ health care bill were dashed on Thursday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) finally unveiled his chamber’s long-awaited version of the GOP health plan. Sen. McConnell’s bill looks a lot like the House’s American Health Care Act—except where its cuts to coverage, particularly Medicaid are even harsher.

Here are some key Senate market reforms in the Senate draft released Thursday:

  • Elimination of the individual and employer mandates.
  • Premium taxes based on age, income, and geography like Obamacare but, but with adjusted thresholds that disproportionately hurt older and poorer Americans
  • Begins to cut Medicaid program expansion starting in 2021, with a three-year phase out. (This will not matter for 8 states with “trigger laws,” which terminate immediately once federal funds are affected.) And then cuts the rest of the budget’s program too.
  • Tax cuts for the wealthy by repealing Obamacare tax increases.
  • Cost sharing subsidies end in 2020, but could end earlier if the Trump Administration cuts them off.
  • States can still waive Obamacare regulations, such as essential benefits.
  • Planned Parenthood could face a one-year Medicaid funding freeze.

The Senate Republicans who largely shaped the health care bill looked to make the House-passed bill more palatable for its moderate and conservative members. The result was a bill that differs in some respects from the AHCA while being largely the same in its net effect.”

The report goes on to to explain that Senate leaders are looking to pass the bill next week through what’s known as the “budget reconciliation” process in order to get around the Senate’s usual 60-vote rule. The story also notes that there’s no word from the Prevaricator-in-chief yet on whether he considers the proposal “mean.”

Environment

Former Wilmington mayor: “We’re here to express our outrage” over GenX contamination in drinking water, Cape Fear

Children are at particular risk for chemical exposure through drinking water. Not only are their bodies smaller and the chemical burden on them greater, but they also drink more water. Wilmington pediatrician Dr. David Hill told the crowd, “If you can find a safer source of drinking water, do so.” (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

J ust steps outside the door of the Coastline Conference Center in Wilmington, the Cape Fear River moseys on its last 35 miles of its journey to the Atlantic Ocean. But the 300-plus people inside the conference center no longer trust the Cape Fear as their source of clean drinking water.

GenX, an unregulated contaminant, has been detected in both the river and drinking water. The chemical can’t be removed using traditional water treatment methods.

Cape Fear River Watch hosted a GenX Community Forum on Wednesday night, where, former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson said, “we can express our fear, concern, worries and outrage.”

These emotions have troubled many Wilmington residents since June 7, when the Star-News reported the findings of a team of scientists including NC State University professor Detlef Knappe. That study, published in 2016, showed GenX had been detected in drinking water, with its upstream source being Chemours. A spinoff of DuPont, Chemours discharges GenX into the Cape Fear via the factory’s effluent.

If the river suffers, we suffer Click To Tweet

Gen X in the family of PFOA chemicals (perfluoroctanoic acids), a byproduct of manufacturing Teflon. PFOAs are widespread in the environment; they’re even present in house dust. Despite their ubiquitousness, GenX is classified as an “emerging contaminant” by the EPA. Emerging contaminants have not been independently tested for safety or toxicity; nor are they regulated. Its effects on human health are unknown. GenX is biopersistent, meaning it remains in the body, in this case, for an estimated one to three years.

“‘We don’t know’ is a tremendously unacceptable answer,” said forum panelist John Green, a local attorney.

Chemours has not sampled its discharge and instead used modeling to estimate levels of GenX. Based on 2013-14 data provided by Chemours, the state Department of Health and Human Services has determined that levels of 70,000 parts per trillion in drinking water presents a “low risk.” Although a safe level has not been established, the international threshold is 90 ppt; the EPA has set a “health advisory” for combined levels of PFOAs above 70 ppt.

UNC Wilmington professor Larry Cahoon, a forum panelist, is a biological oceanographer who specializes in water quality analysis and remediation. He emphasized that Knappe’s study indicated GenX is only one of several PFOAs in the Cape Fear. “It’s a cocktail,” he said.

Read more

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Price tag for tax cuts in final budget tells half the story

The Locke Foundation was having fun with math yesterday in an effort to defend a fiscally irresponsible package of tax cuts in the final budget lawmakers are close to approving. Why? because—wait for it—they would like you to think they haven’t just given another green light to tax cuts that further pump up the gains for wealthy taxpayers while making virtually no progress in addressing the tax load carried by middle- and low-income taxpayers.

Amidst their convoluted and selective use of the numbers, they try to confuse their readers about three primary facts regarding the state’s tax code after the passage of this budget:

  1. The average tax cut received by the taxpayer in the top 1 percent (whose average income is $1 million) compared to the pre-2013 tax code is nearly $22,000, which is more like 96 times the tax cut that the middle-income taxpayer in North Carolina will receive each year as a result of tax changes since 2013. The average tax cut for middle-income taxpayers is $225.
  2. Once the final budget passes, one in three of net tax cut dollars goes to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, whose average income is a million dollars. Under the final budget, nearly 80 percent of net tax cuts since 2013 will flow to the top 20 percent of taxpayers once all the latest tax code changes are fully implemented.
  3. When we look in isolation at this year’s tax plan, policymakers may have paid attention to their egregious track record when it comes to addressing the tax load for most North Carolinians but they have fallen short of setting our tax code right. Their final tax plan still gives the wealthiest taxpayers the majority share of the net tax cut compared to current law. And their full track record shows their failure to put middle- and low-income taxpayers front and center as they make their tax policy decisions. Budget writers and supporters don’t want to talk about all the changes that have happened since 2013, the loss of the personal exemption and other credits and deductions that benefited working families, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the broadening of the sales tax.

Still worse, with this final budget they continue to push us further towards a single revenue option in addressing future downturns—raising the sales tax, which will inevitably mean asking more from low- and middle-income taxpayers again.

Rather than try to present and sell tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations as the everyman approach to growing the economy, which it isn’t, a more urgent math problem needs to be worked out, sooner rather than later. Read more