Commentary

Jerry TillmanSenator Jerry Tillman and the rest of the General Assembly are on vacation this week even though they have not finished their most important task of the summer, passing a state budget for the next two years.

The delay is causing problems for school districts across the state as local education officials don’t know how many teacher assistants they can afford to hire or how many textbooks they will  have money to order.

This morning’s News & Observer detailed the uncertainty for year-round schools in Wake County, the state’s largest district, that has the budget flexibility to handle the funding limbo for a while.

It is much tougher for smaller districts that always have to scramble to make sure they have enough staff on hand when most students return to school in August.

This year’s legislative vacation and budget delay makes their job next to impossible. Tillman doesn’t seem too worried about not meeting the budget deadline or what schools are facing.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said the lead time to hire for the start of the school year depends on when legislators have a budget deal. The General Assembly approved a temporary state budget last week to keep the state running until Aug. 14.

“It could be two months, it could be two weeks,” he said.

School leaders in Wake and other districts have questioned finding the space to handle the lower class sizes proposed by the Senate. More teachers and lower class sizes may require some “creative scheduling” by districts, or “creative use of space,” Tillman said. “Most of them can handle it.”

Two weeks, two months, whatever. School officials will have to guess about their budgets and hire teachers or teacher assistants to teach kids…or not.
Tillman’s not going to lose any sleep over it. It’s only public education after all.
News

In response to a recent order stemming from a 20+ year old court case that requires all North Carolinian children to have access to a sound basic education, the State Board of Education submitted a plan with the court last week to address how it will ensure all students succeed academically — and that proposal includes the establishment of an interagency advisory committee tasked with seeking solutions to educating at-risk students.

From the News & Observer:

In its court filing, the State Board of Education proposed establishing an Interagency Advisory Committee on Public Education to discuss the challenges at-risk students face. A hearing on the Board’s plan, part of the lawsuit called Leandro, is scheduled for July 21-23 before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning.

For years, Manning has criticized persistently low-performing schools and districts. Much of the Board’s response is a catalog of existing teacher preparation and evaluation efforts and classroom practices.

According to the State Board’s filing with the court, the committee would comprise “representatives from key child-focused entities, such as: state agencies (DPI, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Safety – Juvenile Justice, etc.); local boards of education; local mental health organizations; private non-profits, including representatives from the charter school community; community colleges, universities and others.”

Those stakeholders would come together to review the challenges at-risk youth face that relate to poverty, health and safety and develop recommendations for the State Board of Education as well as other agencies in an effort to improve educational access.

In their 54-page plan, the State Board highlights the successes they’ve had in supporting low performing schools since the original 1997 Leandro ruling, emphasizing existing teacher preparation and evaluation programs as well as other classroom supports as a way forward in meeting their constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education to all students.

But, according to the News & Observer, many of those school improvement efforts have largely been funded with federal Race to the Top funds, which are scheduled to dry up this year. While the House has included some funds to fill in the gap in its 2015-17 budget proposal, the Senate puts the onus on local school districts in its budget to fund those programs going forward.

With the establishment of an interagency advisory committee, the State Board emphasizes that the academic success of all students cannot be accomplished by public schools alone, and that the obligation rests with every state agency as well as the public at large.

Judge Manning will review the State Board’s plan at a hearing scheduled for July 21-23.

Read the State Board’s plan here: The Mandate To Provide An Opportunity For A Sound Basic Education, An Update and Recommendation.

Commentary

The good folks at Inequality.org are out with the latest edition of Too Much Online and it includes a wellspring of damning new stats and findings about runaway CEO pay and the gaps between the super-rich and everyone else. The latest issue also feature a new and disturbing infographic on CEO compensation. Scroll down to see the most amazing stat on the comparative growth rates of the pay received by CEO’s and average workers.

CEO swagger

News
UNC law professor Gene Nichol

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

The University of North Carolina’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, in order to comply with a February decision by the university’s system governing board, shut its doors last week.

The privately-funded center based out of the Chapel Hill law school, UNC Board of Governor Chairman John Fennebresque explained in an editorial, “was unable to demonstrate any appreciable impact on the issue of poverty.”

But many had trouble believing that reasoning, speculating that the center’s closing was an attempt to censor Gene Nichol, the tenured law professor who heads the poverty center and a vocal critic of policies passed by the Republican-led legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The UNC Board of Governors gets its appointments from the state legislature, and its ranks include several major contributors to the political campaigns of state Republicans.

But the work at the poverty center isn’t finished, Nichol wrote in the Institute for Southern Studies last week.

Funding for the center’s work has continued, and even increased, after the controversial closing of the center, and Nichol will now head the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.

From Nichol, in the Institute for Southern Studies:

I’ve been blessed with a long and varied academic career. But none of my efforts has approached the extraordinary honor of working, side by side for the past seven years, with North Carolina low-income communities and the dedicated students, professors, advocates and providers who seek to serve them. Together, we have sought to focus a meaningful light on the challenges of poverty and to push back against policies that foster economic injustice. Those efforts, as you know, have led the UNC Board of Governors to close the Poverty Center. But poverty is the enemy in North Carolina. Not a tiny, privately-funded Poverty Center.  Heather Hunt and I have no words to match the gratitude we feel for the astonishing support the Poverty Center has received, in recent months, from thousands across North Carolina and the nation.

As the Poverty Center closes, the Law School now launches the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. Thanks to the generosity of North Carolina foundations, and engaged and committed citizens from across the country, the new Fund will allow us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist us in probing the causes of, and solutions to, economic injustice – and to publish, extensively, the fruits of our research. Donors have indicated repeatedly that they are unwilling to see the crucial work of the Poverty Center driven from the halls of the university. The Fund will assure that it continues, and that it continues in Chapel Hill. Censorship has poor track record. It won’t prevail here either.

Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, 18 percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country’s fastest rising poverty rates. A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we’re 10th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro, the federal government tells us, is the hungriest city in America. Charlotte has the nation’s worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this storied commonwealth. Even if our leaders choose to ignore it.

You can read the rest of Nichol’s comments here.

News

Voter-ID-signThe parties challenging the voter ID provisions of the state’s 2013 election law changes in state court have asked the judge to put the case on hold until after the 2016 presidential primary, saying that only then will the merits of the recently adopted “reasonable impediment” process for voters lacking a photo ID be established.

The request comes in response to the state’s motion to dismiss the case in light of those new provisions which they say moot the case.

Under the new law, a person showing up at the polls without an acceptable form of photo ID could sign a sworn statement indicating the reasons for lacking such an ID and then cast a provisional ballot.

In papers filed with the court last week, the challengers cite the state’s poor implementation of the voter ID law during the November 2014 election and the resulting confusion among voters — many of whom ultimately did not have their votes counted — and argue that the state has shown little interest in improving that implementation going forward.

No updates have yet been made to the State Board of Elections showing the changes, no material detailing the changes have been published and no news of training for official and poll workers has been announced.

Moreover, they say, whether the new changes will actually go into effect is subject to question.

Rep. Michael Speciale, for example, told the Beaufort Observer in late June that he’d be introducing a bill to repeal the “reasonable impediment” provisions.

“You may rest assured that I fully support requiring a photo ID and once this DMV mess is straightened out I will, if no one else does, introduce a bill to scrap the ‘impediment’ exception,” Speciale said, referring to allegations that DMV was charging voters for the “free” voter ID.

In addition to asking for a stay of the state case, the groups and individuals opposing the law are asking the court to allow them to amend their complaint to assert an “as applied” constitutional claim, challenging the state’s implementation of and public education about the new voter ID law.

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