Commentary, News

Final48Hours1. Not much to celebrate about the legislative session’s final days
The 2015 session of the General Assembly adjourned just after 4:00 Wednesday morning, ending several days of frenzied activity that left many observers scrambling to figure out exactly what happened, much like surveying the damage in a neighborhood the morning after a ferocious overnight storm. And it may take a while.

Many of the news accounts of the session’s tumultuous last days left many progressive advocates breathing a sigh of relief that several especially regressive proposals ultimately failed, abandoned because lawmakers ran out of time or simply couldn’t muster enough support.

The Senate passed legislation Monday night that would divert more funding from traditional public schools to charters—even federal money that pays for school lunches that charters are not required to provide—but the proposal stalled in the House. [Continue Reading…]

Bonus video: Lengthy legislative session wraps-up with some controversial provisions saved for 2016

2. Last minute education proposals that didn’t survive the 2015 legislative session

One of the longest legislative sessions in more than a decade (possibly the longest since 2002) came to a close during the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Here’s a quick update on some last minute controversial proposals affecting public education that ultimately didn’t become law.

Charter school funding 

Sen. Jerry Tillman breathed new life back into a proposal heard earlier this session that would have diverted funds typically reserved for traditional public schools over to charter schools.

Using the ‘gut and amend’ process, Tillman shoved the complicated language into a House bill that was previously about school playgrounds a week and a half before the close of session. Loads of push back ensued from the school boards association, school administrators and other education advocates.[Continue Reading…]

wb-92920153. Will McCrory veto legislative leaders’ brazen power grab?

Last minute political slush fund bill draws opposition from across the spectrum

It should probably come as no surprise given the relentless drive of North Carolina conservatives to accumulate political power and silence their opponents, but there’s still something remarkably brazen about the late session campaign finance law change that lawmakers sent to Governor McCrory last Friday.

As reported in numerous venues (this summary by reporter Mark Binker of WRAL was one of the better ones), lawmakers appended the controversial provision onto a bill that would change next year’s primary election from May to March (itself a controversial and questionable change). The provision would allow the leader of each political party caucus of the House of Representatives and Senate (i.e. the Speaker of the House, the Senate President Pro Tem, and the minority leaders in both houses) to establish a separate, “affiliated party committee” to support the election of candidates of that leader’s political party. [Continue Reading…]

NCPW-CC-2014-08-21-SCOTUS-web4. First Monday in October: The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court term

The U.S. Supreme Court opens its new term on Monday with several cases set for argument and others waiting in the wings. The high court’s docket for the term is by no means set, and the justices are likely to consider, among others, controversial cases involving abortion rights, immigration and religious freedom exemptions from contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Here are a few of the noteworthy cases the high court has already agreed to hear.

One person, one vote

Who should states count when tabulating populations for redistricting purposes? That’s the question presented in Evenwel v. Abbott, a case that’s as much about state’s rights as it is about voting rights. [Continue Reading…]

dhhs-4005. Federal criminal probe ongoing at North Carolina’s health agency

Aldona Wos may no longer be the Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, but there’s still plenty of interest in how she ran the agency.

In particular, a federal grand jury wants to know how several contracts were awarded to members of her inner circle, as well as to a consulting firm that took over much of the management of the state’s Medicaid program.

The grand jury is also looking at a troubled Medicaid billing unit that was the subject of several audits that found the supervisor wasted more than $1.6 million in unnecessary overtime and the hiring of friends, family and her church members. The federal probe was first reported by the News & Observer late Friday.

DHHS spokesman Jim Jones said the agency is complying with the federal investigation. [Continue Reading…]


lw-819Numbers released this week from the state Department of Public Instruction show the state’s teacher turnover rate edged higher in 2014-15 to stand at 14.84%

That’s slightly higher than last year’s rate, and represents 14,255 teachers who opted to leave their current position.

Over 30% of those who left the classroom reported plans to stay in education, but move to a different LEA, shift to a charter or private school, or explore a non-teaching, administrative or coaching position. More than 1,000 said they left to teach in another state.

Another 1,209 said they were dissatisfied with teaching and would be changing careers.

Districts with the highest percentage of teachers leaving the classroom included: Northampton County, Washington County, Bertie County, and Warren County. In each of those four districts the teacher turnover rate exceeded 30%.

Read the full report here.

Turover rates 2010-2015


charterschoolsAs North Carolina lawmakers continue to push for an ever-more-rapid expansion of charter schools — even at the expense of traditional public schools — a new report released this week by the Center for Media and Democracy raises additional questions about the merits of such a course.

According the report, which is based on U.S. Department of Education data: “nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools.”

Not surprisingly, school closures can have a large and negative impact on student achievement. This is also from the CMD report:

“In a 2014 study, Matthew F. Larsen with the Department of Economics at Tulane University looked at high school closures in Milwaukee, almost all of which were charter schools, and he concluded that closures decreased “high school graduation rates by nearly 10%.” He found that the effects persist “even if the students attends a better quality school after closure.”

Of course, it goes without saying that traditional public schools can and do fail large numbers of students too — sometimes even when they don’t physically close their doors. Still, the long list of charter school failures (which include 29 schools in North Carolina) brings home what a tenuous solution to what ails public education that charters can be.

Whereas charters were first introduced and sold to Americans as “incubators of innovation” that would develop new and creative ways of teaching that could then percolate back through traditional public schools, increasingly their proponents push them (along with private school vouchers) as full-fledged alternatives that can and should replace the traditional system.

Seen through this lens, the notion that such a high number of charters are failing raises real questions about the wisdom of further expansion.

In a assessing the CMD report, advocates at national anti-privatization nonprofit, In the Public Interest, put it this way: Read More

Commentary, News

State lawmakers are back in their home districts this weekend having wrapped up the nine-month legislative session on Wednesday.

What will they remember as the highlights? What opportunities did they miss?

Orange County Rep. Graig Meyer believes lawmakers did not do enough for educators in this year’s budget. He calls the $750 one-time bonus teachers and state employees will receive “a cynical political ploy.”

Meyer also finds fault with the leadership’s decision to further cut the corporate tax rate:

“We’re giving another two percent decrease in the corporate tax rate. That means if you are an individual, you’re going to pay 2.5 % more taxes on your income than Google or any other profitable corporations is going to pay on their income,” explained Meyer.

“And I guess that most corporations in North Carolina would happily have just left that tax rate where it was, if it meant we could have brought our teacher pay up to the national average.”

Meyer also weighs in on the state’s decision to privatize Medicaid this session, but not expand the program to cover more uninsured North Carolinians.

Click below to hear an excerpt from Meyer’s recent radio interview with NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon. A podcast of the full interview is available here.

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Death penaltyIt’s hard to follow the death penalty case of Richard Glossip, the latest inmate headed to execution by the state of Oklahoma, without wondering if his prosecution, conviction and, if it happens, death by lethal injection could have been bungled any more than has already happened.

Glossip, who had no arrest record and no history of violence, was sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. His conviction was based upon testimony from the actual murderer, Justin Sneed, who’d bludgeoned the victim with a bat.  In exchange for a life sentence, Sneed testified that Glossip made him do it.

Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Glossip’s first conviction because his lawyer was inept, and the case against him grew weaker by the day afterwards.

As related by Lincoln Caplan in this New Yorker piece, the prosecution then agreed that no physical evidence linked Glossip to the crime scene. Nonetheless, he was convicted and sentenced to death a second time based upon a different factual account given by Sneed — one of eight different accounts he has told, according to Glossip’s lawyers.

After Oklahoma botched the execution of another death row inmate last year through the use of a three-drug cocktail, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Glossip’s scheduled execution while the justices considered a challenge to the use of those drugs.

The high court then sustained the use of that cocktail in June, holding in a 5-4 opinion  that Glossip’s attorneys had failed to identify any alternative drug that the state could use.

Attempts at a stay based upon evidence showing innocence, including to the U.S. Supreme Court — which issued a denial over a dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer — proved fruitless, and Glossip was set for execution late yesterday.

At the last minute, though, Oklahoma’s governor issued a stay based upon yet another snafu:  the state had the wrong drug.

All of which leads to this question:  At what point should the state pull back and reconsider whether the death penalty is deserving in a case?

More importantly, at what point does the U.S. Supreme Court say enough is enough?

Caplan argues in his piece that if an abolition of the death penalty by the high court comes soon, Glossip might just be the reason:

It provides a case study in the unreliability of the application of the death sentence. Glossip’s current lawyers have raised serious doubts about his guilt, which make his conviction dubious and his death sentence unjust. His counsel in his first trial was reprehensibly bad. His counsel in his second trial exceeded the very low standard for ineffective counsel, but did a poor cross-examination of Sneed, the main witness against Glossip. From the decision to charge Glossip with a capital crime to some unsavory tactical moves in the second trial, the prosecution was overzealous and may have crossed the line into misconduct.

As Caplan notes, four of the justices are already there, including Breyer, who in his dissent in the June Glossip opinion openly invited a constitutional challenge to the death penalty.

And some experts now suggest that Justice Anthony Kennedy may be ready to cross over, in light of recent statements by Pope Francis that echo Kennedy’s own words in a 2014  opinion overturning the death sentence of an intellectually-disabled Florida man: “The Eighth Amendment’s protection of dignity reflects the Nation we have been, the Nation we are, and the Nation we aspire to be.”