News

It took close to a year from the date of argument,  but as expected by many the state Supreme Court today handed down its decision, upholding the 2011 redistricting plan.

The justices voted along party lines in the 4-2 opinion in Dickson v. Rucho, with Justice Robert Edmunds writing the opinion for the majority.

Justices Cheri Beasley and Robin Hudson joined in dissent, holding that the case should go back to the three-judge panel that initially decided the case.

Justice Robert Hunter did not participate in the case.

The high court had not handed down any written decisions since August — with 37 cases pending for a ruling as of yesterday — but today caught up a bit with 22 opinions.

(More to follow).

 

Commentary

Payday loansPayday lenders (and other short-term lenders) along with their trade associations have spent more than $13 million on lobbying and campaign donations since 2013, according to a new report put out by the Americans for Financial Reform (AFR).

The report is particularly troubling because it comes at a time when the government is finally beginning to crack down on “quick-fix” lenders, who are known for trapping vulnerable cash-strapped borrowers in cycles of debt by charging obscenely high fees in exchange for an immediate payout. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is expected to announce a set of rules next year that could bring dramatic changes to the payday lending market. Additionally, the Department of Justice has been zeroing in on banks and payment processors that knowingly facilitate fraud. The only enforcement action brought by the Justice Department in this operation (known as “Operation Choke Point”) so far has been in North Carolina. The Four Oaks Bank & Trust of North Carolina in collaboration with a Texas-based payments company was found to have processed around $2.4 billion in illegal transactions including those benefiting payday lenders. Read More

News

Virtual charter schools advance in North Carolina – One of the first decisions the State Board of Education may make in 2015 is whether to allow two virtual charter schools to operate in North Carolina. Sarah Ovaska has a great run down of the players in her story this week: Virtual charter schools on path to opening in North Carolina.

A kid, a keyboard, and a closer look at virtual charters –  So what concerns could there be from plopping your child down in front of your home computer and expecting them to master their course work?

Matt Ellinwood, policy analyst with NC Justice Center’s Education & Law Project, recently joined us on NC Policy Watch’s weekly radio show to answer that question. Click below to hear the full interview with Ellinwood.

NC New Schools – Coming-up this weekend on the radio show, Chris Fitzsimon sits down with Tony Habit, President at NC New Schools. The program recently was awarded a $20 million federal grant by the U.S. Department of Education.

Habit explains how NC New Schools is transforming rural high schools by expanding the reach of early college strategies in North Carolina and four other states.  You can catch a preview of that studio interview below.

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The value of homework – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are rethinking the role of homework, and whether students should be penalized for failing to bring pens, papers and other materials needed to be prepared for class. Here’s an excerpt from the Charlotte Observer:

“Does a teacher have to give homework every day to have an effective class? Absolutely not,” said Stanford senior lecturer Denise Pope. “There’s no magical difference to doing work at home versus doing work in class.”

Charles Smith, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, said sometimes teachers feel like they have to assign homework. Sometimes, he said, that’s because the principal has told them to. Other times teachers just feel they are expected to.

Read more about the proposed policy change here.

College Rankings – Finally, the Obama administration is rolling out its “draft framework” of college ratings today – assessing colleges on access, affordability and outcomes for the students. Learn more about the objectives here.

Commentary

McCrory-APThe controversy surrounding Governor Pat McCrory’s acceptance of more than $170,000 from a mortgage company with a checkered past after he took office last year may or may not turn into a legal/ethics problem for the Governor. Regardless of where this whole thing leads, however, there are at least two preliminary takeaways from the affair — neither of them very flattering to the Guv.

Number One is, to paraphrase the Bard, “the Governor dost protest too much, methinks.” McCrory desperately needs some P.R. help — preferably in the form of a smart aide who can tell him when he’s screwing up and needs to be quiet. That the Guv and his team produced a massive, 34 page rebuttal to the AP story about his questionable acceptance of a huge payout from a mortgage broker after he took office in almost a matter of hours was a ridiculous case of overreaction — especially since it never really refuted any of the story very effectively. (This from an administration that’s notorious for taking months — if not more — too fulfill public records requests.) For confirmation of this, check out yesterday’s blog post by veteran arch-conservative pol, Carter Wrenn (in which Wrenn also derided McCrory’s attack on Leslie Stahl of CBS News in the aftermath of Duke coal ash interview). As Wrenn notes:

“Now the AP story said the Governor’s stock bonus was unusual and raised red flags but about the worse fact in the story was the Governor had been paid $185,000 by Lending Tree, an online loan company that’s a cut above a pay day lender and got fined $3 million by South Carolina for misleading consumers. The AP didn’t say the Governor had done anything illegal. Or that he’d done anything unethical (as Governor ) to help Lending Tree.

So here’s an odd fact: While the AP story wasn’t exactly flattering it didn’t amount to much until the Governor stood up and did something I haven’t seen in 40 years: He announced, I’m not a crook.”

Number Two is that, regardless of the ultimate outcome, the whole thing still stinks. Read More

News

XmasLightsMaybe it’s the time of year, but it seems that there’s been more than a handful of reports these past few weeks about judges who are taking critical look at how court decisions are impacting their communities.

There’s this story out of South Carolina, where yesterday Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen vacated the 1944 conviction of a black 14-year-old boy charged with allegedly murdering two white girls.

As Reuters reports, George Stinney Jr. was convicted by an all-white jury after a one-day trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation and died soon after in the electric chair.  He was the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century.

Finding that Stinney did not receive a fair trial, Judge Mullen wrote:

From time to time we are called to look back to examine our still-recent history and correct injustice where possible. I can think of no greater injustice than a violation of one’s constitutional rights, which has been proven to me in this case by a preponderance of the evidence standard.

Then there’s this — one judge’s regrets about harsh sentences he was forced to hand down under federal sentencing guidelines.

Recalling how those guidelines came about, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn spoke to NPR this week as part of that organization’s ongoing look at their impact.

As NPR describes its efforts:

We talked with judges who expressed tearful misgivings about sending people away for the rest of their lives for crimes that involved no violence and a modest amount of drugs. We found a newly released inmate trying to reacquaint herself with her community in the Florida panhandle and rebuild ties with her grieving children after 17 years away from home. And we went inside a medium-security prison in New Jersey to find a lifer who says he deserves another chance. These people acknowledge that they broke the law and accept the need for punishment. But they say their decades-long incarcerations cast a shadow that lingers over their families, damage that far outweighs the wrongs they did to put them in prison.

Here’s what Gleeson had to say about the underpinnings of the guidelines:

This was a different time in our history. Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.