Baker Mitchell’s charter schools under investigation by the U.S. Dept. of Education

Yesterday, the State Board of Education approved 26 new charter schools to open this fall – including South Brunswick Charter School, the fourth charter school to open under the management of Baker A. Mitchell, Jr.

Mitchell has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing three other charter schools in southeastern N.C. Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Pruden is locked in a battle with Mitchell, hoping to convince State Board of Ed members to scrutinize his management practices and hold off awarding him more charters to open up schools.

Pressley Baird of the Star News reports that two of Mitchell’s charter schools are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General.

Charter Day School in Leland and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville, operated by Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academy, are both under investigation–but the USDOE would not provide details at this time.

Pruden theorizes that the investigation has to do with improper enrollment practices. Boosting enrollment numbers would direct more state funding to Mitchell’s charter schools.

“According to information Brunswick County Schools received, the basis of the alleged investigation was that Charter Day School … used improper means to encourage homeschooled and private school students to enroll during the first few days of school to increase the average daily membership,” Pruden wrote in a letter he sent to the State Board of Education.

Mitchell says he has no knowledge of an investigation.

Read Baird’s full story here.

USDA tells DHHS food stamps problems “unacceptable,” warns it may suspend admin funding

Federal officials have “grave concern” about the continuing problems North Carolina is having in its food stamps delivery system, and threatened in December to suspend the state’s funding to run the program.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos got word of the potential suspension in a Dec. 11 letter sent to her by Donald Arnette, a regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food and nutritional safety division.

“This letter serves as advance notification that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) may soon be subject to the suspension or disallowance of administrative funds,” Arnette wrote in the letter.

The letter was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch from members of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus. USDA has since provided a copy of the same letter (see below.)

In a Dec. 23 response provided by DHHS, Wos told federal officials that it was working to resolve the issues by working closely with social services workers on the county level.

“We want to assure you that we will continue to implement corrective actions to resolve the concerns raised in your most recent letter,” Wos wrote in the response. “We trust these corrective actions demonstrate our commitment to ensure that we comply with statutory requirements.”

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McCrory: People move to NC to get unemployment benefits

mccrory1106More confirmation today that Gov. Pat McCroy’s contempt for people in need (and the facts) literally knows no bounds. Check out this excerpt from Mark Binker’s story at about unemployment insurance and some new and utterly ridiculous statements  from the Guv:

“‘We had the ninth-most-generous unemployment compensation in the country,’ McCrory said. ‘We were having a lot of people move here, frankly, from other areas to get unemployment … People were moving here because of our very generous benefits, and then, of course, we had more debt. I personally think that more people got off unemployment and either got jobs or moved back to where they came from.'”

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at someone who is that pathetically misinformed — a) people who become unemployed elsewhere and then move here aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits and b) even if they were somehow eligible,  the average benefit was something like $290 a week prior to McCrory’s cuts!


Lunch Links: Traffic problems and other dirty tricks

(Photo: Amy Newman/ at New York Times)

(Photo: Amy Newman/ at New York Times)

Who could have ever predicted that the downfall of N.J. Gov. Chris Christie might be “traffic problems in Fort Lee”?

If you know anything about Fort Lee, N.J. and the access roads leading to the George Washington Bridge, you appreciate that making it across without traffic on any given day is a crapshoot.   That said, as we learned yesterday Christie staffers felt compelled to create traffic problems there — for four days — as payback to the Fort Lee mayor who failed to support the governor during the recent election there.

If you missed it, here’s the recap from the N.Y Times:

Emails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for re-election.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, emailed David Wildstein, a high school friend of the governor who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.

Later text messages mocked concerns that school buses filled with students were stuck in gridlock: “They are the children of Buono voters,” Mr. Wildstein wrote, referring to Mr. Christie’s opponent Barbara Buono.

The emails are striking in their political maneuvering, showing Christie aides gleeful about some of the chaos that resulted. Emergency vehicles were delayed in responding to three people with heart problems and a missing toddler, and commuters were left fuming. One of the governor’s associates refers to the mayor of Fort Lee as “this little Serbian,” and Ms. Kelly exchanges messages about the plan while she is in line to pay her respects at a wake.

The political fallout may be mounting. Heads are rolling, Christie’s nascent bid for President in 2016 is being questioned (that’s the national media chatter), the nomination of his chief of staff to be state Attorney General may be in jeopardy, criminal charges may be looming — it goes on and on.  All because of . . . what ?

Politics above all else, even constituents — a bug that unfortunately has infected public servants at all levels.

Speaking of political games at the expense of constituents,  if you live in any of the 44 North Carolina counties served by the Eastern District federal court — that means you, people in Raleigh, Wilmington, New Bern and all along the coast — you might want to give your senator, Richard Burr, a call and ask him why he continues to block the nomination of Jennifer May-Parker to serve as a judge there.  Burr himself submitted her name for the position back in 2009, but has since backpedaled, refusing recently to return the traditional “blue slip” needed for a nominee to move forward with a judiciary committee hearing.  In the meantime, you’re now going into your ninth year with an understaffed federal court, the oldest federal district court vacancy in the country — a court that’s been relying on the graces of three senior status judges, two of whom are in their eighties.  So give the senator a call and ask him why the hold-up?

Of course, political gamesmanship is nothing new. Most of us have at least have heard of the Watergate break-in and the dirty tricks of the Nixon administration. But here’s a break-in many of us just learned about this past week:  the 1971 burglary of an FBI office in Media, Pa.  As described by Democracy Now:

 On March 8, 1971, a group of activists — including a cabdriver, a day care director and two professors — broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They stole every document they found and then leaked many to the press, including details about FBI abuses and the then-secret counter-intelligence program to infiltrate, monitor and disrupt social, political movements, nicknamed COINTELPRO. Calling themselves, the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI, no one was ever caught for the break-in. The burglars’ identities remained a secret until this week when they finally came forward to take credit for the caper that changed history.

Learn more about the outed burglars and their heist — called the “original Wikileaks”  by one writer — by watching this N.Y. Times video.

And finally, here’s one New Jerseyan who’s not about to watch his star fade.  Bruce Springsteen is set to release his latest album, “High Hopes,” on January 14. In a world in which “albums” should probably now be called something else, and in which release dates are preceded by single releases (selections from Springsteen’s latest have been airing on the CBS show “The Good Wife”).

Here’s Bruce with the title song:

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Economists weigh in on NC’s wrong decision on unemployment insurance

A number of economists and analysts are sharing their assessment of what is really happening in North Carolina’s economy and it isn’t pretty.  And contrary to the talking points out there, the decision to drastically reduce unemployment insurance benefits as of July 1 is not improving labor market conditions in our state and could be making it worse.

Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist, analyzed the change in labor conditions from November 2012 to November 2013 and found that 95 percent of the drop in the unemployment rate is from people dropping out of the workforce, a mere 5 percent from job creation.

This aligns with Allan Freyer’s recent analysis of metro trends in North Carolina which shows that the vast majority of improvements in the unemployment rate are because of declines in the labor force not increases in employment.

Andrew Brod, an economist at UNC Greensboro, found in his analysis that if the labor force remained just at the same level as it was in January, the unemployment rate would be 9.5 percent.  (It is important to note that the working age population since January has grown by 1 percent, not stayed the same or declined as has actually happened with the size of the labor force.) Read more