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The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Unaccountable school vouchers at a crossroads

Unless things change soon, North Carolina taxpayers will be on the hook for at least $145 million a year for a voucher scheme that funds private, mostly religious schools with no idea about what the schools teach or how most of the students are doing academically, not to mention that the publicly funded schools can openly discriminate against gay students or kids with gay parents.

Increasingly we are also learning that the voucher schemes are not producing the gains in student achievement that proponents claim. In many cases, students using vouchers to attend private schools and religious academies are doing worse than their counterparts in public schools.

The latest report comes from the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke Law School and calls the North Carolina voucher program poorly designed with one of the weakest accountability systems in the nation. [Read more…]

2. Senate Republicans look to “Trumpify” NC’s tax code
Latest crude, simplistic and shortsighted proposal would wreak havoc for years to come

Donald Trump has always been well known for his “act first, worry about the mess later” approach to the world around him. Long before he became President, the blustering billionaire fashioned a notorious career predicated upon some crude and simplistic tactics familiar to any schoolyard bully – yell the loudest and grab what you can for yourself, intimidate opponents, deny the existence of complexity and gray areas and dumb things down as much as possible, appeal to people’s baser instincts like fear and selfishness and always, always, always, elevate the present over the future.

Trump’s “me-first-and-right-now” style of operating has been on full display in Washington in recent weeks and now, tragically, it appears to be influencing conservative politicians all over the country. A classic case in point is a proposed constitutional amendment scheduled to be discussed in the Finance Committee of the North Carolina Senate this week. It ought to be called the “Damn the future and any notion that we’ll ever improve education or strengthen any other essential public services and structures amendment.” Perhaps “Trump Amendment” might be an apt shorthand reference. [Read more…]

3. Duke Energy, NC WARN in power struggle over the right to sell solar energy

Faith Community Church lies over the railroad tracks south of downtown Greensboro, an area with few trees to shade it from the sun. That makes for a hot walk in the summertime, but the neighborhood, and specifically, the 11,839-square-foot church and community center, is an ideal place for NC WARN to install a solar energy system on a roof.

“We deeply believe that solar energy is a gift from God from which all can and should benefit,” Faith Community’s Rev. Nelson Johnson and other members of Concerned African-American clergy, wrote to the state legislature in 2015.

But who is allowed to install and charge for that heavenly gift has prompted a protracted legal battle between one of the nation’s largest utilities, Duke Energy, and NC WARN, an environmental nonprofit based in Durham. [Read more…]

4. Cooper-legislature power struggle unfolds at trial addressing constitutional questions

The leadership battle between North Carolina’s executive and legislative branches came to a head Tuesday in what one judge described as a historic separation of powers case.

Gov. Roy Cooper sued legislative leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, in response to new statutes enacted during a special session in December before he took office that reduce his powers.

Attorneys for both Cooper and the legislators have been in and out of court for months on issues related to the lawsuit, and the three-judge panel that will decide the case likely won’t be the last word, as either side can appeal if the ruling is not in their favor. [Read more…]

5. Senate Republicans move to address lagging school principal pay, infrastructure

Powerful Senate Republicans are moving to address a pair of looming issues for North Carolina public schools: principal pay and the state’s aging school facilities.

Acknowledging well-covered troubles in both categories, a trio of GOP senators—Jerry Tillman, Ralph Hise and Harry Brown—filed draft legislation Thursday diverting millions in state lottery funds to both issues.

Among its provisions, the bill would funnel $13.7 million in recurring lottery funds to a system of increased pay for school principals. In addition, the proposed legislation would create a principal bonus program that lawmakers say could be used by districts to reward principals for strong leadership or school performance.

As Policy Watch reported last year, principal pay in North Carolina is among the lowest in the nation, prompting calls from both Republicans and Democrats to reform administrators’ salary schedule. [Read more…]

Also don’t miss: *** NC Policy Watch captures six awards from NC Press Association ****

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