The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. An ominous evening for Republicans in North Carolina

That loud sound you heard Tuesday night was Republicans in North Carolina gulping nervously as the election returns from across the state and across the country came in.

In virtually every race that mattered, the Republicans lost and in many cases lost resoundingly.  National pundits were pontificating that Republican Ed Gillespie was pulling close to Democrat Ralph Northam in the governor’s race in Virginia thanks to Gillespie’s decision to run on issues right of Donald Trump’s playbook, crime, gangs, fear of immigrants, preservation of confederate monuments, etc.

The voters apparently didn’t care much for it. Northam won handily—by almost nine percent—and that wasn’t even the biggest story in Virginia’s election.

With a few recounts pending, Democrats appear to have completely erased the Republican 66-32 margin in the House of Delegates, making it the largest victory by Democrats in Virginia legislative races since 1899. [Read more….]

2. Fixing our public schools with blinders on
NC lawmakers to examine everything about education funding…except how much we spend

The instinct to be frugal when it comes to how much government spends on public structures and services is not an unhealthy one. Whatever one’s views on the great ideological debates of our day, there can be no denying that waste, fraud and abuse will always be a constant problem for all large human institutions. If you have any doubts, I’ve got some surplus $640 toilet seats from the Pentagon for you to check out.

This is undoubtedly the case when it comes to public schools. Sometimes waste and inefficiency are the results of our failure to invest enough up front – such as when leaky windows and decrepit HVAC systems plague cheaply constructed schools with big and unnecessary utility bills or when our failure to pay teachers adequate salaries leads to a constant churn in school staffing. [Read more….]

3. Here to stay? Despite poor scores, critics, for-profit virtual charter school seeks blessing from state officials

The head of a controversial virtual charter school wants North Carolina lawmakers to funnel more cash into the program and clear operations beyond the 2019 sunset of its four-year pilot program, despite lagging test scores and a host of concerns about similar programs nationwide.

“There are hundreds and thousands of kids and teachers that will benefit from our model,” Nathan Currie, superintendent at N.C. Connections Academy, told a committee of influential state lawmakers Tuesday, one day after making a similar pitch to a state charter school oversight panel.

Legislators took no action Tuesday, although the committee may take up the pilot program at an undetermined point in the future, Rep. Linda Johnson, a Cabarrus County Republican and the committee’s co-chair, said. [Read more….]

4. At UNC, badly divided Board of Governors struggles to find common ground on some basic issues

At last week’s meeting of the full UNC Board of Governors, the seeds of the contentious board’s next major conflict began to sprout.

The point of tension: a proposal for the Board of Governors to hire its own dedicated staff members.

No UNC staffers currently report directly to the board. Instead, existing General Administration staff help the board as part of their other duties. But an increasingly vocal faction of the board, emboldened by a recently passed state budget provision allowing them to hire their own staff, say it’s time to do so.

Other members of the board – including its chair – say doing so would undercut UNC President Margaret Spellings, who currently oversees the General Administration staff handling that work. Spellings has repeatedly butted heads with an emerging, more conservative wing of the board and many members worry that a separate staff will further isolate Spellings and further divide an already fractious board. [Read more….]

5. A DEQ mystery: Where in the world is Donald van der Vaart?

Donald van der Vaart and John Evans, formerly the top two officials at the NC Department of Environmental Quality under Gov. Pat McCrory, have been absent from their offices, and their job status is uncertain, sources have told Policy Watch.

Van der Vaart, who earns $98,000 a year, and Evans, whose annual salary is nearly $93,000, work as section chiefs in the Division of Air Quality, in technical services and ambient monitoring, respectively. They are still listed in the online employee directory. However, their individual email replies state that each is out of the office, with no information regarding a return date. They did not respond to messages left on their voicemail seeking comment.

A DEQ spokesperson could not confirm, deny nor comment on their job status, citing state personnel laws. The governor’s communications office did not return calls seeking comment. [Read more….]

*** Bonus Read: Merit selection still cloaked in secrecy as Senate committee takes on ‘judicial reform’

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