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3838663.8ee69d5c.560_0Here’s a fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post that details the ongoing struggle for U.S. public schools to handle the surge in immigrant students. 

Of course, public schools may not refuse any student, regardless of citizenship, but the surge has resulted in middling investments in public schools, despite the increasing workload, many public education advocates would argue.

From Sunday’s Post:

Many of the new arrivals don’t speak much English and are behind academically. They often come with scars, having fled desperate poverty or violence or both. Many endured difficult journeys, sometimes leaving their families behind or rejoining parents in the United States after years of separation. And U.S. schools, already strapped for resources, are trying to provide special services, including ­English-language instruction and mental-health care.

There were more than 630,000 immigrant students nationwide in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest federal education data available, which defines immigrants as children born outside the country and enrolled in U.S. schools for less than three years. That figure has grown since immigration across the southern border surged two years ago: Between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, federal officials released more than 95,000 unaccompanied minors into U.S. communities, virtually all of them entitled to enroll in public school.

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State officials have asked the three-judge panel that late last week tossed Congressional Districts 1 and 12  as racial gerrymanders to stay their order requiring a new congressional redistricting plan by February 19, arguing that disrupting the primary elections already underway will lead to “significant voter confusion and irreparable harm to the citizens of North Carolina.”

They have asked the judges for a ruling today so that they can seek emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary and have also filed a notice of appeal of last week’s decision to the high court.

In an affidavit filed in support of the request, Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach noted that 46 congressional candidates are competing in the 2016 elections, including two in District 1 and five in District 12.

County election officials began issuing mail-in absentee ballots on January 25. According to state data those officials mailed 8,621 ballots to voters, 903 of whom are located outside the United States, and hundreds of those ballots have been voted and returned.

According to Strach, should the General Assembly redraw districts by the Feb. 19 deadline, election officials would need to late May to make necessary adjustments for the primary elections — well beyond the March 15 scheduled date.

Bifurcating the primary elections with congressional races held sometime in late May would add to early voting costs as well, Strach added.

In its final judgment on Friday, the judges also forbade state officials from conducting any elections for the U.S. Representative until a new plan is in place.

Since then though election officials have been encouraging absentee voters to keep voting and to cast the full ballot, including in House of Representative races — contending that the court’s order with respect to “conducting elections” was unclear.

“There are a lot of contingencies that we don’t want voters to have to filter through – in a district for example  that wouldn’t be affected by a redistricting effort,”  Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson said.

“Our message was ‘vote it if it’s on your ballot,’ but the legal significance of that, whether or not we certify that, is still something that’s controlled by the courts,” he added.

“We’re trying to make sure that not everyone thinks that this jeopardizes participation, because it may not.”

Read the state’s papers here.

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Commentary

Moral MarchThere are actually dozens of good reasons to get off your keister, come to downtown Raleigh this Saturday and add your voice to the thousands who will march for justice in our state at the 10th annual HK on J People’s Assembly. In fact, as we reported last October in “This year’s dirty dozen: Twelve of the most destructive acts taken by the Governor and the2015 General Assembly,” North Carolina’s conservative elected leaders provided plenty in just the last year alone.

And if those aren’t enough to motivate you, however, here are five more biggies:

#1 – To reclaim our state’s hijacked electoral system – As the latest federal court decision this past Friday makes clear, North Carolina’s electoral system has been hijacked by partisan conservative ideologues who will use any tactic at their disposal to win elections and cement their destructive rollback of the 20th Century. Caring and thinking people simply cannot stand idly by in the face of this theft.

#2 – To help save thousands of lives – The plain and simple truth is that thousands more North Carolinians will die prematurely and unnecessarily this year for want of proper medical care — medical care that they could easily receive if North Carolina followed the lead of most other states and closed the Medicaid gap under the Affordable Care Act. Any chance we get to remind our leaders of this simple and powerful fact should not be missed.

#3 – To push back against the effort to privatize and sell off our public schools – Right now, in 2016 North Carolina, thousands of schoolchildren are being taught with fundamentalist Christian “science” books financed by your tax dollars that dinosaurs and humans once walked the earth at the same time. This is one of the very specific and undeniable results of the state’s unaccountable school voucher program. How can any thinking person stand by without speaking out against such a disgraceful situation?

#4 – The fact that conservative ideologues are far from finished – Despite having inflicted five years of political and policy havoc, the far right is just getting started. Unless progressives push back now, the transformation of North Carolina into a larger version of Mississippi and South Carolina will continue apace. Right now, in fact, conservative ideologues are pushing hard on a plan to amend the state constitution to lock in their disastrous tax and spending changes in perpetuity through a dishonestly mislabeled travesty called the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” This must be stopped,

#5 – History remains on our side – Despite all the bad news, as was pointed out in the conclusion to the special N.C. Policy watch report, Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina, numerous important trends favor progressive policies. What’s more, as was also noted. we know what to do.

“Fifty-plus years ago, the forebears of modern North Carolina progressives faced down and overcame the obstructionism of a cast of conservative characters far more hateful and shameless than the wrecking crew running the show today. Through determined advocacy and sacrifice they helped turn the tide and usher in a new era of relative social progress and widely shared prosperity.

Now is the time to do so once again.”

See you there Saturday!

Commentary

gerrymanderingMoving the 2016 primary from its normal date in May to March was always a lousy idea — one that was motivated as much by the desire to protect incumbents and the state’s conservative legislature as it was to make a North Carolina a “player” in national presidential politics. Now, with Friday’s federal court ruling striking down the state’s congressional map as racially gerrymandered, the time has come for state leaders to admit their error and start over. Cancel the March primary. Redraw the maps fairly and reschedule the election for May — or even later. (Heck, the state legislative maps were outrageously gerrymandered as well). We’ve had a state primary in the summer before and things went just fine. Rushing now to barrel ahead with a primary in March (at least in the non-presidential races) would be a travesty.

And speaking of Friday’s ruling, be sure to check out the following statement from good government watchdog Bob Hall at Democracy North Carolina:

Don’t Blame Those Who Exposed Computerized Apartheid
Statement from Bob Hall, Democracy North Carolina, regarding ruling on Congressional district maps

We congratulate the team of attorneys and researchers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who have skillfully challenged North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered political districts! The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the “nonnegotiable criterion” for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12. Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence. Read More

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A federal three-judge panel threw out North Carolina’s Congressional Districts 1 and 12 as racial gerrymanders today and gave the General Assembly until February 19 to redraw new maps.

Writing for the court in a decision handed down late this afternoon, Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory said:

After careful consideration of all evidence presented during a three-day bench trial, the parties’ findings of fact and conclusions of law, the parties’ arguments, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the plaintiffs have shown that race predominated in both CD 1 and CD 12 and that the defendants have failed to establish that its race-based redistricting satisfies strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the Court holds that the general assembly’s 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan is unconstitutional as violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Having found that the 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan violates the Equal Protection Clause, the Court will require that new congressional districts be drawn forthwith to remedy the unconstitutional districts.

U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. agreed with Gregory, while Judge William L. Osteen, Jr. dissented in part.

The court’s decision conflicts with decisions by the state Supreme Court in Dickson v. Rucho, which has twice upheld the 2011 legislative and congressional maps — most recently after a remand for further review by the U.S. Supreme Court.  (For more on how the redistricting battles are playing out here and elsewhere, read here.)

And its order requiring a do-over by Feb. 19 disrupts the current election calendar heading into the March 15 primary elections.

Read the decision here.