Commentary, News

virtualschool21. New policy eliminates daily student attendance reporting requirements for state’s new virtual charter schools

The North Carolina State Board of Education quietly approved a policy last month that could allow the state’s two brand new virtual charter schools to avoid recording and reporting daily student attendance, and stipulates that the virtual schools would only lose their state funding for a student if he or she fails to show any “student activity,” —as defined by the for-profit charter operators—for at least ten consecutive days.

“The kids don’t physically show up [to school], so we needed a different way to account for how students are learning,” said State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey on Tuesday of the new policy. “The virtual charter schools still have to show that students are regularly attending school.” [Continue reading…]

PerformanceD2. Another round of stigmatizing grades for low-income schools

State education officials released the results of the second year of the troubling A-F school grading system Wednesday morning and just like the results last year, they are more of a statement about poverty than a meaningful measurement of how well students are doing at school.

Just over 98 percent of the schools that received an F grade have more than 50 percent of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch while 94 percent of schools that earned a D had a majority of students who qualify for the federal lunch program.

Eighty percent of the calculation of the letter grades is based on student test scores while only 20 percent is based on much the scores improve from year to year. That means no matter how much students at a low income school improve, it’s very difficult for poor schools to receive a higher letter grade. [Continue reading…]

Earls8313. Race, not politics, drove 2011 redistricting, plan challengers tell the state’s high court

Attorneys in the cases challenging the state’s 2011 redistricting plan were back before the state Supreme Court Monday morning, arguing whether certain of the districts survive constitutional scrutiny under the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama.

A majority of the justices here had upheld the challenged districts in a December 2014 decision, which had since been pending at the nation’s highest court until the justices there vacated the decision and remanded it back for further review.

Like their counterparts in Alabama, state lawmakers here drew voting maps based upon statistical formulas they claimed were necessary to avoid Voting Rights Act liability, with little regard to what had been happening on the ground in terms of minority political control. [Continue reading…]

wb-90120154. Will workplace fraud reforms be stopped just short of the goal line?
Despite overwhelming bipartisan support, legislation to crack down on cheating employers has mysteriously stalled

It may sound surprising coming from one of the North Carolina General Assembly’s most frequent critics, but in a legislative session marked by ideologically-driven moves to:

  •     further undermine public education,
  •     deny health insurance to hundreds of thousands,
  •     advance a far right social agenda and
  •     cripple state government revenues now and in the future,

there have actually been some bright and important areas of common ground and bipartisanship. One of the most notable and potentially far reaching involves efforts to clamp down on outlaw businesses that cheat their workers, taxpayers and competitors by not following basic norms of employment law. [Continue reading…]

pv-ccnc5. Lawmakers target successful, homegrown program for at-risk babies and mothers for elimination

This is a true story. It’s about a smart, homegrown program embedded in our state’s communities that has made tremendous progress in ensuring North Carolina mothers-to-be have healthy babies who grow up in healthy families. Unfortunately, this story may not have a happy ending, because state lawmakers are seriously considering dismantling the program this year.

It starts not long ago, in a Piedmont county in North Carolina, when a pregnant woman without health insurance went into labor, went to a hospital and delivered her child. It had been an unintended pregnancy, and her abusive domestic partner would not let her see a doctor for prenatal care before the birth. [Continue reading…]


This weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, we sit down with MaryBe McMillan of the North Carolina AFL-CIO to talk about the employment outlook and efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage.

According to the North Carolina Justice Center, nearly 6 out of every 10 new jobs created since the end of the Great Recession are in industries that pay poverty-level wages.

Raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour would benefit  approximately one million workers in North Carolina, pumping more money into local communities.

McMillan says that she has been encouraged this year by  campaigns to ensure that local government employees receive a living wage.

Click below for a preview of McMillan’s radio interview with Policy Watch. For more on the impact of raising North Carolina’s minimum wage, check out this fact sheet by the Workers’ Rights project.

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unemploymentThere was a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by an unemployed man from Salemburg named Bobby Parker about the sorry state of North Carolina’s bottom-of-the-barrel unemployment insurance system. And make no mistake; it is sorry. As a result of legislation passed in 2013, North Carolina’s once middle-of-the-pack system is now near the bottom in the nation in just about every category.

Consider the following stats from the U.S Department of Labor:

• Only 15% of the unemployed received benefits for the first quarter of 2015. This was 47th in the country.
• NC has an average weekly benefit amount of $231.30/week which ranks us 47th in the country.
• The average duration of benefits is 12.9 weeks, which ranks us 45th in the country.

Here is where things stood before the changes contained in House Bill 4 hit:

• 39% of the unemployed received benefits during the second quarter of 2013. This placed 24th in the country.
• NC had average weekly benefit amount of $301.06 which ranked 25th
• The average duration of benefits was 15.9 weeks, which ranked us 31st.

But wait, as Mr. Parker (and yesterday’s Progressive Voices contributor Steve Ford) explain, things are about to get worse. It turns out that even with the precipitous fall documented above, state lawmakers want to demand more from the unemployed by increasing their work search requirements. Here’s Mr. Parker:

“Now, state leaders want to make sure that you’re not sitting on your duff lapping up that $350 to lavish on, say, utilities to power your Internet job search, gas to get you to an interview or … food?

So they’re ready to require the unemployed to make and record at least five contacts per week with potential employers. Currently, the state requires two such contacts per week.

Simple and reasonable enough? Well, yes, it would be if those contacts were likely to be productive. But even with the current mandate of two, I find myself applying for jobs that I know I’m not going to get because I don’t have the experience or skills that match the available work.”

As Ford explains, the bill to make this all happen now sits on Governor McCrory’s desk awaiting his signature. He has until next Thursday to decide what to do — thus making it almost certain that not only will North Carolina make its scrooge-like system even stingier, it will do so during the week that is designed to honor workers of the nation. All in all, it’s an apt gesture from a group of politicians who almost never miss a chance to remind average workers of how little they are valued.


BrownMcCollum-v2-web-60percent-grayAs Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation explained this week in an insightful blog post, the state’s ultra-belated decision to finally compensate the exonerated Henry McCollum and Leon Brown (who were wrongfully sentenced, respectively, to death and life imprisonment for a murder they did not commit) ought not to be the end of the story on the subject. This is from her post:

“As Gretchen Engel pointed out in her recent op-ed, the N.C. legislature has not proposed a single bill that would help determine if there are more innocent people on death row — even though more than 100 of North Carolina’s 148 death row inmates, like McCollum and Brown, were tried before the enactment of key reforms designed to protect the innocent.

The problems that plagued Henry’s case have not gone away, as we see from the many wrongful prosecutions that continue to today. A recent report showed that North Carolina routinely targets people with the death penalty based on flawed investigations and weak evidence.”

Add to this the inadequate compensation that the two men have been awarded (only around $22,500 per year for each of the 30+ years during which freedom was unjustly denied to them) and the absurd delay that Gov. Pat McCrory’s failure to issue a prompt pardon caused and it’s clear that changes to the law are necessary.

Interestingly, as it turns out, the North Carolina House agrees. Back in April, the House passed two bills and sent them to the Senate that would address some of the problems highlighted.

  • House Bill 676, which passed the House unanimously, would make it easier for those erroneously convicted to gain compensation by removing the superfluous but burdensome roadblock of requiring a formal gubernatorial pardon.
  • House Bill 678, which passed 110-2, would make multiple strengthening amendments to the laws governing the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission.

Another bill that remains in the Appropriations Committee, House Bill 398, would amend the laws governing how much compensation those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for decades can receive by, among other things, raising the cap from $750,000 to $1,500,000.

Not surprisingly, however, neither of the bills sent over by the House has yet been taken up by the Senate. Meanwhile, the proposal to raise the cap on compensation continues — as far as we can tell given the shroud of secrecy on Jones Street — to be ignored by budget negotiators.

In other words, McCollum and Brown have finally received a measure of partial and absurdly delayed justice, but the system that caused the problem remains broken and ignored.

© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

There’s a fabulous op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by a fellow named David Jenkins of the Virginia-based group, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. In it, Jenkins exposes the outrageous and dishonest war on renewable/sustainable energy being waged by fossil fuel front groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and their allies in the Pope empire here in North Carolina:

“We have all heard about President Obama’s ‘war on coal,’ but the challenges facing the coal industry are much more complex than the ‘war’ label would imply.

There is a war on energy, but the target is not coal, it is wind and solar energy.

The attack dogs in this war are funded by Koch Industries and include Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They frame their attacks as a defense of the free market and fiscal conservatism. Yet even a cursory examination of their positions reveals they’re not defending the free market but attempting to protect the fossil fuel industry from competition.”

Jenkins goes on to explain that all energy sources are subsidized by government and that the subsidies provided to fossil fuels greatly surpass those provided to renewables. (Indeed, as was explained in this post the other day, the subsidies provided to fossil fuels once one factors in the environmental costs are truly staggering — as much as 6.5% of GDP!)

Here’s Jenkins:

“These groups seek to bolster certain federal subsidies by attacking others, rig the market in the name of preserving it, pick winners and losers under the pretense of opposing such things, stifle freedom while pretending to promote it and encourage waste and inefficiency. All of this while pretending to support free market principles.

This special interest hijacking of the conservative label comes at the expense of real conservative values – and our nation’s long-term energy security. Only courageous and principled conservatives can effectively defend conservatism from such abuse.”

The bottom line: Call it what you want — conservative or liberal — but the simple truth that fair and true competition can help save the planet when it comes to energy is undeniable.