Commentary, News, Trump Administration

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

 

1. Despite GOP questioning, class-size legislation advances past House budget committee

Despite suggestions from some GOP members that local school districts may be misusing funded positions, a House budget committee gave its approval Thursday to legislation allaying a looming class-size crisis for North Carolina school districts.

Policy Watch reported in November that last year’s directive from the legislature to reduce class sizes in grades K-3 starting with the 2017-2018 academic year could have disastrous impacts for local districts, forcing them to spend millions more in local cash or shelve arts and physical education classes.

Public school advocates and lobbyists for the N.C. School Boards Association, which represents local boards in Raleigh, have been pressuring lawmakers to act quickly this session to resolve the problem, given local districts are already prepping their budgets for the coming school year. [Read more…]

***Bonus Education Reads:

2. The GOP’s false and telling choice for public schools

The 2017 General Assembly session is only a few weeks old but there’s already a compelling example of what’s wrong with the way things are being done in Raleigh and why the conventional wisdom about the legislature often misses the real story.

State lawmakers took up legislation Tuesday that would give local school systems more flexibility next fall dealing with a provision stuffed into last year’s budget directing schools to lower class sizes in the early grades.

The provision would lower the maximum number of children allowed in K-3 classes from 24 to between 19 and 21 depending on the grade and would lower the average class size overall.

Smaller classes are a good idea and they are especially important in the early grades—but there was a problem with the plan.

No extra funding was provided, forcing schools to consider cutting art, music, and physical education classes next year to come up with the money to pay for the smaller classes. [Read more…]

3. In opposition to Amazon Wind farm, NC lawmakers cite #alternativefacts

Overlooking the all caps, italics, bolded passages and occasional exclamation marks, on its face the two-page letter sent by eight North Carolina lawmakers looked overblown but possibly informed.

Last month, the lawmakers — all Republicans — wrote to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, asking him to permanently close the Desert Wind farm just west of Elizabeth City. The letter quoted impressive-sounding government-funded studies about the threat of wind turbines on military radar. It cited a meticulous set of facts and figures. It listed footnotes in superscript, just like the MLA academic style book instructs.

Two of the five citations, though, were from unreliable sources that undermine the truth about the feasibility of wind farms in North Carolina:

Breitbart News, a primary disseminator of fake news, whose former executive chairman and founder sits at the right hand of President Trump. [Read more…]

4. Berger and Moore’s latest destructive power grab
Why holding confirmation hearings for the Governor’s department heads is a lousy idea

Leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have taken a lot of disastrous turns – both substantive and procedural – over the past six years. Denying health care and unemployment insurance benefits to hundreds of thousands, slashing taxes on the rich, eviscerating voting rights, waging wars on science, the environment, reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality, pushing loaded guns into every corner of the state, and just generally undermining the health of government; the list of regressive policies goes on and on.

Meanwhile, most of these dreadful policy decisions have been abetted by a series of procedural moves designed to seize and concentrate more and more power in the hands of a narrow cadre of conservative legislative leaders. Whether it’s shutting off debate, ruling amendments out of order, calling sudden and repeated special sessions, altering the composition of committees to silence minority voices, rendering budget subcommittee work virtually meaningless, or seizing authority from local government and the executive branch, House Speakers Thom Tillis and Tim Moore and, especially, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger have taken repeated ends-justify-the-means steps to make themselves the final arbiters of all public policy in the state. [Read more…]

*** Bonus Reads:

5. Fear of Trump immigration order in NC spreads as potential human costs emerge

President Donald Trump has paid a lot of lip service to rounding up the “bad hombres” but it turns out he wants to deport a much larger group of immigrants than he led America to believe.

Trump signed an executive order in January to enhance “public safety in the interior of the United States.” The order did away a previous deportation priority list promulgated former President Barack Obama’s administration and is expected to have dire consequences for a majority of unauthorized immigrants, not just individuals with criminal convictions.

“It essentially renders meaningless this idea that there’s any prioritization,” said Avideh Moussavian, a policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “That’s how every law enforcement agency is supposed to function, you know, you don’t give the same weight to a jaywalker as you would to someone committing a much more serious or dangerous offense.”

The order specifically lists the following priorities (with no hierarchy) to target immigrants for deportation: [Read more…]

*** Bonus Read:

News, Trump Administration

Jeff Sessions confirmed as Trump’s Attorney General with support from Tillis and Burr

The U.S. Senate pushed through another controversial nominee of President Trump’s Wednesday, confirming Sen. Jeff Sessions on a 52-47 vote to serve as the next U.S. Attorney General.

Democrats objected to Sessions’ record on civil rights and immigration.

But Senator Richard Burr praised the Alabama Republican on social media, calling the new AG a friend with a “record of pursuing justice”:

Senator Thom Tillis acknowledged differences he had with Sessions, but said he was confident in the leadership he would bring to the Department:

On Thursday the Senate will take a final vote to confirm Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., the President’s choice to serve as Health and Human Services Secretary.

News, Trump Administration

NC Congressman co-sponsors bill to scrap the US Department of Education

On the same day the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Betsy Devos to serve as President Trump’s Education Secretary, a group of Republican Congressmen introduced legislation to do away with the entire Education Department.

H.R.899 – simply titled To terminate the Department of Education – was introduced by Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie and lists Congressman Walter Jones (NC-3) among the seven original co-sponsors.

In a press release issued by Rep. Massie’s office, Jones explains:

“For years, I have advocated returning education policy to where it belongs – the state and local level,” said Rep. Walter Jones.  “D.C. bureaucrats cannot begin to understand the needs of schools and its students on an individual basis. It is time that we get the feds out of the classroom, and terminate the Department of Education.”

Other conservatives signing onto the bill include Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID).

If Congress and President Trump embrace the legislation,  the federal education department would be terminated on December 31, 2018.

For now, the bill introduced on Tuesday has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Trump Administration

DeVos wins confirmation as Secretary of Education with help from NC’s senators, Pence

As expected, Senator Richard Burr and Senator Thom Tillis voted for Betsy DeVos in Tuesday’s confirmation. With an evenly split chamber and the 50-50 tie, Vice President Mike Pence cast the final deciding vote in favor of  President Trump’s nominee.

DeVos, a champion of charter schools and vouchers, will serve as the nation’s next U.S. Education Secretary.

For more on how she might impact education in North Carolina, read this piece from Policy Watch education reporter Billy Ball.

Trump Administration

As DeVos moves closer to confirmation, Sen. Warren blasts GOP colleagues for ignoring nominee’s shortcomings (video)

Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis are expected to fall in line and support Betsy Devos as the next U.S. Education Secretary when a final vote takes place in the U.S. Senate today.

Both North Carolina Senators have praised the talents that Devos would bring to the table as well as her support of  charter schools and vouchers.

But Democrats have been speaking throughout the night, desperate to find one more Republican to cast a “No” vote and derail the nomination. (Only Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have indicated they will oppose DeVos. )

Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered one of the strongest takedowns of DeVos on Monday, also faulting Republicans for ramming Trump’s nominee through at all costs.

Many media outlets believe today’s noon-time vote could be a 50-50 tie with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote in Devos’ favor.

Click below to hear Senator Warren:

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