Commentary, News

1. Five things you need to know about the new state revenue “surplus”

Despite the “April surprise,” NC’s fiscal fundamentals remain grim There’s been a great deal of back and forth inside the Raleigh beltline in recent days about the state revenue surplus that state leaders announced last week. To the hardliners on the Right, the fact that state revenues for the current fiscal year [Continue Reading…]

2. The Final Class of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows

Tacey Miller’s dream of becoming a North Carolina Teaching Fellow took hold early in her high school career, when her best friend, who was two years older than Miller, got into to the program. “I was there when she got her acceptance letter, and I got see how the program worked through her,” said Miller, [Continue Reading…]

3. A muddled start to the state budget dance

House leaders began unveiling pieces of their state budget proposal Thursday and as always it was a mixed bag. The budget finally provides more money for textbooks in public schools for example, while at the same time increasing funding for the completely unaccountable school voucher scheme that may be declared unconstitutional by the [Continue Reading…]

4. Emails between Tom Ross, UNC Board of Governors show concern about Ross’ dismissal

Several members of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors contacted UNC President Tom Ross in the days after he was pushed to resign, relaying their sorrow about what happened, according to emails recently obtained by N.C. Policy Watch. “I have enjoyed getting to know you and consider you to be a [Continue Reading…]

5.Unraveling the coal ash litigation matrix

Editor’s note: Duke Energy entered a guilty plea Thursday, May 14th to misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act in connection with coal ash contamination at several of its plants here, agreeing to pay a record $102 million dollar fine. A copy of the plea agreement can be found here. If all goes [Continue Reading…]

*** Bonus video: EPA: Duke’s $102 million penalty should serve as a warning to others that “cut corners”

News

Federal prosecutors says Duke Energy’s guilty plea and agreement to pay a record $102 million fine for seepage from its coal ash ponds should ‘speak loudly’ to other corporations that fail to protect the environment.

EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles told reporters while the agreement requires Duke to comply with the law, they are no longer willing to take Duke’s word for it that the clean-up is being done in a timely and satisfactory manner:

“An independent, third party monitor appointed by the court is going to audit their operation nationwide, not just in North Carolina, to make sure they are meeting their responsibilities,” explained Giles. “Those reports are going to be made public so Duke is held publicly accountable. We are sending a clear message to managers and businesses across the country take your responsibility to protect communities seriously.”

Duke will also be required to set aside $3.4 billion, a guarantee that it has the money necessary to address the seepage problems as it works to close 32 ash ponds across North Carolina.

Prosecutors noted Thursday that Duke Energy executives brought much of this trouble on themselves, failing to approve $20,000 for a robotic camera to inspect an aged stormwater pipe that failed in February 2014 dumping 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

To hear more from the EPA’s administrator for enforcement, click below. To read the plea agreement, click here.

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Commentary, News

Education reporter Lindsay Wagner has a must read piece on NC Policy Watch’s main site today profiling one of the final college students to go through the highly-acclaimed NC Teaching Fellows program.  Here’s an excerpt from her story:

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Tacey Miller focuses on a STEM-based lesson.

Since its inception, the program has graduated in the neighborhood of 9,000 teaching fellows. Participants of the program must teach in North Carolina for a minimum of four years or else repay the four-year tuition scholarship, worth a total of $26,000. Sixty-four percent of fellows stay in North Carolina beyond six years, often teaching many more beyond that.

But what’s evident when talking with a teaching fellow — and as is the case with [Tacey] Miller — is the fact that the teaching fellows program offers a lot more than a chance to graduate from college debt-free.

“I loved my elementary education program and it was fantastic,” said Miller of the regular teacher training she received through NC State. “But thanks to the teaching fellows program, I don’t believe that I’ll have as steep a learning curve as my other education school peers in order to get to that master teacher level,” she said.

Miller is not alone in her praise of the teacher preparation program. James Ford, North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year for 2014, recently appeared on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views and questioned the logic in abandoning a successful pipeline for teacher recruitment:
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While House and Senate leaders have been hesitant to reinstate the fellows program in its original form, some legislators are exploring recruitment alternatives.

On Tuesday a House Education committee advanced legislation that would create a forgivable loan program for prospective teachers in the areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and special education. Eligible students would qualify for loan amounts of $5,000 per year under House Bill 844.

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Read Wagner’s full story: The Final Class of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows

Listen to the full interview with the 2014 NC Teacher of the Year James Ford on teacher recruitment and retention.

 

News
House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore

NC House Speaker Tim Moore hopes his chamber will pass its version of the state budget by the end of next week, in advance of the Memorial Day weekend.

Moore sat down with reporters at the NC Insider Tuesday and hinted the spending package members will vote on likely next Wednesday and Thursday could include across-the-board raises for state employees.

Governor Pat McCrory also indicated last week he would support using some of the state’s newly discovered surplus to give targeted increases to workers in hard-to-staff areas of state government.

The public will get its first look at the House’s spending priorities Thursday morning, when appropriations committees are scheduled to meet.

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For more on the budget roll-out, watch the NC Insider’s video short with Speaker Moore:

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News

Spring commencement services were held across North Carolina over the weekend, with the Class of 2015 hearing from scientists, journalists, leaders in education and philanthropists. Here are a few excerpts from the more notable speeches:

Brokaw at HPU

Tom Brokaw (Photo: High Point University)

“No other country in the world is graduating as many people in higher education as the United Stated in the history of mankind. You graduates are the best educated generation this country has ever produced, which makes you unique in global history. For that you should be proud, but you know you have obligations that come with that as well.”

“Don’t be afraid to be disruptive; find new ways to do the conventional and the useful; and don’t run from big and bold challenges. Be the generation that sees a friend or a stranger for who they are and not just for the color of their skin.”
— Veteran journalist Tom Brokaw speaking at High Point University

“The most vital attribute in the world you’re about to enter is not critical thinking or fluency in another language. It’s about whether you’re able to see the world through another’s eyes.”

“The key factor of success for any society going forward is what percentage of its people are change-makers. It’s the new literacy, and empathy is the foundation of that new way of being.”

–U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaking at NC Central University

ROSS“Will you and the life you lived matter? Will you live your life in a manner that embodies and reflects ECU’s motto, ‘To Serve?’ Will you do your part to improve the quality of life for others and help your community move forward to something better?”

“There is nothing wrong with making money; in fact, I encourage it so you can donate back to East Carolina, but the most significant opportunity that life presents us is the opportunity to matter in the lives of others.”
— UNC system president Tom Ross speaking at East Carolina University

“It’s important to reject the notion that we can’t really understand the views of others or their suffering or dismay. What problems are not soluble by coming together? None.”
–Paul Farmer, co-founder of the international nonprofit Partners in Health speaking at Duke University

“When we think of education, we often think of it as preparing us to do something, but an institution like UNC Asheville, which is steeped in the liberal arts, is geared toward allowing us to be something: to be enlightened, to be aware, to be involved, to be curious, to be interested, and hopefully, especially as you go into the job market, to be interesting. Today, I want you to think less about what you want to do after this morning’s commencement and more about what you want to be. … But the good news is this: That the thing you want to be, I’d be willing to bet you already are.”
— Best-selling novelist and distinguished alumnus Wiley Cash speaking at UNC-Asheville

“Doing what you love — pursuing your own path — is often the most unsettling option at the outset…The paths that others have traveled before you, those are the paths that have greater visibility. They appear lower risk. They play better in conversations with the aunts, uncles and neighbors. But don’t fall for it. You are better than that and have the strength to go your own way.”
Jason Kilar, the former founding CEO of Hulu speaking at UNC-Chapel Hill