Want to boost NC reading achievement? Start earlier, invest more.

This week’s State Board of Education meeting brought disappointing news about how well North Carolina children are mastering reading.

The statewide report on North Carolina’s Read to Achieve program found more than 43 percent of third-graders tested during the 2017-18 school year did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

Certainly there were bright spots like Mooresville City Schools and Watauga County Schools where the pass-rate was roughly 72 percent. But in places like Edgecombe County Public School and Thomasville City Schools, the percentage of third graders not reading at-grade level exceeded 63 percent.

There are many things that can influence the test results. A retired teacher wrote earlier this week after our Monday numbers column to share that special education students or ESL learners can skew a district’s results.

But education experts are taking a look at the statewide data and asking is it time to rethink Senator Berger’s signature education program?

This weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views, Rob Schofield sits down to discuss the findings with Matt Ellinwood, director of the Justice Center’s Education & Law Project.

Ellinwood discusses the need for investing more in North Carolina’s high-quality pre-K programs and providing greater resources to schools struggling to boost reading levels.

Click below for a preview of our radio interview with Ellinwood:

It’s also worth noting that state officials are not seeking legislative changes to Read to Achieve this session.

As education reporter Greg Childress explained this week, the state board instead has offered three recommendations to improve Read to Achieve outcomes:

The recommendations include providing greater financial and support to schools, identifying and “scaling up” reading programs that work and transitioning from a third-grade “social promotion mindset to a literacy development mindset.”

agriculture, Governor Roy Cooper

Cooper to Trump: End government shutdown, provide federal funds for hurricane recovery, NC farmers

Governor Roy Cooper is pressing President Donald Trump to end the federal government shutdown.

In a letter released Wednesday, Gov. Cooper wrote that the long-term work to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence is being delayed each day the shutdown continues. The shutdown is also negatively impacting farmers hoping to plan for this year’s planting season and need help from the US Department of Agriculture.

Here’s an excerpt from the governor’s letter:

“While we continue the short-term recovery with FEMA’s help, our critical long-term work to rebuild stronger and smarter is delayed with every day that federal funds are held in Washington,” Gov. Cooper wrote in the letter sent today.

In April 2018, North Carolina was notified of a $168 million award of Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) from the US Housing and Urban Development to make the state’s flood-prone areas safer. The state remains unable to use these funds until guidance is published in the Federal Register, which cannot happen while the federal government remains shuttered.

In September, a HUD appropriation for 2018 storms including Hurricane Florence was enacted as part of the FAA reauthorization bill but awaits allocation to affected states. The $1.68 billion allocated will be shared by North Carolina and other states recovering from natural disasters, but without guidance states are left waiting to learn how much funding they will receive and how best to put these funds to work for recovery and mitigation.

The shutdown also limits North Carolina’s access to HUD experts needed to help with rebuilding efforts in the state. In addition, North Carolina farmers are without help from federal agriculture experts at a critical time.

“The government shutdown is also threatening the livelihood of our farmers, many of whom were swamped by the same hurricane waters that destroyed homes and businesses,” Gov. Cooper wrote in his letter. “Help from the US Department of Agriculture for hurricane affected farms is unavailable, and farmers hoping to plan for this year’s planting season are running out of time. “

“During your visit following Hurricane Florence, you promised me the 100% support of the federal government in North Carolina’s recovery. This shutdown makes that promise harder to keep. Please work with Congressional leaders to end this shutdown so our communities can rebuild quickly and effectively.”

Read the full letter here.

Earlier this week the National Governors Association called on President Trump and congressional leaders to immediately end the partial federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22.


Five progressive freshmen to watch in NC’s 2019 legislative session

The 2019 North Carolina General Assembly gavels in at noon today with an organizational session. Here are five progressive members of the freshman class worth watching:

Representative Allison A. Dahle

Represents: Wake County (District 11)

From her website: I am a proud supporter of the #MeToo movement. I believe the courageous women who have come forward to share their stories about a critical problem that has permeated all aspects of society. To combat and eradicate this abusive behavior, we need to change not only our laws and office policies, but also our culture.  We need to get past the idea of “No means no” to “Yes means yes” and make affirmative consent the norm. We must also reform the process for reporting harassment in the General Assembly so that nobody falls through the cracks.
Other items of note:  Dahle ousted incumbent Rep. Duane Hall in the May primary following allegations of sexual harassment.

Representative Zack Hawkins

Represents: Durham County (District 31)

From his website:  Healthy people are working people. Working people contribute to and invest in NC.

  • Every North Carolinian should have access to high-quality health care, no matter where you live.
  • Expand Medicaid to more than 500,000 North Carolinians. Now.
  • Proactively and retroactively address public health crises and epidemics facing our state.
  • True economic development. Prepare today’s workforce for the jobs of the future.

Other items of note: Rep. “Mickey” Michaux, who served 19 terms in the House before announcing his retirement, endorsed Hawkins as his replacement.

Representative Rachel Hunt

Represents: Mecklenburg County (District 103)

From her website: When my father left office in 2001, North Carolina was at the national average in terms of teacher pay. SInce 2000, we have slowly slipped into the bottom fourth. Our children deserve better! In order to recruit and keep the best teachers – we need to treat them like the professionals they are and pay them accordingly. In addition, we must restore teacher assistant positions so that our teachers can focus on our kids on not paperwork.

Other items of note: The daughter of former Governor Jim Hunt bested incumbent GOP Rep. Bill Brawley by just 68 votes. On the eve of the session, the conservative NC Values Coalition attempted to throw a wrench into the works urging that Hunt not be seated. [Update: The House Rules Chairman found no standing to the coalition’s claim and Rep. Hunt was indeed seated Wednesday.]

Representative Julie von Haefen

Representing: Wake County (District 36)

From her website: As a long time public school advocate and PTA leader, I know that every child deserves a world class education, right here in North Carolina. From pre-K through high school, education should be free to students and well-funded by the state. For our state to compete economically and for all individuals to live fulfilled lives, a quality education is crucial.

Our state government needs to restore the respect of our teachers and administrators, respect that has been damaged under the current leadership in our General Assembly.  We need to increase teacher pay, restore pay scales that reward teachers for advanced degrees and experience and end pay incentives based on test scores.  We also need to support ALL students through increased per pupil spending and investment in their school buildings.

Other items of note: von Haefen defeated longtime GOP budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar to win her seat.

Senator Mujtaba A. Mohammed

Represents: Mecklenbug County (District 38)

From his website: A longtime Charlotte resident, he was born in the United States to two hardworking immigrant parents from India. Mohammed served as a former staff attorney at the Council for Children’s Rights and Assistant Public Defender in Charlotte.

Other items of note:  Mohammed ousted incumbent Sen. Joel Ford in the May primary. He joins Indian American state Senator Jay Chaudhuri in the NC Senate. He also holds the distinction of being the youngest member in that chamber.


The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Anita Earls sworn in as new Supreme Court justice in standing room only ceremony

The newest state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls had a swearing in ceremony Thursday afternoon that drew a crowd of North Carolina’s biggest movers and shakers in both the legal and legislative world.

Earls wore a classic black skirt suit with an airy white blouse and a shiny gold and silver floral broach pinned onto the middle of her collar. She had the state Supreme Court seal pinned to her lapel. Her big smile was shining; her happiness oozed, and the hugs she gave the people in the room were genuine — it was not the state many are used to seeing her in, particularly in the courtroom. As an attorney, Earls was always the epitome of buttoned up and professional, remaining cool, calm and collected even during what could be perceived as intimidating moments. [Read more…]

2. Five takeaways from Gov. Cooper’s document dump about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office did coordinate with state environmental officials on the timing of a key water quality permit approval and a controversial $57.8 million deal with Dominion Energy over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. But a Policy Watch review of more than 19,000 pages of public records found no evidence that the voluntary fund, outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding between Cooper’s office and Dominion, explicitly greased the way for project to proceed. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly alleged that the permit approval was contingent upon Dominion ponying up $57.8 million for a voluntary economic development fund. Both the approval and the fund were announced on the same day, Jan. 26, 2018, just 23 minutes apart.[Read more…]

3. The 9th District mess: Where things stand and what comes next

Mark Harris met with state elections investigators Thursday morning, pledging full cooperation with the board in the increasingly complex investigation into alleged ballot fraud in November’s 9th Congressional District race.

The same morning, Harris’ lawyers sued the state board of elections, asking the Wake County Superior Court to compel the board’s director to certify the election results before the investigation is complete.

As the 116th Congress was sworn in Thursday in Washington, D.C., North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District seat was the only one empty. The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has made it clear they will not seat anyone until questions over the legitimacy of the election have been answered.[Read more…]

Read more


The Faces of Poverty – a special interview with UNC Law Professor Gene Nichol

As we wind down the year, we look back at some of the newsmakers of 2018 who have lifted their voice to build a better North Carolina. Earlier this month, we were honored to sit down with Gene Nichol for an extended interview in which we discussed his new book; “The Faces of Poverty: Stories From Our Invisible Citizens”

Click below to hear the full podcast that aired last week on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Rob Schofield:

Nichol is Boyd Tinsley distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina. He was director of the UNC Poverty Center (2008-2015). Since 2015, his research has been supported by the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.