Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

Old textbooks sit next to a tablet in teacher Charles Elliot's language arts classroom. Photo by Ricky Leung / NC Policy Watch.1. Experts to Gov. Cooper’s education commission: NC school funding is near nation’s lowest

North Carolina’s public school system is one of the lowest funded in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, a K-12 researcher told members of a key state school panel Tuesday.

It was just one of many data points hammered home, as school experts and administrators warned a key K-12 task force convened by Gov. Roy Cooper of troubling funding patterns, teacher shortages and yawning local spending gaps in North Carolina.

Karen Hawley Miles is president and executive director of Massachusetts-based Education Resource Strategies, a national nonprofit that advises states on school finances.

Miles’ report, which analyzed both state and national public school spending trends, pointed to numerous shortfalls in the state’s school finance structure, including that North Carolina has the fifth lowest average teacher salary in the nation when adjusted for cost-of-living, and that the state’s teachers earn only about 67 percent of the pay given to “similarly-educated, non-teachers.” [Read more…]

2.Signs of hope amidst the horror
Cracks are forming in the NRA’s death grip on American politics

At some point, it’s going to happen.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, shifting attitudes in the American body politic will reach a tipping point and the death grip that the gun lobby has on our government will begin to ease and, perhaps, even collapse. It’s not likely to happen right away or be pretty or pleasant – thousands more children, women and men will have to die unnecessarily and prematurely – but, it’s definitely going to happen.

The signs of this gradual change have been visible for some time and are garnering renewed attention in the aftermath of last week’s latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Here are five that stand out: [Read more…]

3. Dreamers’ lives hang in the balance as Supreme Court reviews Trump’s attempt to end DACA

Any protection the courts offer Dreamers is temporary, but all eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether it will take on the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

There have been numerous lawsuits filed since the Sept. 5, 2017 announcement that the government would end DACA, but the federal government made a rare move in mid-January by petitioning the highest court to weigh in on its decision before a review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The request was made after Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction requiring the federal government to maintain DACA nationwide except in few cases.[Read more...]

4. As GenX concerns grow, House lawmakers grapple with how to win Senate support

The good news is that the levels of GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water is testing consistently below the state’s provisional health goal. The bad news is that GenX has been detected in the sediment of the Cape Fear River and in rain water at a UNC Wilmington weather station 70 miles from Chemours, a known source of the chemical.

The good news is House members are enchanted with their version of House Bill 189, which would provide funding for the NC Department of Environmental Quality to address GenX and emerging contaminants. The bad news is, as Rep. Bob Steinburg, a Republican representing the Outer Banks, said, “the Senate spurned us.”

And so vacillated the emotional temperature of the House River Quality Committee yesterday, which met for more than four hours on a sprawl of topics, ranging from an EPA presentation on mass spectrometers, to a DEQ report on enforcement against Chemours, to an impassioned discussion of House Bill 189. [Read more…]

5. A tollway’s toll: Human, environmental impact of I-540 expansion loom large in southern Wake County

Carol Hinske rocked in her porch swing, allowing the sun to toast her skin on an oddly hot winter afternoon. “It feels good on my bones,” she said, smiling, her eyes closed.

Hinske, who is 73, has lived in Blue Skies Mobile Home Park off Rhodes Road near Apex for nearly half of her adult life. She has nurtured gardenias and azaleas, coddled hyacinths and daffodils, as well as raised a crepe myrtle tree from “when it was just a baby.”

But now Hinske is preparing — mentally, anyway — to uproot herself, her cat, Bandit, and her mobile home to make way for a toll road.

If built according to the current plan, the Complete 540 project will connect to the existing toll road at Highways 55 and 540, then traverse 28 miles through southern Wake County before joining I-440 and US 64 near Knightdale. [Read more…]

*** Upcoming Crucial Conversation on Wednesday:  The Hyde Amendment at age 41: The path forward in the fight for reproductive freedom for low-income women.

The Hyde Amendment was first introduced by an anti-abortion congressman in 1976 as a way to explicitly bar low-income people from accessing abortion care, and it’s been a provision tacked onto the federal budget ever since. For 41 years, legal and safe abortion has been the only type of health care stigmatized and politically targeted in this way. Register today.


NC Congressman: Arming teachers ‘a terrible idea’, time to focus on gun violence research

Congressman David Price (NC-4) and a handful of his congressional colleagues are pressing Speaker Paul Ryan to allow debate and a vote on legislation to provide adequate funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research about gun violence.

Price, who is a Vice Chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives, tells NC Policy Watch it’s long past due for Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment that has blocked meaningful research into the nation’s gun epidemic.

Congressman Price sat down this week to chat with NC Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield about the need for federally-funded research. He also dismissed calls at the state and national level to consider arming teachers to make schools safer.

Click below to hear an excerpt from our weekend interview with the Congressman:

On Thursday, President Donald Trump sought to clarify his remarks about arming school teachers in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting.

The president tweeted he would look at the possibility of concealed guns only for ‘gun adept teachers with military or special training experience – only the best.’


Co-chairs discuss scope of legislative committee to study school safety

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the appointments Tuesday to a new House Select Committee on School Safety.  Moore says the legislative panel will seek expert input on securing the state’s classrooms and education facilities in the wake of a shooting in Parkland, Florida last week that left 17 dead and more than a dozen wounded.

Rep. John Torbett and Rep. David Lewis outlined the scope of the committee’s work at a press conference in Shelby.

Recommendations are expected by the short session in May.

The following House members will serve on the Select Committee on School Safety

Representative David Lewis, Co-Chair Representative Nelson Dollar Representative Brenden Jones
Representative John Torbett, Co-Chair Representative Jeffrey Elmore Representative  Donny Lambeth
Representative John Faircloth, Vice-Chair Representative Elmer Floyd Representative Marvin Lucas
Representative John Bell Representative Rosa Gill Representative Chris Malone
Representative Larry Bell Representative Holly Grange Representative Allen McNeill
Representative Mary Ann Black Representative Pricey Harrison Representative Rodney Moore
Representative Jamie Boles Representative Kelly Hastings Representative Garland Pierce
Representative William Brawley Representative Cody Henson Representative Stephen Ross
Representative Dana Bumgardner Representative Yvonne Holley Representative Jason Saine
Representative Justin Burr Representative Craig Horn Representative Sarah Stevens
Representative Carla Cunningham Representative Pat Hurley Representative Larry Strickland
Representative Ted Davis Representative Verla Insko Representative Harry Warren
Representative Jimmy Dixon Representative Darren Jackson Representative Donna White
Representative Josh Dobson Representative Linda Johnson
Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. 12 years of negligence. 1 million gallons of manure. A $64,000 fine. A Jones County hog farm is out of business — for now.

On a sultry day last September, Megan Stilley arrived at Lanier Farms, a large swine operation in rural Jones County. An environmental specialist with the state’s Division of Water Resources, Stilley investigates complaints of illegal spills and other environmental violations. The people responsible are rarely glad to see her.

Shortly before noon, Doug Lanier and two of his farmhands met Stilley at the site. He was upset that news of his farm’s illegal discharge the day prior into the Trent River — eventually determined to be 1 million gallons of feces-laden wastewater — had been posted on Facebook by a local TV station.

A terse verbal exchange ensued. “At that point,” Stilley later wrote in her inspection notes, “I felt uncomfortable being there alone.”[Read more…]

*** Bonus read:

2. Special update: Controversial bill on class size, pipeline fund, elections/ethics board merger heads to the Governor

An omnibus bill alleviating some of the headaches associated with North Carolina’s class size crisis easily passed the state House by a 104-12 margin Tuesday, despite continuing opposition from top Democrats on its controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Board of Elections provisions.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who helped to assemble last week’s compromise conference report on House Bill 90, said the bill gives districts “much requested” time to prepare for the state’s new K-3 class sizes by phasing in its caps on average and maximum class size over the next four years.

The legislation, which also creates a $61 million recurring funding allocation for arts, music and physical education teachers, comes after years of mounting pressure on the Republican-dominated General Assembly to either ease their 2016 class size mandate or provide additional funding to save those so-called “enhancement” teaching positions. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:

3. Keeping up with the…judicial maps – There are now more than there are Kardashians

Lawmakers late last week released two new versions of a judicial redistricting bill, making these the eighth and ninth maps released since last summer.

The two new maps, dubbed “Option B” and “Option C” are nearly identical with the only change made to district lines in Durham County.

The maps differ from “Option A,” the proposal released a little over two weeks ago, in all of the larger metropolitan counties and in the two districts encompassing Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties.

Lawmakers also added several district court judges, subtracted a few, and added one superior court judge in the new proposals. [Read more…]

4.Taking cynicism to new levels
The General Assembly’s latest mashup legislation is an example of government at its worst

In the complex world of modern politics, it’s easy to imagine scenarios in which difficult compromises must be made. Sometimes, the circumstances are such that there simply isn’t any way for elected leaders to proceed without making multiple accommodations to multiple parties.

Hence, among other things, the distasteful but sometimes necessary phenomenon of the so-called “Christmas Tree” bill that is packed with all kinds of disparate provisions that have only one thing in common: they’re necessary to secure the votes of enough lawmakers to get essential underlying provisions passed into law. Such bills may often go too far and be fraught with problems, but at least they’re typically driven by a spirit of pragmatism and negotiation. [Read more…]

*** Bonus commentary:

5. Legislators hope to find a compromise and a new home for UNC’s controversial Confederate statue

Students, faculty and staff at UNC continue to protest the Chapel Hill campus’ Confederate monument, “Silent Sam.” The North Carolina Historical Commission continues to grapple with whether it can legally remove the statue.

When the General Assembly reconvenes in mid-May, a group of Democratic state lawmakers say they’ll attempt what might be the impossible: a compromise solution.

“There certainly are not the votes in the General Assembly to remove it from campus,” said N.C. Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange). “We’re working on a bill to move it inside somewhere – somewhere it can be safe and there won’t be the confrontations over it.”

Insko suggests the campus’ Wilson Library or Ackland Art Museum might be good locations –  places the statue could still be available to the public and a reminder of the history it represents, but not in its current place at the entrance to the campus. [Read more...]


NC congressional delegation denounces Florida school shooting; Rep. Price demands vote on gun violence bills

Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida claimed at least 17 lives. Authorities say the 19-year-old suspect had been expelled from the school last year.

The following reaction is from North Carolina’s Congressional delegation: