Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

ff-601-budget1. The cynical and damaging election-year Senate budget

It’s not hard to tell it is an election year for the General Assembly. Senate leaders, who for years have demonized public school teachers and openly challenged assertions that they are underpaid, are now proposing a significant salary increase that they claim will raise the state’s ranking in teacher pay to 24th in the nation.

That’s the budget headline they are hoping everyone remembers. They’d rather not talk about their plan that gives only some state employees a small pay hike while ignoring state retirees altogether.

Senate Budget Chair Harry Brown said giving retirees a long overdue cost of living increase as the House proposed would not be “good budgeting.”   People who spent much of their lives serving the public by working in state government and who are now having trouble making ends meet would no doubt disagree. [Continue reading….]

Spellings-and-Kelly2. New high-priced UNC administrator: Not likely to solve problems of soaring costs and student debt

UNC President Margaret Spellings announced last Thursday the appointment of Andrew P. Kelly, current director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, to the position of Senior Vice President for Strategy and Policy at the university.

According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, the newly-created position, which will begin in August, comes with an annual salary of $245,000, and seems designed to address numerous pressures facing the institution, including “climbing tuition, loan default rates, poor college readiness, lackluster graduation rates and poor productivity.”

As Kelly told UNC’s Board of Governors, “Families are anxious about the cost of college, and they’re desperate for some bold thinking on how to make college more valuable, not just more affordable, more valuable. Policymakers are looking for solutions, and I’m looking forward to working with you all to come up with some of those.” [Continue reading….]

ASD-Brockman3. Tempers flare as controversial Achievement School District bill clears House
Unproven model allows for charter takeover of state’s lowest-performing schools

Rep. Cecil Brockman is admitting he could have been more eloquent.

The first-term High Point Democrat, co-sponsor of House Bill 1080, perhaps the most controversial K-12 education bill in the legislature thus far this year, was bristling when he rebuffed a fellow Democrat’s calls for teacher appreciation moments ago.

Brockman’s bill for achievement school districts—a reform that could grant for-profit charters the ability to wring control of a low-performing school from a local school district—is not about teachers, he insists. [Continue reading.…]

nctabor-ff4. The HB2 of state budget and tax policy ideas
If you think things are bad now for NC, wait till you see what might be coming next at the General Assembly

The damage to North Carolina’s economy, brain power and overall wellbeing from HB2 is rapidly spreading and accumulating. What started out as a handful of canceled entertainment events is fast becoming a bona fide all-purpose disaster for North Carolina that will impact the state for years to come. As one astute commentator noted last week in Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“A study out of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center says that the potential loss of federal funds in North Carolina could result in $2.4 billion in wages and 53,000 jobs. While those numbers seem staggering, they pale in comparison to the loss of brand equity HB2 is causing. We might be able to quantify job losses when organizations like PayPal and Deutsche Bank announce their plans to disinvest in North Carolina. We never will be able to calculate how much we lose when North Carolina gets crossed off the list in some corporate site selection meeting or the next great tech startup chooses to start elsewhere. [Continue reading….]

PV-6025. HB2 update: If we’re going to talk about sexual violence, let’s really talk about it

A high school football team’s locker room is host to the sexual harassment and assault of its freshmen members every week. Sexual violence survivors increasingly come forward to share their stories of abuse at the hands of their clergy. A coach on a Big Ten sports team is found guilty of molesting numerous children over a period of decades. A 13-year old girl is raped by her older brother’s classmates and left unconscious in the snow on her front lawn.

These are just a few examples of the sexual violence that makes the news, and the reality of what children in our society experience. It is estimated that one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys in this country experience some type of sexual violence by the time they turn 18. Approximately 69% of teen sexual assaults occur in a private residence. Only about 10% of perpetrators of child sexual assault are strangers to the children they victimize, while 30% of the perpetrators are family members of the child (the other 60% are family friends, neighbors, coaches, clergy, babysitters, etc.).[Continue reading….]

Upcoming event on Monday, June 6th: Crucial Conversation — A year after the Charleston tragedy: Growing hope for saner anti-gun violence policies. The event features State Senator Floyd McKissick, Jr., the Rev. Kylon Middleton pastor of the Mount Zion AME Church in Charleston, S.C. and Rev. Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches.


Must read: Unproven model allows charter takeover of state’s lowest-performing schools (w/ video)

While political observers are focused on the Senate’s early morning approval of their $22.2 billion spending plan, be sure to make time to visit Policy Watch’s main site today  for the latest on the House’s passage of Achievement School District legislation.

As education reporter Billy Ball explains HB 1080, co-sponsored by Democrat Rep. Cecil Brockman – may be the most controversial K-12 bill this session.

Brockman’s bill for achievement school districts—a reform that could grant for-profit charters the ability to wring control of a low-performing school from a local school district—is not about teachers, he insists.

North Carolina public schools have failed black students, he says, many of them crammed into the same low-performing, low-wealth schools his legislation targets.

“If (teachers) don’t like it, good,” he fires off. “This is about the kids. Who cares about the teachers? We should care about the kids. If they don’t like it, maybe it’s a good thing.”

Minutes later, challenged by another lawmaker, Brockman apologized if his comments offended any teachers. “I was being provocative,” the legislator confessed.

Such is the nature of debate in the N.C. General Assembly these days, particularly when it comes to House Bill 1080. Some lawmakers, backed by a network of Oregon-based charters operating 10 schools in North Carolina, are hoping to push through changes hotly contested by many public school advocates.

“It’s unproven at best,” Mark Jewell, president-elect of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), one of the most powerful teacher lobbying groups in Raleigh, told House lawmakers last week.

Among its components, Brockman’s bill—which he co-sponsored with Charlotte-area Republicans Rob Bryan and John Bradford III—will funnel five of the state’s lowest-performing schools into one state-run district, regardless of geography. State officials will then be able to hand over control, including hiring and firing powers, to charter operators in five-year contracts.

Rep. Susan Fisher joins NC Policy Watch in the studio this weekend to discuss the push to implement achievement school districts in North Carolina, and the Senate’s move to funnel an additional $10 million each year into private school vouchers through 2027.

For a preview of Fisher’s appearance on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, click below. Read Billy Ball’s full story on the ASD legislation here.

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Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

Budget cuts1. Locking in North Carolina’s decline
The 2017 budget promises nothing but more distress for North Carolina 

Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore love to boast that North Carolina is in the midst (or, perhaps, on the cusp) of a rousing economic “comeback.” Hardly a day goes by anymore in which one or more of these men isn’t issuing some kind of release claiming that conservative fiscal policies have somehow turned around the state’s economy and “unleashed the private sector” to create all sorts of new jobs and development.

Recently, the mantra has been all about how North Carolina was rated the third best state in the country “for business” by yet another “CEO” magazine. Never mind that it won virtually identical (if not more glowing) plaudits throughout the Perdue and Easley administrations and even during the Great Recession. [Continue reading…]

LGBT equality2. HB2 makes me feel less welcome, but the fight against it gives me hope

Six years ago, I moved to North Carolina to accept a one-year teaching position at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro. My wife, also named Angela, and I, had just made the final repair on our home in Florida, where we planned to live for the rest of our lives. But during my year in North Carolina, I fell in love with the state, and I began looking for a job that would allow Angela and me to relocate here permanently.

Fortunately, North Carolina Central University School of Law was looking for someone to teach courses that I taught and they extended an offer to me to join the faculty. The pull of North Carolina was so strong that Angela left a teaching job that she loved in Miami, and I tendered my resignation to the law school where I had taught for almost 20 years.

In North Carolina, and particularly in Durham, we found more than a home; we found a community. We live in the cul de sac of a small neighborhood and we’re a part of that community. We’re friends with our neighbors, we go to their kids’ birthday parties, and we watch each others’ homes when someone is on vacation. Our neighborhood is exactly the kind of neighborhood we hoped to find.  We are not the only African American family, nor are we the only LGBT family. [Continue reading…]

virtualschool23. State lawmakers poised to loosen rules for virtual charter schools
Move would come despite high dropout rates, big questions about academics

In the space of one day last week, North Carolina’s virtual charter schools saw their controversial plans for overhauling attendance requirements axed, and then, mostly, restored.

Such is the often rapid-fire speed of amendments lobbed in state House and Senate committees as North Carolina lawmakers wrangle over their budget plan this month.

But as House leaders approved their spending plan last week and Senate budget chiefs prepared to unveil their proposals this week, one thing is clear, according to the state’s public school advocates: The virtual charters, besieged by high dropout rates and nationwide concerns about poor academic performance, are bound for relaxed regulations in North Carolina anyway [Continue reading…]

virtual24. Virtual charter schools are a bust. So why did the NC House loosen state regulations even further?

Public school students in North Carolina are expected to be able to weigh evidence and make sound, logical decisions based on that evidence. Should we expect the same from our legislators?

That was the question before the General Assembly during the recent House Budget debate, as legislators argued whether to pull the plug on virtual charter schools. Virtual charters, authorized as part of the 2014 budget, are for-profit, online schools. With grim results in other states, it’s unclear why North Carolina’s policymakers are pushing us down the same path.

The educational results are truly grim. The most careful, comprehensive study of virtual charter schools, from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that virtual charter students achieved the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading than students in traditional public schools. In the words of lead researcher Margaret Raymond, the math results are “literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”  Not surprisingly, the average graduation rate at online schools is 40%, less than half the national average graduation rate of 82%. [Continue reading…]

Payday loans5. Feds to issue new rules on “payday” and “car title” lending; Here’s why North Carolinians should be paying very close attention

Payday loansNorth Carolinians can be forgiven if they haven’t thought a lot about the predatory “payday lending” business in recent years. Indeed, it was one of the great accomplishments of our state government in the early part of the last decade when it officially ended North Carolina’s four-year experiment with the business and made these inherently predatory loans illegal. The last of the payday shops was chased out of the state in 2006.

Since that time, there have been periodic efforts to bring the practice back into North Carolina, but consumer advocates have repeatedly succeeded in beating them back. A few years ago, an Alabama bank attempted to exploit a loophole in federal law that allowed banks to evade state usury caps and reintroduce a form of payday lending into the state. Amidst sustained protests, however, the bank backed down and North Carolinians have since remained blessedly free of this deceptive and destructive “product.” [Continue reading…]

***Upcoming event on Monday, June 6th: Crucial Conversation — A year after the Charleston tragedy: Growing hope for saner anti-gun violence policies.

Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

NCChamber-onHB21. The NC Chamber comes clean about its cynical opportunism on HB2
Ever since North Carolina lawmakers and Governor Pat McCrory rammed through North Carolina’s new all-purpose discrimination law (HB2) in just a handful of hours on March 23, there has been widespread speculation about the motives and role in the whole affair of North Carolina’s largest business lobby group, the NC Chamber.

The fact that the new law (which was supposedly about responding to the city of Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance) ended up including out-of-nowhere provisions that repealed the 30-year-old right of North Carolinians to bring employment discrimination lawsuits in state court, along with a ban on local living wage laws, was widely seen as an indication that the Chamber had quietly struck a deal with lawmakers. The group’s conspicuous silence in the intervening weeks only added fuel to the fire.

As the Charlotte Observer noted in an April editorial:[Continue reading…]

Voucher-sb8622. Lawmakers seek massive expansion of voucher scheme that discriminates against LGBT students
If a handful of right-wing legislators have their way, taxpayers in North Carolina may soon be spending $125 million a year funding private and fundamentalist religious schools that can refuse to admit gay or transgender students—or even students with gay parents.

That’s one of the many troubling features of the state’s school voucher scheme, misleadingly named the opportunity scholarship program that provides $4,200 vouchers to private academies and religious schools to pay for the education of low and moderate income students who apply to participate.

The state has currently $12 million of public money available for private schools with virtually no accountability measures in place to guarantee or even monitor the quality of education the children are receiving.  A bill filed this week at the General Assembly would increase that funding every year until it reaches $125 million a year in ten years. [Continue reading…]

WB-10403. HB2: Not the only area in which NC will soon trail the field
State lawmakers are preparing to make poor services, crumbling structures and regressive taxes permanent
The ongoing crisis surrounding North Carolina’s embattled governor and his controversial, all-purpose discrimination law (HB2) grew more serious yesterday as state and federal officials turned to the courts to sort out their dispute. What started out two months ago as a skirmish over a public restroom access policy in one city has now morphed into a national (and even international) conflict over LGBT equality.

Whatever the initial intentions of the various parties to the dispute, North Carolina is now clearly understood by millions of people around the nation and the world to be the torch bearer for those who would deny full equality to LGBT people. As columnist Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer noted this past Sunday: [Continue reading…]

Mc_509-400A4. The evolution of Gov. Pat McCrory into right-wing culture warrior
One of the many repercussions of HB2, the sweeping anti-LGBT bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in March, is that it has forced McCrory to finally take a side in the debate about North Carolina’s future.

Would he try to cling to his carefully crafted and misleading image as the moderate former mayor of the state’s largest city?  Or would he fully embrace the far-right agenda of the legislative leaders of his own party who are remaking the state not only by slashing funding for schools and human services to pay for tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy but also fighting the religious culture wars against women’s access to reproductive health care and gay rights?

McCrory hasn’t done much in the last four years to stand up to the draconian agenda passed by the General Assembly, signing legislation restricting access to abortion after promising during his campaign that he wouldn’t and signing budgets that have cut taxes by billions of dollars after initially demanding that any tax reform be revenue neutral so schools and state services could be adequately funded. [Continue reading…]

Bonus read: U.S. Department of Justice files suit against North Carolina over House Bill 2
Bonus video: U.S. Attorney General announce Justice Department will sue to block “state-sponsored discrimination” (video)

School-desk5. Proposed House education budget cuts $27 million for reducing first-grade class sizes, reallocates most to literacy coaches

N.C. House leaders in a key budget committee gave their approval Thursday to a report on the chamber’s draft of the state education budget, a document that, overall, allocates an additional  $12.9 million in K-12 spending, but, notably, also axes about $27 million intended to reduce first-grade class sizes by adding additional teachers.

The report presented Thursday does not address teacher pay. Committee Co-Chairman Rob Bryan, R-Meck., said that would be discussed at a later date by the chamber’s larger appropriations committee.

Meanwhile, legislative staff told lawmakers that the first-grade teacher funding was allocated last year during budget negotiations, and none of those positions have been filled yet. The cash was geared toward lowering the teacher-student ratio from 1 teacher per 17 students to 1 teacher per 16 students.

GOP lawmakers, responding to Democrats’ questioning about the draft budget, said the cut was somewhat offset by an additional $25 million allocation to hire literacy coaches to work in the bottom 20 percent of the lowest performing elementary schools in the state. [Continue reading…]

Bonus read:  House K-12 education budget reflects impact of prioritizing tax cuts over reinvestment

Commentary, News

Federal money safe for now in #HB2 dispute, corporate America may be less patient (video)

The Obama administration clarified Thursday that it would not cut off federal funding to North Carolina while the legal wrangling over a controversial LGBT law plays out in the courts.

On Monday U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department would seek a court order to overturn House Bill 2 that stipulates transgender individuals use the restroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate.

Lynch says HB2 violates the Civil Rights Act and amounts to “state-sponsored discrimination.”

Today White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters:

“So these are two separate actions that the government is taking, one sort of questioning, evaluating this policy question about what impact the law has on funding, but also, separately, the Department of Justice has been engaged in a process of enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  And while those are two separate processes, it is clear that the decision on the part of the Department of Justice to move forward with enforcement means that, while the process plays out, the administration will not be taking action to withhold funding.”

Governor McCrory’s communications director Josh Ellis responded:

“As Governor McCrory has said all along, his administration’s assertive action against Washington overreach will protect federal funding for schools and other services while allowing the courts resolve this issue,” said Ellis.

Higher education officials are likely breathing easier as the UNC system, which is also caught up in an HB2 lawsuit, receives $1.4 billion in federal funding.

But Rep. Grier Martin notes the economic pushback in the private sector is still very real:

“What scares me even more is the rumblings I hear behind the scenes,” said Martin. “Folks in business who have talked to corporate recruiters, economic developers who are hearing off the record from companies ‘Hey, we aren’t even considering North Carolina because of House Bill 2.'”

Rep. Martin appears this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss efforts to repeal HB2 and the The Equality for All Act.

A study released this by UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates that reduced corporate investment in the state related to HB2 would have created jobs paying over $40 million in annual salaries. The report also notes that at least five states, the District of Columbia, and 21 localities have adopted travel bans to North Carolina.

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