Commentary, News

Last Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

ff-rucho-8301. The bizarre and telling reaction of GOP leaders to non-gerrymandered districts

If you are looking for confirmation that the current system of drawing districts for Congress and the General Assembly is ridiculously broken, legislative leaders unwittingly provided it this week with their bizarre and bitter reaction to congressional maps drawn as an exercise by a bipartisan panel of retired judges.

The idea was to see what would happen if politics was not part of the redistricting process, if the goal was to create rational districts that make sense for voters instead of protecting politicians in one political party or the other.

The exercise was a joint project between Common Cause North Carolina and Duke University and brought together 10 retired judges, five Democrats and five Republicans, to spend several months coming up with districts that complied with the Voting Rights Act but did not take party registration or residency of incumbents into account.

The result released at a news conference Monday was a map of compact districts that voters could understand. There were no lines snaking through multiple counties and jumping across highways to grab voters here and there to make sure a district was more favorable to Democrats or to pack as many African-Americans into as few districts as possible to maximize Republican majorities elsewhere in the state. [Continue reading...]

Transgender-AdobeStock_4002. HB2 injunction reveals state’s anti-LGBT position and its controversial allies

Last week’s federal ruling blocking part of HB2 for three defendants in the ongoing lawsuit was seen as a victory for LGBT people and their advocates.

But beyond putting part of HB2 on hold, the fight over the injunction also revealed some of the essential motivations of the state, which has variously defended HB2 as “common sense,” as necessary for privacy and to protect women and young girls.

With the issue now before the court, the state has revealed its official position: There are no transgender people – just delusional, mentally ill people who shouldn’t be encouraged.

“The norm for human development is for one’s thoughts to align with physical reality, and for one’s gender identity to align with one’s biologic sex,” wrote the state’s expert, Dr. Quentin L. Van Meter. “Gender identity that does not match natal sex is a mental disorder, previously called Gender Identity Disorder.”

The term “Gender Identity Disorder” was changed to “Gender Dysphoria” in 2012, when the American Psychiatric Association stopped considering it a mental disorder. [Continue reading…]

srs-831A3. Whitewashing history
New Supreme Court filing shines a spotlight on the disturbing effort to erase the Racial Justice Act

If you’re a student of world history, you will recall that one of the many horrific practices of the dictatorship in the old Soviet Union was the “purge.” Periodically, members of the Communist Party would run afoul of Stalin or some other boss and find themselves not just banished from the party (or worse), but literally excised from history.

One day, a person could be a loyal and even powerful member of the Politburo and the next, presto, he or she never existed. Long before the advent of modern computers, Soviet bureaucrats made an art form of doctoring old party and government photographs to eliminate the images of officials who had fallen from favor.

Today, weirdly and disturbingly, we’re witnessing something vaguely reminiscent of the old Soviet-style purge in the criminal justice debate in North Carolina. The subject is the law that graced the state statute books from 2009 to 2013 known as the Racial Justice Act or “RJA.”

As N.C. Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey reported back in 2013 in what amounted to a retrospective on the law after it was fully repealed:  [Continue reading…]

redwolf34.  The future of a species hangs in the balance in eastern NC
Federal decision on endangered red wolf could come as early as next week

A red wolf in the wild is rare to see. Lanky and graceful, with a trim brown-and-buff coat and cinnamon ears, red wolves are a federally recognized endangered species — so endangered that only 40 live in the wild. All of the wild red wolves live on 1.7 million acres of both public and private land in five counties in eastern North Carolina. This is part of the wolves’ original territory, where federal wildlife officials reintroduced them in 1987 in hopes of saving the species.

Yet the future of the red wolf is tenuous. Once extinct, the population rebounded and peaked at 130 red wolves in 2005-06, only to plummet to since. In addition to dying from natural causes, the animals have been hit by cars, trapped, poisoned, drowned and illegally shot.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s inability or unwillingness to manage the red wolves has prompted the agency to weigh whether to continue the red wolf recovery program. This month, USFWS Director Dan Ashe is expected to rule on how to manage the 40 remaining wolves in Tyrrell, Dare, Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties. His decision ostensibly will be based on science, primarily the health and viability of the wolves in their natural wild habitat. But wildlife advocates fear that several factors could sway Ashe’s ruling: Opposition to the program within the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the influence of politically connected private landowners in eastern North Carolina, who also want to get rid of the wolves. [Continue reading…]

Bonus read: A timeline of North Carolina’s endangered red wolves

Voter ID5. Cheers and jeers – North Carolina reacts to the Supreme Court’s refusal to reinstate voter ID
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to reinstate North Carolina’s restrictive voting law for this November’s elections. That decision drew both praise and condemnation. Here’s a round-up:

“North Carolina has been denied basic voting rights already granted to more than 30 other states to protect the integrity of one person, one vote through a common-sense voter ID law. Even without any support from our state’s attorney general, we were pleased that four justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed with this right while four liberal justices blocked North Carolina protections afforded by our sensible voter laws.” – Governor Pat McCrory

“The highest Court in the land has rejected the State’s efforts to implement election provisions found by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to have been enacted with discriminatory intent….[Continue reading…]

News

Latest A-F school report cards released, poverty continues to determine a school’s success

The state Board of Education released North Carolina’s Public School report cards for the 2015-16 year at its Thursday meeting.

Almost one-third (32.7%) of schools earned an A or a B, while just under quarter were labelled with a D or an F.

School Performance Grades are based on student achievement (80%) and growth (20%).
a-fpie

The data continues to show a strong correlation between the poverty level of a school and the grade it receives.  A disproportionate number of schools that earned a D or an F on this year’s report card had poverty levels above 90%.Compare that in the chart below to schools that earned A’s and B’s.

schoolpoverty

How did your local school fare? You can find the complete listing of North Carolina schools here.

News

Cheers and jeers – North Carolina reacts to the Supreme Court’s refusal to reinstate voter ID

Voter IDThe U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to reinstate North Carolina’s restrictive voting law for this November’s elections. That decision drew both praise and condemnation. Here’s a round-up:

“North Carolina has been denied basic voting rights already granted to more than 30 other states to protect the integrity of one person, one vote through a common-sense voter ID law. Even without any support from our state’s attorney general, we were pleased that four justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed with this right while four liberal justices blocked North Carolina protections afforded by our sensible voter laws.” – Governor Pat McCrory

“The highest Court in the land has rejected the State’s efforts to implement election provisions found by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to have been enacted with discriminatory intent. This critical rejection of the State’s position will allow the people of North Carolina to exercise the fundamental right to vote this November without expansive restrictions by racist politicians or racist policies.” – Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP

“It’s time for Gov. McCrory and Republican leaders to end the costly wrangling and invest in making sure voters face no new roadblocks to having their voices heard.” – Bob Hall, executive director of the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina

“We respect the court but are disappointed North Carolina will not be among the more than 30 other states with common-sense voter ID in place for the upcoming election.” – Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement issued to the media

“The Supreme Court acted in the best interest of North Carolina voters, allowing elections this fall to proceed absent the cloud and concern of racially discriminatory voting laws.” – Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice

“This ruling means that thousands of voters who would have been disenfranchised will now be able to participate in the presidential election.” – Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project

“Our democracy is strongest when we bring more voices into the political process. Yet North Carolina’s recent and restrictive voting law, which included a stringent voter ID requirement and limited early voting, did the exact opposite. Today is a good day for democracy. This decision will help ensure that voters across our state can make their voices heard.”  – Deborah Ross, Democratic nominee for US Senate

News

Got something to say about the coal ash plan at Dan River? Tonight’s your chance.

State environmental officials will hold a public hearing on Duke Energy’s proposed wastewater permit for the Dan River Station this evening in Eden.

As the Greensboro News & Record reports:

Coal ash clean upUtility officials say that Duke needs the discharge permit to successfully close the ponds, excavate the ash that is submerged there and move it to a lined landfill. The ash accumulated over the years as waste from the coal-fired steam station that Duke shuttered in 2012.

“The NPDES permits are a necessary step in completing the excavation of the ash basin at Dan River, which is something that environmentalists have said they want,” Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks said, using the acronym for the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

A law passed by state legislators after the Dan River spill two years ago requires Duke to drain those ponds, dig up the now-submerged ash and dispose of it in a lined landfill by August 2019.

But some environmentalists are skeptical of procedures detailed in the proposed Dan River permit, contending the proposal simply gives the utility a license to pollute.

The permits would allow so-called “seeps” from the earthen walls of the ponds, leakage into the river that is not treated but which utility officials and regulators say is necessary to preserve the walls’ structural integrity.

The public hearing will be held at 6:00 p.m. at the Eden City Hall, 308 East Stadium Dr., Eden. (Speaker registration begins at 5:00 p.m.)

Can’t attend, but want to comment on the wastewater permit?

Just email those comments to: publiccomments@ncdenr.gov by the end of the day and include “Dan River” in the email’s subject line.

You can review a copy of the draft Dan River permit here.

Commentary, News

As McCrory holds roundtable on teacher pay, some veteran educators remain disappointed

MC_Career-PathwayGovernor Pat McCrory will be in Johnston County Wednesday morning for a back-to-school tour and roundtable discussion on teacher pay.

The governor has been active this week trying to draw attention to a pledge that the average public school teacher in North Carolina will make $50,000 during this school year.

But a fact check by WRAL finds the claim fails to acknowledge how local supplements raise a teacher’s base pay:

…a significant part of the $50,000 benchmark cited by McCrory and state lawmakers is chipped in by local governments, and because bigger school systems with more teachers tend to pay bigger supplements, they tend to pull the statewide average up.

The fact that, without local supplements, average teacher pay would be well below $50,000 is not well documented in ads for either the governor or lawmakers.

The Winston Salem Journal’s editorial board explains the compensation issue this way:

…the raises neglected our most experienced educators.

“State base-pay increases are all over the board,” Kerry Crutchfield, budget director for the district, said, “ranging from no increase at all for educators in their 33rd year and above, to 2 percent for educators in the 25-32 year range and 2- to 13 percent for teachers with other experience levels.”

So while many of our district’s teachers had increases in salaries, about 100 got nothing at all from the state.

We’re glad that the local system stepped in. But this doesn’t absolve any of the responsibility our state leaders have to see that our teachers are fairly and adequately compensated. Yes, they’ve done some, and the raises they’ve supplied are welcome, but more is needed before they can say they’ve done enough.

Finally, Keith Poston of the Public School Forum tells NC Policy Watch the frustration extends beyond the paycheck. Many North Carolina teachers are having to spend any modest increase on classroom supplies:

YouTube Preview Image

Our full interview with Poston can be accessed here.

Gov. McCrory will be meeting with select teachers at 9:15am at Riverwood Middle School in Clayton.

View the state’s Certified Educator Salary Schedule for teachers and certified instructional support here.