Commentary, News


As we ring in the New Year and say goodbye to 2014, we thought it only appropriate to take a look back at some of NC Policy Watch’s top stories over the past 12 months. We hope you will enjoy them and feel inspired to participate in the state policy debate in 2015:



This weekend on NC Policy Watch’s weekly radio show – News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon – we take a look back at the top stories and newsmakers of 2014.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling is among our guests offering a few predictions for the New Year. Click below to hear a preview of the show in which Jensen discusses the political power dynamic between Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature, which reconvenes January 14, 2015.

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To hear other interviews from News & Views, click here.

Commentary, News

Hopefully you spent the long holiday weekend with family and friends, but as the year winds down here are four stories that caught our attention to help you get caught up on the news:

1. The Triangle may be in running for Mercedes-Benz’s new HQ, but state legislators may need a special session to make the deal work – Amanda Jones Hoyle at the Triangle Business Journal writes that North Carolina has not publicly disclosed whether it is putting together an incentive package to offer to the luxury automaker, but a deal of this size would need legislative approval from the North Carolina General Assembly:

mercedes[John Lassister, chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina] says lifting of the JDIG cap or a reallocation of funds will be a top priority when the state Senate and House leaders return for the long session in mid-January.

“But if for whatever reason we need to get immediate relief for JDIG, we could still go into special session, and I think there is openness for that in the House and Senate for that option,” Lassiter says. “I think we have a number of active projects going on in the state, and all would benefit by having the additional cap. That’s not lost on anybody.”

Read the full article in the Triangle Business Journal.

2. More NC charters on deck for 2015, as questions arise about existing charters – The Raleigh News & Observer reports 11 new charter schools are poised to open next year, even as the state fell short of its overall charter school enrollment projections:

Statewide, about 67,700 students were enrolled in charter schools for this school year. While that’s up from about 58,000 students last year, first-month enrollments this year were about 9,000 students short of the state’s projections, according to data from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Accurate enrollment projections are important because schools receive public money based on how many students attend, and schools use the projections to plan their spending.

Read more from Lynn Bonner’s story here.

3. Virtual charters for NC raises serious questions – The NC Justice Center’s Matt Ellinwood writes about the promise and pitfalls of virtual charter schools in an opinion column for Raleigh News & Observer:

K12 logoThe K12-backed application proposed staggering student-teacher ratios of 150:1 in high school and 50:1 in the early grades. These ratios stand in stark contrast to the North Carolina Connections Academy’s proposal, which calls for an average ratio of 38:1 across all grades, and to the 16:1 ratio that is considered the best practice for traditional schools.

Both schools promised a great deal of individualized and small group instruction, but it is hard to imagine how K12 and its North Carolina affiliate can deliver on that promise. There simply are not enough hours in a week for a teacher to provide one-on-one instruction to 150 children.

Read Ellinwood’s full piece in the Raleigh News & Observer.

4. Keeping an eye on state revenues in the New Year – The editorial board at the Jacksonville Daily News does an excellent job explaining the revenue challenge facing state budget writers in 2015. Here’s the opening of the column that was republished this weekend in the New Bern Sun Journal:

The cupboard is a long way from bare, but it’s not being restocked as fast as anyone expected.

It’s the state budget we’re talking about, where revenue isn’t arriving quite the way the fiscal architects predicted. In the first quarter of the fiscal year that began July 1, state revenue collections were $62 million short of expectations. Too soon to worry, the budget gurus said at the time. All the new tax codes will take some time to work out. Collections are likely to improve later in the fiscal year.

So now we’re five months into the fiscal year, and the gap has grown to $190 million. Pretty soon, we’ll be talking real money. The word “shortfall” is being bandied about.

Read the full editorial here.

Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Governor Pat McCrory announced Tuesday that Donald van der Vaart would serve as the next secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, replacing John Skvarla. Van der Vaart currently serves as deputy secretary and energy policy advisor for the department.

According to a press advisory from the Governor’s office, before serving as deputy secretary and energy policy advisor, van der Vaart worked as an engineering supervisor and later a program manager for the N.C. Division of Air Quality. He is an adjunct professor in engineering at N.C. State University, where he also teaches environmental policy and law.

“Don van der Vaart possesses extensive knowledge of environmental regulations and will continue DENR’s focus on protecting our environment while helping to maintain the economic resurgence that our state has seen since 2013,” said Governor McCrory. “Van der Vaart’s scientific and academic credentials alone are remarkable, but he also has the real-world experience to ensure that North Carolina continues to implement common-sense solutions based on science.”

Van der Vaart takes over the helm almost immediately, as Skvarla slides over to the N.C. Department of Commerce to fill the role that Secretary Sharon Decker leaves at the end of this month.