Former University of North Carolina President Tom Ross is reflecting on his tenure as head of the 17-campus system and the future of higher education in America.

In an interview last week with NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon, Ross voiced his concerns about the disinvestment in higher ed:

“We spend just slightly more money today in real dollars that we did 25 years ago, and yet enrollment has increased 60 percent during that period. So we’re actually spending more than 30 percent less, per student than we did 25 years ago,” explained Ross.

Ross says policymakers and the public must understand the connection between college, critical-thinking and America’s competitive edge.

Recent analysis finds that states have cut per-student spending for higher education by an average of 21 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2014.

To hear an excerpt of Ross’ radio interview click below. A podcast of their full discussion (in which he shares his future plans) is available on the main Policy Watch website.

Ross will be succeeded in March by former Bush Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Junius Gonzales is serving as the interim president of the UNC system.

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Commentary, News

McCroryandMoe video1. A weak defense of a weak performance
The Governor tries and fails to put a positive spin on 2015

With the 2016 political year underway, it’s no surprise that elected leaders have been attempting to put a positive spin on the state of North Carolina’s economy and government (and their own roles in producing the current state of affairs). Last week, for instance, Governor Pat McCrory issued a New Year’s Eve video statement in which, in the frequently tortured syntax that has become one of his trademarks, he proffered a scattershot array of claims about where the state stands and the performance of his administration. The video (click here to watch) was accompanied by a bulleted list of 12 “accomplishments” under the headings “Economy,” “Education” and “Efficiency.”

The Governor’s release came just a day after Senate leader Phil Berger issued a similar list of “accomplishments” under a Lincolnesque photo of himself gazing into space and the headline “Reflecting on a Productive Year.” [Continue reading…]

Gun violence2. The very least we can do about gun violence

A picture accompanying a recent story about U.S. gun laws in the Guardian newspaper shows a sign on a table of semi-automatic guns for sale at an Alabama gun show. The sign says “no paper work” and credit cards welcome.

That’s not news to anyone who has been to a gun show at the North Carolina State Fairgounds in Raleigh or just followed the absurd debate about guns in America, but it is startling nonetheless.

Think about it for a second. Anyone can walk up to that table and thousands like it at events every weekend across the county with cash or credit and buy a weapon that can shoot 30 times a minute without reloading, many more times with the high capacity magazines that are also for sale to whoever wants them, no questions asked. [Continue reading…]

***Bonus read: Somebody please ask Sen. Berger how Obama is “grabbing” guns

ConnectNC_4003. Yes to invest and not just in buildings

All hands were on deck earlier this week for the official launch of the campaign to pass the $2 billion bond package for higher education and state parks that will go before voters on March 15th.

Leaders of both political parties spoke at a packed rally at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh and given the current political climate in the state, it’s encouraging to hear bipartisan support for important public investments in university and community college buildings, expansion and renovation of state parks, and the modernization of outdated water and sewer systems across the state.

There’s even a bipartisan spirit in whose running the campaign with a Republican consulting firm sharing the business with a leading Democratic firm

In fact, it’s hard to find folks opposed to the bond with the exception of some Tea Party groups and a few far-right bloggers, though you don’t have to be very cynical to wonder if some of the support from conservative groups would be as likely if the bonds were proposed by a progressive Democratic governor instead of Republican Pat McCrory who is seeking reelection in what is expected to be a close race in November. [Continue reading…]

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson4. Report details the struggle to recruit at NC’s low-performing schools

“You are confirming what, anecdotally, we all would expect,” said A.L. Collins, vice chairman of the N.C. State Board of Education.

Expected, perhaps, but no less troubling, it would seem. Collins’ words came shortly after staff with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction presented a report to the state board Wednesday that quantified, in bitter detail, the apparent struggle for North Carolina’s low-performing schools to recruit high-quality teachers.

Based on the report, presented by Tom Tomberlin, director of district human resources for DPI, the attrition rate for teachers at low-performing schools and their counterparts has been surprisingly similar since 2013. Since then, both designations have seen about 22 percent of their teachers depart. [Continue reading…]

Barber_808b5.Grief at the heart of the Moral Movement
A personal mediation for 2016

In a violent and fragmented society, sometimes the grief is so deep that I cannot help responding as a father as well as a Christian pastor and a political leader. All of the children are our children, whether it is a baby shot amid a senseless crime in Chapel Hill or a child shot in two seconds by a trigger-happy cop in Cleveland.

There is a time for prophetic grief. As I heard the news about the Ohio prosecutor’s decision to not bring charges against the police officers who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, I got a call from a friend asking for a comment on the death of Maleah Williams, a 1-year-old killed on Christmas Day by a drive-by shooting in a North Carolina housing project. I told him I could not comment. My rage and lamentation went beyond any words I could offer.

Though I had plenty to say, I could hear the Bible’s admonition against speaking out of wrath. I know, too, that grieving precedes but does not preclude moral action. As I hung up the phone, I let the tears flow and sat still as the reality of black death washed over me. [Continue reading…]


Saying “change is tough” Gov. Pat McCrory announced the departure of state Budget Director Lee Roberts and Revenue Secretary Lyons Gray on Thursday.

Gray will move to the N.C. Utilities Commission where he replaces Commissioner Susan Rabon, who retired at the first of the year.

Roberts, who replaced Art Pope as the state’s budget director 16 months ago, heads to the private sector to an investment management firm.

“Lyons Gray will bring his considerable experience and common sense wisdom to the utilities commission, a regulatory body that affects nearly every North Carolina citizen. Lee Roberts will be helping to create jobs and invest in our state as he builds a new investment management business. I’m grateful for the service of these fine individuals,” said Gov. McCrory.

Drew Heath, chair of the state Industrial Commission, will step into the budget director’s role. Jeff Epstein, who has served as the Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Revenue since April 2013, will replace Gray as Secretary.

Click below to hear McCrory discuss the resignation of Lee Roberts:

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If you have time to read just one story over your lunch break, make time for James Ford’s piece “What School Segregation Looks Like” in this month’s Charlotte Magazine.

Ford, the former North Carolina Teacher of the Year who now works for the Public School Forum, lays out why if we hope to do more to address inequality, we must begin by discussing the benefits of integrated schools. He begins with the following anecdote:

jamesfordON THE FIRST DAY of every semester during my five years as a teacher at Garinger High School, I had a candid talk with my students about how the world perceives them. The school, sitting off of Eastway Drive in east Charlotte, is high-poverty, majority-minority, and distinctly urban. I knew, from my own experiences, exactly what “type” of school this was, and I didn’t shy away from telling the kids.

I told them that many people didn’t expect much from their population, because of where they live and what they look like. That they all fit into somebody’s stereotype. I told them that students who go to a school such as Garinger are less likely to graduate than students elsewhere. I told them it was a setup of sorts. Then I waited, reading the responses on their faces. Some pouted, sulking in a sense of internalized low self-worth. Others were visibly angry, as if I had confirmed something they never had the language to articulate.

I should say here that my teaching experience at Garinger was amazing. I enjoyed my students and labored passionately to ensure they received a great education. I even became the North Carolina Teacher of the Year. But I knew what was happening from the first day I arrived on campus.

This school, home of the Wildcats, was a symbol of our local system’s backward trend toward re-segregating along racial and socioeconomic lines—a startling shift for a system that, just a few decades ago, was the district referenced in the landmark Supreme Court case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, a system that was once regarded as the vanguard of school desegregation.

At the end of that speech on the first day of each semester, I informed the students of the purpose of my presence: That I knew what it was like to be doubted and mistreated. That I was on a mission to make sure they broke out of this destructive system. That I needed their trust before I could teach them. Far more often than not, they gave it to me.

But the truth is, no educator should have to have that conversation with his or her students—ever.

AS THE CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG school system revisits the school assignment plan, we are gifted with the chance to help bring an end to the conversations I had to have with my garinger students. But first, we must wrestle with the fundamental question, “Who are we?” Are we a community that responds to the needs of every student and values the benefits of integrated schools? Or are we a community that just talks about the idea of fairness, while simply accepting inequities in the name of self-interest? Our actions will determine the true nature of our collective character. In this way, student assignment is causing a crisis of identity.

You can read Ford’s powerful essay in its entirety here.


U.S. Senator Richard Burr:

“I’ve been committed to protecting the Second Amendment rights of Americans since I was elected. I will continue to defend our constitutional rights, regardless of President Obama’s personal preferences.”

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis:

Congresswoman Renee Ellmers:

Congressman David Price:

“The reforms President Obama announced today are limited in scope, but they are a well-designed first step and fall well within his constitutional authority. He has repeatedly emphasized that he would much prefer congressional action on gun violence; unfortunately, Republican leadership in Congress refuses to consider even the most common-sense gun reform proposals. Executive action is his only recourse.

“Pretending the problem doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Neither will pandering to special interests over the concerns of the majority of the American people. Congress must finally get the message that something can and must be done about gun violence. The future of our country is at stake.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx:

“Just like his unilateral actions on immigration, this proposal is an overreach of the president’s Constitutionally-granted executive authority. It is also an attempt to distract from his failed policies to combat terrorism and improve the economy – issues I’m hearing about from my constituents every day. Congressional refusal to pass bad policy does not transfer legislative authority to the president, and I will fight against this attempt to diminish our constitutional rights.

“Guns are one of many tools that people use to commit horrific crimes, but the problem of evil cannot be legislated away. It is important that any legislative response – whether it’s at the federal, state or local level – ensures that the constitutional rights of all citizens are protected. ”

Rep. Walter Jones:

“We need to fix our increasingly Godless culture, not expand the size of government with unconstitutional executive action.”

Rep. Richard Hudson:

Rep. Mark Meadows:

“Combatting gun violence in the U.S. is critically important, but the actions announced by President Obama today would do nothing to address it and would instead unlawfully restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to firearms. I am a committed defender of the ?2nd Amendment and because of that oppose President Obama’s efforts to restrict those Constitutional rights.”

Rep. Alma Adams: