mapping our futureNew Year, old concerns – The New Year gets underway with some legislators back in Raleigh discussing transportation needs and funding solutions. This afternoon at 1:00 p.m. members of the Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions will hold their first meeting of 2016. Among the issues they’ll discuss: Governor McCrory’s 25 Year Vision for transportation and federal funding.

Paying more at the DMV – On the subject of transportation, North Carolina drivers visiting their local DMV office this week will find fees much higher than they were a week ago.MC-DMV

While the DMV was closed last Friday for the New Year’s holiday, this week they will find driver’s licenses have jumped to $40, up from $32. The fee for vehicle registration has also increased from $28 to $36. The new fee structure was passed by the General Assembly and approved by Gov. Pat McCrory last year in the state budget.

On the bright side, the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel has dropped by one penny a gallon.

Energy opportunities – The possibility of tapping offshore energy was one of big stories in 2015, and this week members of the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy waste little time discussing new opportunities for 2016. The committee, co-chaired by Rep. Mike Hager, Rep. John Szoka, and Sen. Andrew C. Brock, will meet Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building.

Board of Education focuses on dropouts, charter schools – The North Carolina State Board of Education holds its first meeting of the new year this Wednesday and Thursday. Items on the two-day agenda include:
*  Pilot Program to Raise the High School Dropout Age from Sixteen to Eighteen
*  A new policy establishing the North Carolina Virtual Public School Advisory Council
*  A proposed Study on Charter School Closure Funds
The agenda for both days is available here.

FORECASTForecasting the 2016 economy – On Wednesday, the N.C. Chamber and the North Carolina Bankers Association host the 14th Annual Economic Forecast Forum. The forum begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center, Durham. Governor Pat McCrory will address the group at 1:40 p.m. A full agenda is available here.

On a related note, this Thursday the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce holds its 2016 Economic Forecast. Speakers include: Jeffrey Lacker, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and Jay Bryson, managing director and global economist at Wells Fargo.

Rubio rallies Raleigh – And Republican Senator Marco Rubio brings his presidential campaign to Raleigh on Saturday. Rubio, who has the backing of former state budget director Art Pope, will appear at the event from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Find more information on Rubio’s website.

Commentary, News

The N.C. Supreme Court building in downtown Raleigh. (Photo by Ricky Leung)1. Win the courts, win the war
How the state Supreme Court advanced the conservative agenda

Conservative justices hold a 4-3 majority on the ostensibly nonpartisan state Supreme Court and, as party operatives understand well, maintaining that edge has been critical to ensuring Republican control elsewhere throughout the state.

“Lose the courts, lose the war.” Political consultant John Davis labeled this “Rule Number Five” in his 2013 report, “How the North Carolina Republican Party Can Maintain Political Power for 114 Years.”

“The Republican majority has a right to initiate radical reform,” Davis wrote. “Everyone else has a right to sue them. That’s why [the 2014] Supreme Court races are critical for long-term Republican dominance.” [Continue reading…]

2. Open season on individual rights
Conservatives seek voting restrictions, keep fighting on old social issues

The party of less government rolled into Raleigh after the 2010 elections champing at the bit, eager to fulfill an agenda long delayed.

“Regulations kill jobs” became the rallying cry, but as it turned out, that cry only went so far. When it came to voting booths, bedrooms, doctor’s offices and execution chambers, the self-styled opponents of intrusive government injected themselves in ways not seen before in state government.

Voting rights landed first in their crosshairs.

“We’ve lost every gain we’d made,” Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina said. “We’ve lost just about all the pro-voting, pro-democracy laws that we had pushed.”

But voters weren’t alone. Women, gay North Carolinians, death row inmates — all were fair game as conservative lawmakers pursued their causes with a vengeance. [Continue reading…]

Forward together — Thousands gather in front of the N.C. legislature during a Moral Monday protest in 2013. (Photo by Ricky Leung)3. Amid the gloom, rays of hope***
The Right remains firmly in control, but important cracks are emerging

At the conclusion of the whirlwind 2011 session of the North Carolina General Assembly — a session in which new conservative majorities pushed through a raft of dramatic policy changes —many progressive North Carolinians surveyed the aftermath and found themselves actually breathing a sigh of relief. There was a widespread feeling that the fury of the storm had passed, that the Right had vented its collective spleen and that, having pushed through so much of its long-stymied policy agenda, conservative leaders would settle down to focus on governing the state.

Today, of course, this all seems remarkably naïve. As the preceding pages have made clear, 2011 wasn’t the climax; it was just the first chapter in a long-term effort to radically remake North Carolina and rewrite the state’s social contract. [Continue reading…]

virtual-4004. A startling admission of the hucksterism of virtual charters

The education of thousands of North Carolina students and millions of taxpayer dollars are currently at risk in the latest school privatization scheme that continues to draw far too little attention from the media and even many education advocates.

Two online charter schools opened in the state this fall operated by two different for-profit companies, one of which, K12 Inc., has a scandal-plagued record in other states.

A provision snuck into the budget in the 2014 legislative session ordered the State Board of Education to approve two virtual charters as pilot programs. Only two companies applied to run the online schools, guaranteeing they would both be selected. [Continue reading…]

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 1005. Two videos that Pat McCrory and Franklin Graham should watch for Christmas
Canada’s Prime Minister, local immigration policy experts show us what a commitment to freedom and opportunity is really about

The United States has had, at best, a mixed history when it comes to the issue of human migration. The nation was founded, of course, by migrants seeking freedom and opportunity who, at the same time, had little compunction about seizing the land and ending the freedom of the human beings who were here first or building the country, in great measure, on the backs of millions of African slaves.

In the centuries that have passed since those great original sins, the pattern of hopeful promise combined with horrific exploitation and exclusion has held. [Continue reading…]

*** For readers interested in NC Policy Watch’s special report – “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina” – you can click here to download the PDF of the report.


Republican Senator Richard Burr, who chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering our country would be bad for national security.

Click below to watch the segment that aired Sunday:

Commentary, News

Uncertain future — Second graders Taylor Eatman (right) and Karyme Mendoza read together during a 1. Starving the schools
Teacher assistants, textbooks, services slashed as per-pupil spending plummets

Barbara Dell Carter is not a social worker. Nor is she a nurse, psychotherapist, nutritionist or a special needs educator.

Carter is a second grade teacher. But in today’s classrooms in North Carolina, she’s expected to take on much more than planning lessons and teaching her students.

“And the needs of our students are just getting greater and greater,” said Carter, who teaches at Beaufort County’s John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School in Eastern North Carolina.

Carter says she and her colleagues must routinely assist students who have profound needs – emotional, academic and medical – even though they generally lack the training or resources to adequately address them. [Continue reading…]

2. Losing its luster
Low pay, lack of respect prompt teachers to rethink their chosen profession

By any measure, Asheville Middle School’s Chris Gable was a teaching star.

Gable outperformed all of his colleagues as measured by his students’ test scores, and he had a gift for engaging his students. He coached young writers and was always finding innovative ways to make language arts interesting.

But a salary low enough to qualify him and his family for Medicaid and food assistance, combined with a lack of other professional support, forced him to leave his beloved town and state in search of a living wage.

“I feel guilty,” said Gable, who left two years ago for a teaching position in Columbus, Ohio. There, Gable said, he would earn nearly $30,000 a year more than the $38,000 he was making in North Carolina with 10 years’ experience and a master’s degree.[Continue reading…]

3. Paving the way toward privatization
Legislators embrace vouchers, charter school expansion, disregard calls for accountability

Since taking charge in Raleigh, conservative lawmakers have been steering public dollars into a range of alternatives to traditional public schools that march under the banner of “school choice.”

Beginning as a trickle, but with the potential to become a flood, spendingis growing for vouchers to pay tuition at private and religious schools; an expanded roster of charter schools run by for-profit companies; and two virtual charter schools operated by a scandal-plagued company.

Meanwhile, those same legislators are squeezing conventional K-12 schools with budgets that place North Carolina near the bottom of national rankings for teacher pay and per-pupil spending. A central rationale for providing these alternatives is that traditional schools fall short in educating children from low-income households and communities, children of color and children with special needs. [Continue reading…]

Change in leadership — The UNC Board of Governors selected former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings (left) as the new UNC system president in October 2015. (Photo by Ricky Leung)4. UNC system at risk
Budget cuts take a toll, and wariness grows of political interference

The tumultuous political changes that have swept over North Carolina this decade have not spared the state’s public universities.

The 17-campus UNC system stands out nationally, especially in the South, for its quality, affordability and independence. It boasts the nation’s first public university; the prestigious N.C. School of Science and Mathematics for the state’s brightest high school students; more public historically black colleges than any other state; and campuses that routinely produce groundbreaking research.

In a 1994 book, historian John Egerton described the flagship university in Chapel Hill as “the single most glowing exception to broad-based mediocrity in the Southern academic world” for much of the 20th century.

Concern is growing in many quarters of the state, however, that years of budget cuts and a growing threat of political interference are placing the UNC system, in many ways the bedrock of the state economy, at risk. [Continue reading…]

ff-11035. The latest revealing anecdote about McCrory’s pay to play scandal

It seems that every time there’s a new development in the pay the play prison maintenance scandal in the McCrory Administration, there’s another telling anecdote that doesn’t make the headlines but illustrates the fundamental problem in the way the administration conducts itself.

This time it involves the state plane.

The basics of the story are not in dispute. McCrory’s friend and campaign donor Graeme Keith Sr. was upset that his $3 million prison maintenance contract was not going to be renewed because officials in the Department of Public Safety found that it wasn’t saving the state money. [Continue reading…]