Back to school – by the numbers

school-bus-blue2As students head back to class this week, here are a few numbers about North Carolina’s public schools, according to the state Department of Public Instruction:

1,543,527 – the estimated number of the students starting a new school year in North Carolina this week

125 – the number of year-round schools across our state whose students returned earlier this month

6,000 – this year’s enrollment includes roughly 6,000 more students than one year ago

110,000 – more students attend North Carolina’s public schools now than ten years ago in the 2006-07 school year

2,477 – the number of traditional public schools in North Carolina

167 – the number of charter schools operating in North Carolina this year

89,000 – the estimated number of the students attending charter schools this year

60,000 – the estimated number of students who will enroll in online courses offered by the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the nation’s second-largest state-supported virtual school

Commentary, News

Last week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

charters_MarcusB1. Former state legislator adds fuel to the fire over how charter schools are funded

When North Carolina lawmakers heard proposals in June to dramatically revamp how charters are funded, public school advocates pleaded for more time.

The bill before the chamber, a state Senate draft authored by a staunch charter supporter would have bound traditional K-12 schools to grant charters access to more pots of public funding. Lawmakers, concerned about the precedent of authorizing such a major change in funding during the chamber’s short session, deferred until next year.

Some said the additional time meant a better chance of compromise in North Carolina’s annual tilting match between traditional schools and charter supporters, who claim that publicly-funded charters are being short-changed by their traditional school counterparts. [Continue reading…]

FF-TeachingFellows-4002. Successful Teaching Fellows program is back…in Indiana?

State lawmakers have finally taken a bold step toward addressing the looming teacher shortage in public schools. The Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate worked with Democrats to create a scholarship program to encourage bright high school students to enter the teaching profession.

Students in the top 20 percent of their high school class can apply for a scholarship of up to $7,500 a year for their four years in college if they agree to spend at least five years after graduation in the classroom as a teacher.

The bill passed the House and Senate nearly unanimously and was signed by the conservative Republican governor with great fanfare at a ceremony in April surrounded by students, teachers, and lawmakers.

The program will gear up this year with the first scholarships awarded for the 2017-2018 academic year.

But there’s a problem. [Continue reading...]

Current land use near polluted Holtrachem site3. In Columbus County, mercury, PCBs and a long-overdue Superfund cleanup point to a larger problem: accountability

The air smells acrid in Riegelwood, where a faint breeze scours your sinuses with the scent of sulfur coming from the International Paper plant. All day long, dozens of semi-trucks, loaded with logs, pull onto John Riegel Road headed for the factory. Here, the wood will be chemically boiled and bleached to make fluff pulp, a material used in disposable diapers.

What you can’t see or smell is nested within International Paper’s property: one of the most contaminated areas in North Carolina. A facility formerly owned by Holtrachem is a hotbed of mercury and cancer-causing PCBs, dioxins and furans. For decades, toxic chemicals from these 24 acres have intermittently drained, at times, even gushed into the nearby Cape Fear River, which runs through Columbus County on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Mercury has poisoned workers and fish. PCBs, so dangerous their manufacture was banned in the U.S. in 1983, still stain the soil.

Now, after 14 years of being on the National Priorities List — an ignoble register of polluted places known as Superfund sites — Holtrachem is scheduled to be cleaned up. Not pristine, but to the point at which some day, federal and state regulators hope, the land might be safe for industrial use.[Continue reading…]

Timeline: The Holtrachem Superfund site: A long, dirty legacy in Riegelwood

TANF-40024. A major failure for conservative policymaking

Nation’s 20-year experiment with “welfare reform” simply hasn’t worked

One of the greatest strengths of President Franklin Roosevelt – especially in the early days of his first administration when he was conducting what amounted to lifesaving CPR on the American economy (and maybe even preserving the nation’s experiment with democratic government itself) was his candid willingness to try new things. Though he is often castigated by conservatives and lionized by liberals for having birthed the New Deal and the idea that the federal government has a duty to combat poverty, FDR was, at heart, a genuine pragmatist. His ultimate objective was always less about vindicating a particular ideology, and much more about championing action and unleashing what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Roosevelt wasn’t against capitalism; heck, his family fortune was a byproduct of it. What he was against was slavery to an ideology that elevated the pronouncements of musty old Englishmen in powdered wigs and knee britches over the real world experiences of average people trying to survive in modern society. He saw the horrific suffering that his predecessor’s unwillingness to tackle the Great Depression had wrought and vowed to keep trying new things until conditions improved. [Continue reading…]

Great Tax Shift5. They cut taxes on the top 1% by how much?!!

Sometimes, the brazenness of conservative politicians in crafting public policy to benefit themselves and their rich patrons is just too much to be believed. Take, for instance, Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly. A new brief from the fiscal policy wonks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center paints a truly remarkable portrait of what can only be described as “government of, by and for the top 1%.”

According to the latest BTC calculations, the tax cuts enacted between 2013 and 2016 in North Carolina will produce, among many other travesties, this remarkable result:

Say you had seven North Carolinians in one room representing the following income groups: [Continue reading…]

Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

voterhere41. The GOP effort to suppress the African-American vote continues

An extraordinary thing happened three weeks ago when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit threw out most of the massive voter suppression law passed by the General Assembly in 2013 and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

The court found that legislative leaders asked for data broken down by race about how people vote and then as the court put it, with “surgical precision” changed the voting methods used disproportionately by African-Americans.

The motives could not have been clearer.

The General Assembly leadership created a photo ID requirement, ended same day registration at early voting sites, ended pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, and shortened early voting by a week—all to make it less likely that African-Americans would vote. [Continue reading...]

NagsHead_4002. Meet Jeffrey Warren: The mastermind behind the state’s bad environmental laws could get a plum job at UNC

In mid-August, the high season’s last hurrah, the packed beach at Nags Head is veiled with blue umbrellas that match the color of the ocean and the sky. Yet at just three feet above sea level, Nags Head is sinking, and portions of the beach are receding, both natural geologic occurrences that have shaped the coastline for thousands of years.

But what’s not natural is the sea level rise that will eventually engulf the area where beach-goers relax under their umbrellas. What’s also unnatural is the state legislation that jeopardizes the environmental and economic viability not only of the coast but the entire state, as well.

These laws were partially crafted by Jeffrey Warren, a geologist by trade and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s powerful science and energy advisor by anointment.

“I can’t think of an individual whose had more of an impact on the environment in a negative way than Jeffrey Warren,” said State Rep. Pricey Harrison, a six-term Democratic lawmaker from Guilford County. [Continue reading…]

Bonus read: Jeffrey Warren’s Greatest Hits

Hawkes23. Tempers flare among charter school supporters as state tightens vetting process

It was 13 days ago that the State Board of Education signed off on just eight of 28 aspiring new charter schools in North Carolina, a stunning flip for a board that’s approved dozens of new charters since state lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap on charters in 2011.

Today, Alan Hawkes, a Greensboro charter leader who sits on the state’s Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB), is still hot.

That’s because five schools tapped for opening by Hawkes’ board, which makes recommendations on charter applicants to the state board, were overwhelmingly voted down by the State Board of Education (SBE).

Board members cited typos, weak applications and publicly questioned whether some schools’ academic plans were ready for prime time despite the CSAB’s support. Typically, state board members heed the counsel of the CSAB, but not this month.

“Don’t get me started about public charter school no-nothings (sic) on the NC State Board of Education,” Hawkes wrote in an email to Policy Watch this week. [Continue reading…]

BB-HB2-6294. Uncertainty, anxiety overshadow new school year for transgender students
LGBT advocates, Republican leadership await court ruling on HB2 injunction

As North Carolina families load up at back-to-school sales this week, a looming question remains for North Carolina students:

Will they be returning to public schools and universities where House Bill 2 still dictates which restrooms they can use?

Two weeks ago U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder held a four-hour hearing to consider a preliminary injunction against the law. Keeping in mind the swiftly approaching school year, he said he would rule as soon as possible. His decision could still come any day.

The law, known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, requires people to use restrooms, showers, locker and changing rooms that correspond to their birth certificates in public buildings, schools and universities.

This leaves transgender people – of whom it is estimated there are about 40,000 in North Carolina – with a dilemma. [Continue reading…]

Learn more: A glossary of terms for Transgender discussions

McHenry-Forest-Locke-AdobeS5. The Olympics of right-wing whoppers
NC pols and advocates hit some medal-worthy new lows

With so much attention being paid to the presidential race and the reliably controversial comments of one of the major party candidates in recent weeks, it’s been tough for state-level politicians and advocates to break through and garner much attention for their own inane comments. Like the badminton and trampoline athletes at the Rio Olympics who find themselves constantly overshadowed by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, these hard right North Carolina voices are no less serious about their work and over-the-top reactionary views; it’s just a matter of a crowded election year news environment in which there’s only so much mainstream media coverage to go around.

Here then, as a service to some local voices of reaction that might’ve otherwise gotten lost in the media shuffle, are some of their recent “medal worthy” takes that deserve to be recognized and held up to the light of day – even if it’s just to remind caring and thinking North Carolinians what it is that they’re up against.

The bronze medal: Congressman offers heartfelt defense of corporate loan sharking [Continue reading…]

Commentary, News

McCrory appeals to Supreme Court to restore voter ID ahead of fall elections

Governor Pat McCrory has formally requested U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts stay a ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and reinstate North Carolina’s Voter ID law.

“Allowing the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand creates confusion among voters and poll workers and it disregards our successful rollout of Voter ID in the 2016 primary elections. The Fourth Circuit’s ruling is just plain wrong and we cannot allow it to stand. We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold our state’s law and reverse the Fourth Circuit,” said Gov. McCrory in a statement released by his office.

But Bob Phillips with the good-government group Common Cause North Carolina calls the 2013 law unnecessary, and claims of voter fraud and rigged elections simply unproven:

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Last month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. Virginia ruled that North Carolina’s voter ID law would “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Listen to our full interview with Bob Phillips below as he discusses the voter ID law and their recent lawsuit challenging partisan gerrymandering:


Commentary, News

Six things to have on your radar this week

Stumping across North Carolina – Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine will keep the intensity of the 2016 election season high with visits this week in Buncombe and Cumberland counties.kaine

Kaine will be in Asheville today promoting Hillary Clinton’s economic plan with a 6:30 p.m. rally at the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center.(Doors open to public at 4:30 p.m.)

Tuesday Kaine will be in Fayetteville with a 2:00 p.m. rally at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, 536 N Eastern Blvd, Fayetteville, NC. (Doors open to public at noon.)

On the Republican side, Donald Trump will be back in the state Thursday, but this will be a private fundraiser at the Trump National Golf Club Charlotte. Published reports put the cost of this exclusive campaign event at $2,700 to $50,000 per person.

Paid Parental Leave Working America members and other community activists will urge Greensboro City Council members to support paid parental leave to care for new family members on Tuesday. Working America will make its case at 5:30 p.m. in the Greensboro City Council Chamber.

Conference on Education – Thursday marks the NC Chamber’s 2016 Conference on Education, bringing together educators and business leaders to share ideas and collaborate on the roles each can play in ensuring the state’s students are college and career ready for the jobs of tomorrow.

AtkinsonSpeakers include:
* Dr. June Atkinson, State Superintendent of the Public Schools of North Carolina, NC Department of Public Instruction
* Dr. James C. (Jimmie) Williamson, President, North Carolina Community College System
* Peter Hans, Senior Adviser, UNC General Administration
* Dr. Randy Woodson, Chancellor, North Carolina State University
* Bobbie Cavnar, Gaston County Schools, 2016 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year
* Melody Chalmers, Cumberland County Schools, 2016 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year

Thursday’s conference runs from 8:30 a.m. – 2:15 p.m. at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel & Convention Center in Durham.

Candlelight-vigilRethinking the Death Penalty  – Chances are you don’t know the name Sammy Flippen, but  Flippen holds the distinction of being the last person executed in North Carolina.  That was a decade ago on August 18, 2006.

On Thursday evening People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and death penalty abolitionists will hold an interfaith memorial prayer service and candlelight procession and vigil in Raleigh.

Thursday’s Interfaith Memorial Prayer Service begins at 7 p.m. at Pullen Baptist Church, 1800 Hillsborough St., Raleigh. This will be followed immediately by a candlelight procession to Central Prison.

New jobless data
– Unemployment rates increased in 96 of North Carolina’s counties in June, and we’ll
learn on Friday how the overall statewide jobless rate is doing.NO-HB2

Are we experiencing a Carolina Comeback? Economist John Quinterno points to evidence to the contrary.

LGBT Pride, #HB2 Protests    And we wrap-up the week with the 2016 Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade in Uptown Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday.  You can expect large crowd and heavy opposition to for the anti-LGBT House Bill 2, signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory back in March.