Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

ff-609b1. The increasingly intense effort to dismantle public education

Long after this session of the General Assembly has adjourned it will be remembered for more than just the specter of discrimination that hung over the proceedings thanks to the sweeping anti-LGBT law HB2 that was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory a month before the session began, creating a backlash across the country against North Carolina.

It is likely to also go down in history as the year that the push to dismantle traditional public schools reached dangerous new levels as anti-public education ideologues and privatization profiteers worked in tandem again to divert more resources from public education to out of state companies and completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies.

The House recently passed legislation that would allow low-performing schools to be put in something called an achievement school district that could be turned over to an out-of-state for profit charter school company to manage.

The controversial plan has failed in other states, most notably Tennessee, but that didn’t stop the House from approving it after heavy lobbying from a right-wing education group based in Oklahoma and anti-public school forces inside North Carolina. [Read more…]

bathroom_mc400hb22. The obvious way to begin to repair the damage to North Carolina from HB2

It has now been two and a half months since Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB2, the sweeping anti-LGBT law passed by the General Assembly that has cost North Carolina thousands of jobs and damaged the state’s reputation around the world.

Rumors persist that legislative leaders are working behind the scenes on some sort of compromise, modifications to the law that will lessen its damaging impact on the state.

There’s talk of a special bipartisan commission headed by former State Budget Director and GOP benefactor Art Pope and former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, a Democrat, that will seek to find common ground on the issues raised by HB2.

A few weeks ago, the Charlotte City Council rightly refused to repeal its ordinance that protected LGBT people from discrimination, scuttling what was reportedly a “compromise” that involved the General Assembly making unspecified changes to HB2 if Charlotte wiped out its ordinance that the statewide law overruled.

Many supporters of HB2 continue to claim that Charlotte needs to repeal its ordinance first as some sort of symbolic show of good faith that state lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory will respond to. [Read more…]

Berger_DPI3. As legislative leaders tout teacher raises, educators highlight major shortcomings in the House and Senate budgets

Partway through last week’s unveiling of the state Senate budget, Sen. Phil Berger was asked by reporters if there were any major cuts to speak of in the $22.2 billion spending plan.

Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County with a historically antagonistic relationship with North Carolina’s public education system, indicated that he couldn’t think of any.

The highlight, it seemed, was a dramatically more aggressive teacher pay plan than either proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory or leaders in the state House that would boost teachers’ average pay, with local supplements, to more than $54,000 over the next two years.

The proposal would make North Carolina the top-paying state for teachers in the southeast, Berger and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown promised, all while adding about $394 million for public education to the budget plan.[Read more…]

gun-sculpture4. Encouraging signs of life in the movement for sane gun laws

The gun lobby still rules, but its decline is increasingly easy to envision

For the millions of Americans who spend their days online or monitoring their smart devices, the arrival of news alerts regarding “active shooters” or “multiple victims reported shot” have become so commonplace in recent years that they sometimes produce scarcely a raised eyebrow. That is unless, of course, the alert recipient has some reason to feel a connection to the venue of the shooting or the people impacted.

As someone who spent his college years at the University of California, Los Angeles, and who knows people on campus in the present day, I had one of those moments last week when the familiar alerts started scrolling across my screen. Within minutes, an exchange of texts with my college roommate of many decades ago ensued.

“Roomie: Ugh, shooting incident at our alma mater.

Me: Yeah watching now.

Roomie: Is it still active?

Me: Looks like it. [A friend’s son] is in grad school there. Apparently, the shooting’s in Boelter Hall, which I barely remember.

Roomie: Yeah, saw that and couldn’t remember if that was the name then. I remember the engineering school. Name is coming back to me now.

Me: [Expletive] guns. [Read more…]

pv-608b5. “Women’s privacy,” huh? Most HB2 defenders sang a very different tune in 2015

On March 23 of this year, House Bill 2, the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act”, was introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly, passed in the House and Senate, and signed into law by Governor McCrory.

According to its defenders, the new law is principally about “protecting women and children.” A campaign in favor of the law, “Keep NC Safe,” is well known for producing rally signs that read “Keep Women Safe,” “Keep Children Safe,” and “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms,” thus further perpetuating the false idea that trans people are predatory and dangerous. I have even heard first-hand during meetings with legislators the sincerely-expressed belief that without HB2, voyeurs may feel emboldened to take photos of women while they are using the restroom.

Governor McCrory embraced this argument on April 12 when he announced a follow-up Executive Order to HB2 (which actually did nothing to change the law itself) affirming “the state’s commitment to privacy and equality.”

Now flash back a year to June 5, 2015. On that date, McCrory signed into law House Bill 465, an extreme piece of anti-abortion legislation deceptively entitled the “Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015” that had passed both chambers of the General Assembly just days earlier. Among other things, HB 465 imposed a 72-hour waiting period for people attempting to access abortion care and, remarkably, required abortion providers to send ultrasound images to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services of any abortions performed after sixteen weeks. [Read more…]

Commentary, News

Hispanic advocates speak out against bill banning unofficial IDs for immigrants

Leaders of El Pueblo are criticizing a legislative committee’s decision to pass House Bill 1069, legislation that prevents local police authorities from recognizing community IDs for undocumented citizens.

Here’s El Pueblo’s official statement on on Wednesday’s vote by the House Regulatory Reform Committee:

Sponsors of the recently proposed HB 1069 and its supporters are firmly on the wrong side of history. This bill specifically removes an exception to a 2015 law that allows law enforcement to accept the highly effective Community Identification cards from local residents, as a tool for investigation.

Despite protests from local police departments and human rights groups who see the value of these identification programs, these legislators are targeting the most vulnerable in our state by furthering distrust between local authorities and their respective communities, as well as making the job of police officers even more difficult by taking away their ability to identify residents when timing is of the essence.

Carmen Rodriguez, a resident of Raleigh and a FaithAction ID recipient, expressed her concern with HB 1069. “It scares me to know that I could possibly be in a dangerous situation, and not even be able to identify myself to local authorities. This ID has given me and my family peace of mind, and now they’re trying to take it away from me.”

Learn more about the FaithAction ID initiative here.

Read House Bill 1069 in its entirety here.

Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

ff-601-budget1. The cynical and damaging election-year Senate budget

It’s not hard to tell it is an election year for the General Assembly. Senate leaders, who for years have demonized public school teachers and openly challenged assertions that they are underpaid, are now proposing a significant salary increase that they claim will raise the state’s ranking in teacher pay to 24th in the nation.

That’s the budget headline they are hoping everyone remembers. They’d rather not talk about their plan that gives only some state employees a small pay hike while ignoring state retirees altogether.

Senate Budget Chair Harry Brown said giving retirees a long overdue cost of living increase as the House proposed would not be “good budgeting.”   People who spent much of their lives serving the public by working in state government and who are now having trouble making ends meet would no doubt disagree. [Continue reading….]

Spellings-and-Kelly2. New high-priced UNC administrator: Not likely to solve problems of soaring costs and student debt

UNC President Margaret Spellings announced last Thursday the appointment of Andrew P. Kelly, current director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, to the position of Senior Vice President for Strategy and Policy at the university.

According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, the newly-created position, which will begin in August, comes with an annual salary of $245,000, and seems designed to address numerous pressures facing the institution, including “climbing tuition, loan default rates, poor college readiness, lackluster graduation rates and poor productivity.”

As Kelly told UNC’s Board of Governors, “Families are anxious about the cost of college, and they’re desperate for some bold thinking on how to make college more valuable, not just more affordable, more valuable. Policymakers are looking for solutions, and I’m looking forward to working with you all to come up with some of those.” [Continue reading….]

ASD-Brockman3. Tempers flare as controversial Achievement School District bill clears House
Unproven model allows for charter takeover of state’s lowest-performing schools

Rep. Cecil Brockman is admitting he could have been more eloquent.

The first-term High Point Democrat, co-sponsor of House Bill 1080, perhaps the most controversial K-12 education bill in the legislature thus far this year, was bristling when he rebuffed a fellow Democrat’s calls for teacher appreciation moments ago.

Brockman’s bill for achievement school districts—a reform that could grant for-profit charters the ability to wring control of a low-performing school from a local school district—is not about teachers, he insists. [Continue reading.…]

nctabor-ff4. The HB2 of state budget and tax policy ideas
If you think things are bad now for NC, wait till you see what might be coming next at the General Assembly

The damage to North Carolina’s economy, brain power and overall wellbeing from HB2 is rapidly spreading and accumulating. What started out as a handful of canceled entertainment events is fast becoming a bona fide all-purpose disaster for North Carolina that will impact the state for years to come. As one astute commentator noted last week in Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“A study out of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center says that the potential loss of federal funds in North Carolina could result in $2.4 billion in wages and 53,000 jobs. While those numbers seem staggering, they pale in comparison to the loss of brand equity HB2 is causing. We might be able to quantify job losses when organizations like PayPal and Deutsche Bank announce their plans to disinvest in North Carolina. We never will be able to calculate how much we lose when North Carolina gets crossed off the list in some corporate site selection meeting or the next great tech startup chooses to start elsewhere. [Continue reading….]

PV-6025. HB2 update: If we’re going to talk about sexual violence, let’s really talk about it

A high school football team’s locker room is host to the sexual harassment and assault of its freshmen members every week. Sexual violence survivors increasingly come forward to share their stories of abuse at the hands of their clergy. A coach on a Big Ten sports team is found guilty of molesting numerous children over a period of decades. A 13-year old girl is raped by her older brother’s classmates and left unconscious in the snow on her front lawn.

These are just a few examples of the sexual violence that makes the news, and the reality of what children in our society experience. It is estimated that one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys in this country experience some type of sexual violence by the time they turn 18. Approximately 69% of teen sexual assaults occur in a private residence. Only about 10% of perpetrators of child sexual assault are strangers to the children they victimize, while 30% of the perpetrators are family members of the child (the other 60% are family friends, neighbors, coaches, clergy, babysitters, etc.).[Continue reading….]

Upcoming event on Monday, June 6th: Crucial Conversation — A year after the Charleston tragedy: Growing hope for saner anti-gun violence policies. The event features State Senator Floyd McKissick, Jr., the Rev. Kylon Middleton pastor of the Mount Zion AME Church in Charleston, S.C. and Rev. Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches.


Must read: Unproven model allows charter takeover of state’s lowest-performing schools (w/ video)

While political observers are focused on the Senate’s early morning approval of their $22.2 billion spending plan, be sure to make time to visit Policy Watch’s main site today  for the latest on the House’s passage of Achievement School District legislation.

As education reporter Billy Ball explains HB 1080, co-sponsored by Democrat Rep. Cecil Brockman – may be the most controversial K-12 bill this session.

Brockman’s bill for achievement school districts—a reform that could grant for-profit charters the ability to wring control of a low-performing school from a local school district—is not about teachers, he insists.

North Carolina public schools have failed black students, he says, many of them crammed into the same low-performing, low-wealth schools his legislation targets.

“If (teachers) don’t like it, good,” he fires off. “This is about the kids. Who cares about the teachers? We should care about the kids. If they don’t like it, maybe it’s a good thing.”

Minutes later, challenged by another lawmaker, Brockman apologized if his comments offended any teachers. “I was being provocative,” the legislator confessed.

Such is the nature of debate in the N.C. General Assembly these days, particularly when it comes to House Bill 1080. Some lawmakers, backed by a network of Oregon-based charters operating 10 schools in North Carolina, are hoping to push through changes hotly contested by many public school advocates.

“It’s unproven at best,” Mark Jewell, president-elect of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), one of the most powerful teacher lobbying groups in Raleigh, told House lawmakers last week.

Among its components, Brockman’s bill—which he co-sponsored with Charlotte-area Republicans Rob Bryan and John Bradford III—will funnel five of the state’s lowest-performing schools into one state-run district, regardless of geography. State officials will then be able to hand over control, including hiring and firing powers, to charter operators in five-year contracts.

Rep. Susan Fisher joins NC Policy Watch in the studio this weekend to discuss the push to implement achievement school districts in North Carolina, and the Senate’s move to funnel an additional $10 million each year into private school vouchers through 2027.

For a preview of Fisher’s appearance on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, click below. Read Billy Ball’s full story on the ASD legislation here.

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Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

Budget cuts1. Locking in North Carolina’s decline
The 2017 budget promises nothing but more distress for North Carolina 

Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore love to boast that North Carolina is in the midst (or, perhaps, on the cusp) of a rousing economic “comeback.” Hardly a day goes by anymore in which one or more of these men isn’t issuing some kind of release claiming that conservative fiscal policies have somehow turned around the state’s economy and “unleashed the private sector” to create all sorts of new jobs and development.

Recently, the mantra has been all about how North Carolina was rated the third best state in the country “for business” by yet another “CEO” magazine. Never mind that it won virtually identical (if not more glowing) plaudits throughout the Perdue and Easley administrations and even during the Great Recession. [Continue reading…]

LGBT equality2. HB2 makes me feel less welcome, but the fight against it gives me hope

Six years ago, I moved to North Carolina to accept a one-year teaching position at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro. My wife, also named Angela, and I, had just made the final repair on our home in Florida, where we planned to live for the rest of our lives. But during my year in North Carolina, I fell in love with the state, and I began looking for a job that would allow Angela and me to relocate here permanently.

Fortunately, North Carolina Central University School of Law was looking for someone to teach courses that I taught and they extended an offer to me to join the faculty. The pull of North Carolina was so strong that Angela left a teaching job that she loved in Miami, and I tendered my resignation to the law school where I had taught for almost 20 years.

In North Carolina, and particularly in Durham, we found more than a home; we found a community. We live in the cul de sac of a small neighborhood and we’re a part of that community. We’re friends with our neighbors, we go to their kids’ birthday parties, and we watch each others’ homes when someone is on vacation. Our neighborhood is exactly the kind of neighborhood we hoped to find.  We are not the only African American family, nor are we the only LGBT family. [Continue reading…]

virtualschool23. State lawmakers poised to loosen rules for virtual charter schools
Move would come despite high dropout rates, big questions about academics

In the space of one day last week, North Carolina’s virtual charter schools saw their controversial plans for overhauling attendance requirements axed, and then, mostly, restored.

Such is the often rapid-fire speed of amendments lobbed in state House and Senate committees as North Carolina lawmakers wrangle over their budget plan this month.

But as House leaders approved their spending plan last week and Senate budget chiefs prepared to unveil their proposals this week, one thing is clear, according to the state’s public school advocates: The virtual charters, besieged by high dropout rates and nationwide concerns about poor academic performance, are bound for relaxed regulations in North Carolina anyway [Continue reading…]

virtual24. Virtual charter schools are a bust. So why did the NC House loosen state regulations even further?

Public school students in North Carolina are expected to be able to weigh evidence and make sound, logical decisions based on that evidence. Should we expect the same from our legislators?

That was the question before the General Assembly during the recent House Budget debate, as legislators argued whether to pull the plug on virtual charter schools. Virtual charters, authorized as part of the 2014 budget, are for-profit, online schools. With grim results in other states, it’s unclear why North Carolina’s policymakers are pushing us down the same path.

The educational results are truly grim. The most careful, comprehensive study of virtual charter schools, from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that virtual charter students achieved the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading than students in traditional public schools. In the words of lead researcher Margaret Raymond, the math results are “literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”  Not surprisingly, the average graduation rate at online schools is 40%, less than half the national average graduation rate of 82%. [Continue reading…]

Payday loans5. Feds to issue new rules on “payday” and “car title” lending; Here’s why North Carolinians should be paying very close attention

Payday loansNorth Carolinians can be forgiven if they haven’t thought a lot about the predatory “payday lending” business in recent years. Indeed, it was one of the great accomplishments of our state government in the early part of the last decade when it officially ended North Carolina’s four-year experiment with the business and made these inherently predatory loans illegal. The last of the payday shops was chased out of the state in 2006.

Since that time, there have been periodic efforts to bring the practice back into North Carolina, but consumer advocates have repeatedly succeeded in beating them back. A few years ago, an Alabama bank attempted to exploit a loophole in federal law that allowed banks to evade state usury caps and reintroduce a form of payday lending into the state. Amidst sustained protests, however, the bank backed down and North Carolinians have since remained blessedly free of this deceptive and destructive “product.” [Continue reading…]

***Upcoming event on Monday, June 6th: Crucial Conversation — A year after the Charleston tragedy: Growing hope for saner anti-gun violence policies.