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Ten Questions to Better Pilot Programs is an obscure but interesting Fiscal Brief produced last month by the Fiscal Research Division of the North Carolina General Assembly.  Study bills and pilot programs are often used to molify sponsors of legislation otherwise faced with certain defeat.  When properly designed and implemented pilot programs can produce useful information.  Many such programs are inadvertently doomed to preclude meaningful assessment, producing ambiguous results.

The Fiscal Brief has some general recommendations:

Policymakers should insist upon pilot programs that are designed as randomly controlled trials whenever possible.
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Policymakers should avoid insisting that their district or districts be included in treatment groups.
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A pilot program that generates actionable data is far more important than having a poorly designed program placed in a home district.
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Policymakers should allow time for pilot programs to reach their full implementation and allow time to observe program effects. Acting too early might result in the abandonment of programs that are actually working.

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The Center for Economic Policy and Research has released an analysis of media coverage showing how the media, and television news in particular, has perpetuated the myth that offshore drilling would substantially lower gas prices by ignoring the government's own reporting that the benefits from such drilling would be too small to have any significant effect on oil prices.

The paper, Oil Drilling In Environmentally Sensitive Areas: The Role of the Media , finds that in 267 television news broadcasts, the Energy Information Agency data was cited only once. Also, in 91 percent of the news programs in this sample, there was not even an opposing opinion presented.

The US Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency in a report called Impacts of Increased Access to Oil and Natural Gas Resources in the Lower 48 Federal Outer Continental Shelf states that if access was granted to all Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) resources there would not be any significant increase in production before 2030 at which point production would peak at only an additional 200,000 barrels per day. Read More

This week is Graduation Awareness Week in NC with a focus on dropout prevention and incentives to stay in school like Learn and Earn.

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Blanket statements about drop-out prevention and graduation rates belie the complexity behind the data. While the graduation rates of some minority groups are low compared to the average, about half of the drop-outs in 2006-07 were white students. (11,674 out of 23,550). Race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, geography, politics, family circumstances, behavior and aptitude are all factors.

While drop-out statistics begin in the 9th grade some students are already mentally dropping out in 7th and 8th grades. Short term suspensions peak in the 7th and 8th grades while long term suspensions peak in the 9th grade. In 2006-07 out of a total of 11,013 reported incidents of 17 reportable criminal and violent acts there were 4,339 incidences of Possession of a Controlled Substance, 3,925 incidences of Possession of a Weapon, 1,081 incidences of Possession of Alcoholic Beverage and 889 Assaults on School Personnel.

Many students who drop out of school end up in the Juvenile Justice system, and eventually Corrections, where the cost of care exceeds the cost of prevention. InsideOut is a documentary produced by the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation in which stories of prison inmates are used as shock treatment to encourage students to stay in school. For those who don't end up in prison the average drop-out earns less than a high-school graduate.

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The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation was created to help educators, community leaders and other interested groups reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate through the creation of relevant and effective tools and resources.

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North Carolina needs more cross-disciplinary thinking and inter-agency co-operation to keep our kids in school, out of prison, and ready for a better life.

As expected the Clay County transfer tax was defeated Friday but not by the margins one would expect given the heavy spending by the North Carolina Association of Realtors (NCAR) to kill the measure. With 9 out of 9 precincts reporting, 2,641 votes were cast, a voter turnout of 31.98% based on 8,262 registered voters. The final result was 1,038 votes for and 1,603 votes against, a margin of 565 voters or, 39.3% for and 60.7% against.

Based on spending of $36,200 reported on August 8th this represents reported spending of $22.58 per no vote, a new record.  Based on funds of $57,500 committed to the opposition committee set up by NCAR this represents total spending of $35.87 per no vote, yet another all time high. Somebody's getting rich.  Meanwhile Clay County residents still have to find a way to pay for their schools and it's a sure bet that it's going to be property tax.

NCAR can afford to keep doing this for a while but can its members? All that NCAR is doing is shifting the burden from one form of taxation to another at $35.87 per vote. According to the Asheville Citizen Times:

Hoping to build a new primary school, Clay was the 20th county seeking to triple the land transfer tax. Voters everywhere have rejected the tax.

The land transfer tax would have raised about $350,000 last year, covering more than half the payment on a $10 million school-construction loan, Clay County Board of Commissioners Chairman Hub Cheeks has said.

There are almost 6 million registered voters in North Carolina. With a current spending rate of $6.93 per registered voter and a spending rate of $35.87 per actual no vote, one has to wonder what is going through the minds of realtors and what they hope to achieve by spending so much money to hamstring local governments struggling to maintain the quality of life that maintains and grows property values that a healthy real estate markets depends on.

In anticipation of the expected override of Governor Easley's veto of the wide boat bill by a returning Legislature we offer these training videos to help drivers get up to speed, so to speak. Please note that, contrary to marine folklore, drinking on or around a boat does actually contribute to blood alcohol level while driving a vehicle towing the same or another boat. Here we see a perspective, from the side of a vehicular way, of vehicles with boat trailers:

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Here are the same driving conditions from the perspective of a driver within the vehicular way.  Please note that even safe drivers who manage to keep their fish-tailing boat trailers within the lines marked on either side of the road must be vigilant to avoid other boats, drivers and similar debris.  If you are dehydrated and must have a beverage please let a passenger open it for you.

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If you happen notice through the trail of dust behind your vehicle that a State Trooper has been flashing lights for several miles please be sure to have ready proof of citizenship and documentation for the pistol under your seat.  This is a good time to inspect your boat for damage from other vehicles.  Yellow school bus paint can easily be removed with 190 proof Everclear grain alcohol.

Please drive carefully.  Our roads and highways are filled with legislators racing with reckless abandon to Raleigh to override the Governor's veto.  In the event of an accident you are on your own as we have so many other important things to worry about.  Another good reason to save your beverages for a true emergency.