Commentary

Forsyth County teacher dissects the folly and hypocrisy of school privatization

One of the best op-eds of recent days in North Carolina was the latest missive from occasional NC Policy Watch contributor and Forsyth County public school teacher, Stuart Egan. This is from Egan’s essay (“Offenders of public education should be its defenders”) that appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal this past Friday:

“Public education is a sacred trust of the citizenry for the benefit of the entire public, not an open market for capitalistic ventures. If one wants to make the argument that states like North Carolina are free to allow for competition within its public school system, then one would need to explain how that complies with the state constitution, which explicitly says that all students are entitled to a good quality education funded by the state.

An adequately fully-funded public-school system is a foundational cornerstone for a democracy in which participants are represented by those elected to defend the very state constitution they are sworn to uphold.”

Egan then goes on to explain how a raft of conservative North Carolina politicians — all of them, ironically, public school graduates — are abetting the privatization process through, among other things, the rapid expansion of vouchers and unaccountable charters. He further notes that this is happening despite a growing body of compelling evidence that the notions of “competition” and “market principles” in the delivery of universal education are a sham.

Egan quotes Stanford University researcher Dr. Frank Adamson:

“The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that supports each and every child than by a market-based, competition approach that creates winners…and losers. While competition might work in sports leagues, countries should not create education systems in which children lose in the classroom….

…mechanisms such as vouchers, charters, and markets allow for private firms to compete in the education market, under the argument that increased competition will provide consumers (students and families) with a greater choice, thus increasing quality. However, in practice, public education contains different constraints than business markets, most notably the obligation of providing every child with a high-quality education…privatizing education has accompanied lower and/or more disparate student performance, likely because markets operate with different principles than the requirements of public sectors.”

Egan concludes with the following powerful plea:

“Milwaukee has showed us that vouchers do not work. New Orleans has showed us that unregulated charter schools segregate communities without increasing achievement. Tennessee is showing us right now that achievement school districts do not work. Ironically, all of those forces are being enabled here in North Carolina by the very people who should be defending public education and we are seeing the same disappointing results.

If those same legislators want ‘every student to succeed,’ then creating market-place competition with taxpayer money is antithetical to that mantra. They should preach collaboration, not opposition.

North Carolina was once a model for public education. Don’t let it become the lesson others should not repeat.”

On this King Day holiday in which many in our nation renew the call for true equal opportunity, Egan’s essay is an apt reminder that universal, free, integrated public schools are an absolutely essential predicate to that achievement.

Commentary

Five quick stories that explain the disastrous consequences of Obamacare repeal (and why Paul Ryan is dead wrong)

In case you missed them this week, here are five quick “must read/watch” takes on GOP plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act:

Number One is a story on Think Progress that document six essential health benefits that Republican senators voted to take away from Americans in one night this week. They are:

  • protections for people with preexisting conditions
  • letting young adults stay on their parents’ plans
  • maintaining access to contraceptive coverage
  • preserving Medicaid expansion
  • protecting children on CHIP and Medicaid
  • preserving veterans’ health care.

Number Two is this story on Kaiser Health News about a Charlotte woman who is deathly and rightfully afraid of what repeal of the ACA will mean for her:

“’I was born with heart trouble and I also had, in 2003, open-heart surgery,’ she said. ‘I had breast-cancer surgery. I have a lot of medical conditions, so I needed insurance badly.’

After the results of the 2016 election, she was scared she’d lose her insurance immediately. For years, Republicans have vowed to scrap the health care law. The new Congress is working on a plan to undo the Affordable Care Act. But they have not settled on how to replace the health care structure that Obamacare created.

Hawes is one of about 550,000 North Carolinians who relies on the Obamacare marketplace for health insurance. She was relieved after she talked with an enrollment specialist last month who told her she can renew her policy for 2017.”

Number Three is an issue brief from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “ACA Repeal Would Lavish Medicare Tax Cuts on 400 Highest-Income Households: Each Would Get Average Tax Cut of About $7 Million a Year.” As the brief explains:

“Republicans’ planned bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is expected to be similar to the repeal bill that President Obama vetoed in January 2016, would provide an immediate windfall tax cut to the highest-income Americans while raising taxes significantly on about 7 million low- and moderate-income families.

First, it would eliminate two Medicare taxes — the additional Hospital Insurance tax and the Medicare tax on unearned income — that both fall only on high-income filers, thereby cutting taxes substantially for those at the top….

Second, ACA repeal would significantly raise taxes on about 7 million low- and moderate-income families due to the loss of their premium tax credits — worth an average of $4,800 in 2017 — that help them buy health coverage through the health insurance marketplaces and afford to go to the doctor when needed.”

Number Four is Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times column, “Donald Trump’s Medical Delusions.” As Krugman aptly observes: Read more

Commentary

Editorial warns states with HB2 copycat proposals: Don’t do it; you’ll regret it!

This morning’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal has a warning for states like Virginia, Texas and others in which Republican lawmakers are attempting to push HB2 copycat bills:

“Learn from our mistake. Don’t do it!”

“As the Atlantic Coast Conference looks for a new home, we have some serious advice for neighboring states: Don’t do what we did. It’s not worth it.

Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford said Sunday the conference is likely to move its football championship game out of Charlotte again next year if House Bill 2, the ‘bathroom bill’ rushed through by the GOP that discriminates against transgender people, is not repealed or adjusted, The Associated Press reported. That would be another massive blow to the state.

The economic impact of the ACC loss is in the tens of millions, the Journal has reported. The overall economic loss related to HB2 has been estimated at as much as $600 million by Forbes magazine. Beyond that, it has unfairly marked North Carolina as a backward, intolerant state.”

Unfortunately, as the editorial notes, equality-phobes in Texas, Virginia, Kentucky and South Carolina are pushing “bathroom bills,” even as conservative business leaders urge them to think twice. Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

“Though proponents of these bills cite safety concerns, there’s very little “there” there. The real danger is to transgender people who would be forced into situations that threaten their safety.

But legislators continue to push back against a rising tide of citizens who are fed up with meddling where there’s no need.

They say it’s a wise man who can learn from the mistakes of others. In North Carolina, we continue to lose business and stature because of this hastily-arranged, clumsily-executed law.

Our legislators could set an example by finally realizing their law was wrong for our state and being big enough to repeal it.

If that happens, nobody, neither Gov. Roy Cooper nor other Democratic leaders, should crow about it. We should all just quietly move on, together, in restoring our reputation and business.”

Commentary

Hope amidst the Jones Street gloom: Bipartisan group renews push for redistricting reform (Video)

Sometimes, sound policy solutions take a very long time to percolate their way up to a place at which logic can actually prevail over greed and avarice. Sometimes, of course, they never make it all the way. In the case, however, of the long sought establishment of an independent redistricting commission to replace North Carolina’s absurd system of political gerrymandering, one gets the sense that stars may finally and blessedly, be starting to align. The combination of a smart and dedicated group of advocates constantly pounding on the door and the ongoing drumbeat of news stories documenting the absurdity of the current system feel as if they’re stating to generate some cracks in the walls constructed by Republican legislative leaders like Senate boss Phil Berger.

Yesterday, the advocacy groups renewed their push in a very public way at the General Assembly.  As WRAL’s Mark Binker reports:

“Every session for the past 20 years, critics of the state’s notoriously partisan redistricting process have tried to persuade the party in power, both Democrats and Republicans, that changing to a nonpartisan process would make elections fairer and more competitive. And every session, the majority party allows the proposal to die in committee.

Still, advocates insist 2017 could be their year.

Noting the state’s rapidly changing demographics, Common Cause North Carolina director Bob Phillips said neither party could be certain of winning a majority in 2020,

‘Both parties, if you accept reform, at least you’re guaranteeing, sort of like an insurance policy, that you’ll always have a voice,’ Phillips said, ‘and that the minority party won’t be literally gerrymandered into irrelevance, as the Democrats did to Republicans and as Republicans have done to Democrats.’

The bipartisan coalition supporting redistricting reform includes both the left-leaning North Carolina Justice Center and the right-leaning John Locke Foundation. Those two organizations find themselves on opposing sides of the ongoing lawsuit against the current legislative districts but united in pushing state lawmakers to find a better, fairer, less litigious way to draw maps in the future.

‘Just because lawmakers can draw the districts the way they have doesn’t mean they should,’ said Locke’s Mitch Kokai. ‘What we need to do is take the process out of the hands of the people who stand to benefit from it.'”

None of this, of course, is to imply that change is imminent. Rep. David Lewis, a powerful House member who once sponsored such legislation derided the idea yesterday. That said, one gets the distinct sense that the issue is catching on more and more in the public, that is is not going away and that, sooner or later, lawmakers will have no choice but to act. Click below to watch the WRAL.com video of yesterday’s press conference led by Rep. Bobbie Richardson of Louisburg.

Commentary

Memo to GOP: If you want to “work with” Cooper, start by halting the outrageous allegations

Gov. Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper

Rep. David Lewis, a prominent member of the leadership team in the North Carolina House of Representatives, told WRAL yesterday that legislative Republicans look forward to working with Gov. Roy Cooper this year.

“We look forward to finding common ground with the governor. We think there are things that we can work with him on and look forward to actually having a dialogue with him without having to go to court in order to talk to him.”

Let’s fervently hope Lewis means it. For years now, the General Assembly leaders have frequently treated a governor of their own party with thinly-veiled contempt and as a virtual errand boy.

Here’s the deal, though: If you’re going to “work” with someone and have productive “dialogue,” it might be a good start to stop calling them names and making outrageous allegations. This doesn’t mean one can’t have strong differences and even battle over the constitutionality of respective roles. Governor Cooper has made this clear in some of his recent statements.

Senator Phil Berger

But there’s a big difference between engaging in tough policy and legal debates and lobbing absurd and offensive personal attacks. The most obvious serial abuser in this area is Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger who has done his utmost since the election to adopt the persona of a Trump-like bully.

Listen to Berger at a gathering of business leaders in early December as reported by a right-wing blogger:

“It’s time for the Governor-elect to take a stance on the issues that surround House Bill 2. He needs to let the public know if he believes that men should be allowed in women’s and girl’s locker rooms. He needs to let us know whether middle school girls should be forced to share a locker room with middle school boys.”

And here’s Berger in a post on his own website discussing the failure of the Senate he controls to repeal HB2:

“Their action proves they [Cooper and Senate Democrats] only wanted a repeal in order to force radical social engineering and shared bathrooms across North Carolina, at the expense of our state’s families, our reputation and our economy.”

Of course, Berger is not alone. A goodly part of the GOP establishment has been lobbing dishonest and outrageous stink bombs at Cooper and one of his advisers, Ken Eudy of late. The GOP’ers claim that both Eudy and his boss are “anti-military” because Eudy had the temerity to express support in a column he wrote last summer for the thoughtful demonstrations of football player Colin Kaepernick and to call for honoring not just military personnel, but all kinds of public servants at sporting events.

Earth to the GOP: You do not build working relationships and find common ground through classless distortions and smear campaigns. Everyone understands that politics is, as the saying goes, not a pillow fight, but there’s a difference between policy disagreements and dishonest broadsides by politicians and their minions that seek to impugn the character of the men and women with whom they must work.

Let’s hope Berger and his colleagues have gotten this kind of vitriolic nonsense out of their systems, take a cue from Cooper and start to focus on working to find common ground in governing our state.  Unfortunately, if the past is any indication, such a scenario seems as if it is likely to be a long shot.