Commentary, News

Report: NC’s investment in early childhood education woefully inadequate

Researchers and advocates at the League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear are promoting a new report on the state of early childhood education in North Carolina. Their central and not surprising finding: the state is not getting the job done.

As the group noted in a recent release:

“Despite the proven benefits of NC Pre-K and broad support for the program, current state funding only allows 47% of eligible 4-year-olds to be served. Approximately 32,000 children lose out on this opportunity each year. In addition, because the state does not pay the full cost of NC Pre-K, 44 out of 100 counties in NC in the past 3 years have not applied for expansion dollars to increase access in their counties.”

The report concludes, among other things, that NC Pre-K is effective, its benefits continue through time, and has strong local support. It identifies the following five top needs in New Hanover County:

1. The New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) superintendent’s top priority is for the General Assembly to fund more slots. He wants every child who qualifies to have access to NC Pre-K. The school system currently has space to house several more Pre-K classes.

2. The New Hanover Early Childhood Education (ECE) director stated that “serving children is not good enough. We need comprehensive services to best prepare these children for kindergarten and beyond.”She sees a great need for more funding per slot to provide comprehensive services. Specifically, areas of need include:

  • Dental care
  • Mental health supports including screenings for all children in the program
  • Nutrition supports
  • Social emotional supports
  • Family counseling and services
  • Parent-family-community engagement
  • Additional professional development to equip teachers to build relationships with children with challenging behaviors

3. The ECE director believes that public sites in particular need additional state funds per slot. She would like to see public and private sites funded equally by the state.

4. Site administrators identified a need for more student support staff especially for children with challenging behaviors. At the public sites this includes more hours a week with a social worker, family or behavior specialist, and/or school psychologist. Private site administrators expressed the need for consistent and regular support for teachers dealing with behavior challenges, more timely help, and more support implementing behavioral interventions. Additional funding per slot is needed to address this gap in support services for children.

5. The ECE director is also advocating for an increase in the administrative funding allotment for NC Pre-K. The current 4% allotment for administration is very low for any program. Local administrative costs include outreach to families, evaluating and processing applications, site contract administration and oversight, and reporting to the state. These costs are currently subsidized by the NHCS budget.

The bottom line: it seems all but certain that the findings in New Hanover County could be replicated in all 100 North Carolina counties. As such, the report provides new confirmation that North Carolina is failing its young children. Click here to read the full report.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump environmental policies place eastern NC directly in the crosshairs

It remains one of the great conundrums of American politics: Why do so many people who will be the ones most directly harmed by the policies of the Trump administration and its allies in Congress continue to support leaders whose policies are hostile to their interests?

Yet another example of this tragic reality was illustrated this weekend in Raleigh’s News & Observer by contributor Dana Ervin in a fine op-ed about the disastrous impact that the Trump administration’s rollback of clean water rules is all but sure to have on vulnerable parts of eastern North Carolina (a section of the state that continues to support Trump and his minions by large voting margins).

This is from “Trump’s environmental rollback will be costly to NC”:

“Under the newly-announced EPA rule, builders will no longer need a permit to fill, dredge or pollute many waters that have no surface connection to larger bodies of water. That means they’ll no longer need to minimize their environmental impact. But the newly unprotected waters can feed into groundwater and affect drinking water. And wetlands provide important flood control for nearby communities. That’s why EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, which includes members selected by the Trump Administration, says the rule risks public health.

For North Carolinians, the change eliminates protection for almost 1.7 million acres of wetlands, most of which lie in coastal areas. Wetlands are nature’s sponges. They absorb floodwater, then slowly release it as flooding abates. They’re so effective that federal disaster programs encourage states to build new, man-made wetlands. That means taxpayer money could be used to rebuild wetlands eliminated under the new EPA rule.”

After exploring the bitter irony in the fact that EPA announced the rollback right after North Carolina scientists announced new findings about the rapidly growing flood risk posed to the state by the climate crisis and rising sea levels, Ervin concludes this way:

“It’s highly unlikely North Carolina will decide to impose clean water protections abandoned by the federal government. The General Assembly has already passed legislation prohibiting state regulators from imposing environmental standards that are more restrictive than federal ones. And, after years of cuts to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s budget, no one can reasonably expect the legislature to fund new positions.

Instead, we can expect natural flood protections to decline even as flooding increases. And we can expect an expensive lawsuit to stop a costly rule that should never have been promulgated if — as [EPA chief Andrew] Wheeler says — its costs can’t be quantified. Expect taxpayers to foot that bill, too.”

Click here to read the entire editorial and here to read some of Lisa Sorg’s fine reporting on the subject from 2019.

Commentary, News

Today’s must read: More details emerge on the Forest-Lindberg connection

Greg Lindberg cuts a ribbon at the opening of the Durham headquarters of Global Bankers Insurance Group in 2017 alongside Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Image: https://www.greglindberg.com/

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out the WRAL.com news story by state government reporters Travis Fain and Tyler Dukes about the information that’s come to light in the Greg Lindberg bribery scandal. As you’ll recall, Lindberg and his employee John Gray are accused of attempting to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey in a scandal in which former state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes has already plead guilty.

Now comes Fain and Duke’s report that Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s top aide was the man who first sought to bring Lindberg and Causey together — a development that was soon followed by Lindberg making massive campaign contributions to Forest. This is from the story:

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s chief of staff reached out to Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey’s office in early August 2017, seeking a meeting for two men who would later be indicted and accused of trying to bribe Causey.

At the time, the state Department of Insurance was reviewing three insurance companies Lindberg owned.

Within a month of the reach out, more than $50,000 flowed into Forest’s campaign coffers from associates of Greg Lindberg and John Gray, at least in part because Lindberg hosted a fundraiser at his home. Lindberg himself donated $400,000 that month to a second political committee that the lieutenant governor controls and that accepts unlimited donations.

By the end of that year, Lindberg had deposited $2.4 million in political committees backing Forest’s current run for governor. Forest put out a press release at the time, trumpeting his ability to bring in such a haul.

Weatherman has said that his actions in arranging the meeting were, in effect, routine and that he was just taking action to help a “friend” (Gray), but as the story concludes:

It’s not unusual for state insurance commissioners to meet with executives at the companies they regulate. Causey, who was elected in the fall of 2016, has said he had a get-to-know-you meeting with Lindberg and his team in late June 2017, not long after he had refunded $10,000 in campaign donations from Lindberg and his wife.

But the federal indictment states that Gray also asked North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes that August to schedule a meeting between the commissioner, Lindberg and Gray. Hayes was indicted last March as well, and he pleaded guilty in October to lying to investigators.

Forest has not returned the millions that Lindberg contributed to his efforts.

News

Of crashing polls and caucuses: An update from Iowa

If you’re looking for some quality, on-the-ground coverage of the ongoing political messes in Iowa, be sure to check out the coverage from our new sister publication, the Iowa Capital-Dispatch. Over the last few days, editor Kathie Obradovich (former opinion editor of the Des Moines Register) and reporter Linh Ta have been working hard to stay on top of things in the Hawkeye state. Here’s Ta’s latest on last night’s breakdown of the caucus system:

A television monitor shows a statement from the Joe Biden campaign raising concerns about the delay in caucus results. (Iowa Capital Dispatch photo)

Democrats’ caucus results delay raises questions, criticism

The Iowa Democratic Party’s delay in reporting caucus results sparked more criticism of the state’s first-in-the-nation status Monday.

While the winner of the Iowa caucus isn’t normally finalized until late in the evening of the event, it’s typical for results to be released throughout the night, giving some indication of front-runners and losers.

The Iowa Democratic Party has still failed to release any numbers by 9 a.m. Tuesday, resulting in angst on social media, criticisms from President Donald Trump’s campaign, and even some harsh words from the Democratic presidential candidates.

In an update to the public Tuesday morning, the Iowa Democratic Party released a statement saying there were inconsistencies with caucus reports Monday evening, resulting in an investigation that delayed the release of public numbers.

For the first time this year, precincts used apps to report the results from their caucuses. While the data the app collected was accurate, only partial numbers were being reported due to a coding error, according to the news release.

“As this investigation unfolded, IDP staff activated pre-planned backup measures and entered data manually. This took longer than expected,” according to the news release.

Because paper documentation of the results is required as well from precincts, the party was able to verify the data from the app with the submitted papers, according to the news release. Results from the caucuses are expected to be released on Tuesday.

Dana Remus, general counsel for former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, said in a letter to the state party: “I write on behalf of the Biden for President Campaign regarding the considerable flaws in tonight’s Iowa caucus reporting system … The app that was intended to relay caucus results to the party failed; the party’s back-up telephonic reporting system likewise has failed.”

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price read a statement during a media call just after 1 a.m. He said the party was manually reviewing results from all precincts and he expected to have results later on Tuesday.  “The integrity of our process and the results have and always will be our top priority,” he said. He reiterated previous party statements that the problem was a “reporting issue, not a hack or an intrusion.”

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Meanwhile, if you’re still wondering about the seemingly bizarre demise of the final Iowa poll, here’s part of Obradovich’s take: Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

The best editorial of the weekend: Save us from Trump’s environmental neglect

In case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out the Sunday editorial in the Greensboro New & Record.

It’s simply entitled called “Troubled waters,” and in it , the authors rightfully excoriate the Trump administration for its criminal negligence in dealing with water pollution from so-called “forever chemicals.” (Click here to read Lisa Sorg’s special 2019 report on the Trump administration’s destructive assault on the “Waters of the United States” rule.)

Even as the Trump administration beats a disturbing retreat on environmental protections, tap water across the United States is contaminated to a much higher degree than previously known, contends a new report from the Environmental Working Group.

“Forever chemicals,” also known as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are resistant to breaking down and may affect hundreds of millions of Americans. Some of the chemicals classified as PFAS may cause cancer, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems.

The editorial points out that the researchers took water sample from 44 places in 31 states and found the highest contamination rate in Brunswick County, NC.

The EPA has known about the contamination for 19 years, Reuters reported. In 2018, the White House and the EPA tried to suppress a draft report from an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the EPA’s threshold.

Coincidentally, when the U.S. House recently passed the PFAS Action Act, requiring the EPA to designate all PFAS as hazardous substances within a year, Mark Walker of Greensboro didn’t vote. Reps. Virginia Foxx and Ted Budd voted no.

Meanwhile, the editorial concludes, Trump’s EPA is trying to lower protections in this area by weakening standards for pollution in wetlands and smaller waterways — a change that even a mostly Trump-appointed science board  opposes.

As the editorial rightfully notes in conclusion:

As for PFAS, at some point the EPA needs to establish a firm limit, not just recommendations. State officials, as well as our senators and representatives, should confront this problem with the urgency it deserves.

Click here to read the entire editorial.