charterschoolsAs North Carolina lawmakers continue to push for an ever-more-rapid expansion of charter schools — even at the expense of traditional public schools — a new report released this week by the Center for Media and Democracy raises additional questions about the merits of such a course.

According the report, which is based on U.S. Department of Education data: “nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools.”

Not surprisingly, school closures can have a large and negative impact on student achievement. This is also from the CMD report:

“In a 2014 study, Matthew F. Larsen with the Department of Economics at Tulane University looked at high school closures in Milwaukee, almost all of which were charter schools, and he concluded that closures decreased “high school graduation rates by nearly 10%.” He found that the effects persist “even if the students attends a better quality school after closure.”

Of course, it goes without saying that traditional public schools can and do fail large numbers of students too — sometimes even when they don’t physically close their doors. Still, the long list of charter school failures (which include 29 schools in North Carolina) brings home what a tenuous solution to what ails public education that charters can be.

Whereas charters were first introduced and sold to Americans as “incubators of innovation” that would develop new and creative ways of teaching that could then percolate back through traditional public schools, increasingly their proponents push them (along with private school vouchers) as full-fledged alternatives that can and should replace the traditional system.

Seen through this lens, the notion that such a high number of charters are failing raises real questions about the wisdom of further expansion.

In a assessing the CMD report, advocates at national anti-privatization nonprofit, In the Public Interest, put it this way: Read More


UNCsystemNorth Carolina’s conservative political leaders and their appointees appear to be making ever more headway in their ongoing effort to “run state government like a business.” The only problem is that the business model they evidently have in mind is something out of the Donald Trump empire.

As a group of UNC system professors (including occasional NC Policy Watch contributor Michael Behrent of Appalachian State) explained this morning, in an excellent essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer, state leaders are bestowing big salaries and big salary hikes on university administrators even as they slash investments in higher education, ratchet up tuition and leave faculty pay stuck in the mud.

“Another steep cut in state education budgets? These days, little could surprise North Carolinians less. However, something unexpected recently happened: The UNC Board of Governors – whose 32 members were all appointed by the Republican legislature – contemplated a rare spending spree: They voted to allow generous pay raises for top university administrators.

The UNC president and chancellors could increase the compensation ranges for “vice presidents, vice chancellors, deans and other administrators.” Using a new model recommended to the Board of Governors by a consulting firm, the pay range for a vice president for research and graduate education, for instance, would be between $242,829 and $388,526.

If your gut tells you this sounds excessive, you’re right. It is.

In this era of relentless state disinvestment from public education, such administrative pay raises will inevitably be financed by North Carolinians’ tuition dollars. Moreover, pay hikes for administrators exacerbate one of the most outrageous and unnecessary trends in contemporary higher education.”

The essay concludes this way: Read More

Commentary, News

Dan ForestYesterday was a wild and wacky day (and night) in the already wacky world of North Carolina policy and politics as lawmakers stayed in session past four o’clock this morning and sent all kinds of new potential laws to the Governor — often with only a cursory review of what they actually will do.

For some of the players in the drama, however, the chaos of end-of-session sausage making was clearly not enough to hold their complete attention. Take Lt. Governor Dan Forest, for example. Yesterday, the presiding officer of the state Senate took three hours out of his workday to serve as “guest host” on Called 2 Action Radio — an program hosted by a self-described “Christian wacko” named Steve Noble (In 2011, Noble released a book entitled “The Making of a Christian Wacko: Are You Next?”)

In case you’re not familiar with Mr. Noble and his program, it is a syndicated show based in Raleigh in which the host and his guests spew a steady stream of vitriol and condemnation — especially toward gays, Muslims, Mormons and anyone else who does does not adhere to their particular brand a far right, fundamentalist religiosity. Just last week, Noble held forth on multiple occasions on the supposed incompatibility of Islam and the the U.S. Constitution, how he “hates Islam,” how the Bible is explicitly pro-capitalist, how Donald Trump has twice violated “Jesus’ prohibition against divorce except in cases of sexual immorality” and, well, you get the idea.

According to the folks at Right Wing Watch, Noble said the following in the run-up to the vote on the marriage discrimination amendment back in 2012:

“The homosexual lifestyle is not an orientation it’s just a temptation, we all face that, but they’re the ones, that’s the only group of sinners that’s chosen to try to attack the entire world, let alone the word of God, to say ‘no, no, we’re going to keep fighting until you all agree with us that this thing that we know as a sin, isn’t.”

Noble went on to describe homosexuality as, among other things: “the playground of Satan and the evil forces against God’s way.”

Yesterday, a post on on Forest’s Facebook page stated that:

“Dan is the fill in guest host for Steve Noble’s nationally syndicated radio show today. On live now with Congressman Mark Meadows. Tomorrow we will post the full three hour podcast where you can hear Dan interview Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, David Barton, Rep. Meadows and more>’
Then in the middle of the afternoon, Forest tweeted the following:
“On air in place of Steve Noble for the next few hours. Have presidential candidates, business and faith leaders on your local radio station.”
As of yet, the promised podcast has yet to materialize on either the Called 2 Action website, Forest’s website or his Facebook page. We’ll keep an ear and eye out.

The good people at the NC State AFL-CIO have issued the following statement on House Bill 318, the controversial legislation approved by lawmakers last night to limit the use of alternative identification cards for undocumented immigrants and cut off SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) for tens of thousands of struggling people.

“’North Carolina lawmakers have raised the bar for showing hostility to the interests of working people with H.B. 318, and that’s saying something for a legislature which has made a sport out of bullying the unemployed and the working poor,’ said MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO. ‘We call on Governor McCrory to veto this bill as soon as it reaches his desk.’

Dishonestly named the ‘Protect North Carolina Workers Act’, H.B. 318 will callously and needlessly cut off food assistance to unemployed people, will make it harder for local police to protect the public, and will make it easier for unscrupulous employers to exploit immigrant workers.

H.B. 318 will force more residents struggling to find and keep a job into deeper hunger and poverty by denying access for tens of thousands of childless adults to the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. H.B. 318 will prohibit the state from getting waivers to federal time limits on such benefits despite the fact that unemployment remains high enough in 77 of North Carolina’s 100 counties to qualify and no state money would be affected by the change.

H.B. 318 will make the already difficult job of local police to protect the public even harder by forcing them to prioritize the enforcement of federal immigration law over common-sense policing and by discouraging crime victims and witnesses from interacting with police to help solve and prevent crimes. H.B. 318 will make the simple act of establishing the identity of North Carolina residents with whom they interact on a daily basis more difficult not only for law enforcement but for courts, clerks, or other government officials.

Meanwhile, H.B. 318 will make it easier for abusive employers to use the threat of deportation to keep workers from speaking up about unsafe working conditions or unpaid wages, thereby undermining the wage standards and working conditions of all working people in North Carolina.

‘There’s a lot the General Assembly could do to protect working people in North Carolina, like moving a bill that has bipartisan backing to crack down on the rampant misclassification of workers as independent contractors, restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, or raising the minimum wage,’ said McMillan, ‘but H.B. 318 does none of these things. This bill does not protect workers. Like so many policies passed by this legislature, this bill hurts working people and should be vetoed immediately.’”

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

A few of the worst last-minute proposals advanced during last night’s kangaroo sessions of the North Carolina House and Senate failed, mercifully, to win final approval prior to the 4:00 a.m. final adjournment. That said, lawmakers still shipped a bevy of dreadful and destructive bills down the street to the Governor’s Mansion.

One of the most troubling was/is the aptly nicknamed “Polluter Protection Act.” Though some of the bill’s rougher edges were smoothed slightly in the session’s final hours, the proposal still goes to Governor McCrory with its horrific centerpiece intact — a provision that would allow permit-holders who violate environmental limits to be excused from civil penalties for their offenses, if they “self-report” the violations.

Environmental advocates are demanding that the Governor veto this monstrosity. The good people at the Environmental Defense Fund put it this way in a statement this morning:

“The N.C. General Assembly has given final approval to House Bill 765, known as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2015. If the legislation becomes law, it will allow more air and water pollution, degrade land, harm wildlife and put public health at risk.

This legislation is a hodgepodge of short-sighted provisions that allow a more polluted environment, plain and simple. It encourages irresponsible business practices. It insulates polluters from their responsibility to fully clean up contamination they cause. It removes protections for nearly 50,000 miles of streams that supply our drinking water, provide important fish habitat, and help keep our waterways clean and healthy.

H765 eliminates sensible safeguards for our air, water, wildlife, and puts the health of our children and families on the hook when polluters should be.”

Meanwhile, Dan Crawford of the League of Conservation Voters was even more succinct when he said the bill could be “the worst environmental bill of Gov. McCrory’s tenure.”

For a summary of the lowlights and the action that environmental advocates are taking to secure a veto click here.

For a thorough list of the bill’s grisly details click here.