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slowdownThis morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the state Board of Education’s plan to approve two new “virtual” charter schools. The central message: “Not so fast!”

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

The N&O’s conclusion is pretty self-evident — especially if you’ve read any of NC Policy Watch’s reporting on the scoundrels at the for-profit virtual charter company, K12, Inc. But if you have any doubts, check out this in-depth report from earlier this year by a team of experts at the National Education Policy Center. According to the authors:

“Despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever-greater expansion.”

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Commentary

The good people at Everytown for Gun Safety have launched a powerful new campaign to convince the giant Kroger grocery chain to prohibit customers from openly carrying weapons in its stores. The campaign features three powerful photographs that highlight the absurdity of Kroger’s current policies — which prohibit customers from bringing in outside food, skateboards or shopping shirtless, but that do not prohibit openly carrying, for instance, assault rifles.

Below is one of the powerful images featured in the campaign — click here to see the other photos and to lend your name to the petition:

Kroger gun policy

Photo credit: Everytown for Gun Safety – everytown.org

 

Commentary
Bob Hall

Democracy NC Executive Director Bob Hall

Be sure to check out the op-ed authored by Democracy North Carolina’s Bob Hall in the Winston-Salem Journal this morning about one of the less-well-publicized (but most cynical and manipulative) provisions buried in the state’s infamous “monster voting law.”

As Hall explains, the decision to do away with straight-ticket voting was clearly the result of one thing: the determination by Republican officials that it would reduce Democratic votes:

In 2012, a solid majority – 56 percent – of North Carolina voters marked one box on their ballots to indicate their choices in more than a dozen different races, from governor to county commissioner. It’s called straight-ticket voting and in 2012, it involved 1.4 million ballots for Democratic candidates and 1.1 million for Republicans. African Americans were about 60 percent more likely than whites to use this voting method.

In an ideal world, our schools, TV stations and other media would teach people about civics and citizenship, the importance of voting, the candidates and offices on the ballot, and how to determine who’s a goat, not just a donkey or elephant. Instead, voting is discounted and election contests are covered like a horse race – who’s ahead in the polls and who’s got the most money behind them.

Given that reality, the straight-ticket option gives voters a handy way to participate in many contests with a single mark for a party’s slate of candidates. That’s especially helpful with North Carolina’s notoriously long ballot, which extends to partisan races for clerk of court, even coroner. Straight-ticket voting allows voters to efficiently, effectively show support for candidates of the party that best shares their values. It makes the voting process less intimidating, more accessible and it reduces the waiting time for everybody.

Why get rid of it? Because Republican leaders decided it hurts their chances to win more elections. The change has nothing to do with preventing fraud or improving integrity; it’s all about analyzing the voting behavior of supporters and opponents for a party’s self-serving gain. Read More

Commentary
Bill de Blasio

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – Image: Official website of the City of New York

In 2014, there are lots of basic public structures and social services that Americans, like the inhabitants in other advanced countries, ought to have a right to take for granted. Paid sick days, paid maternity leave, and free higher education, for example, need to be on any such list.

And here’s another one: free, universal, public pre-Kindergarten.

Fortunately, at least one important American jurisdiction is doing something about it. As this recent New York Times editorial notes, the city of New York kicked off an enormously ambitious program this week to provide public pre-K to 50,000 four-year-olds:

The start of public school on Thursday in New York City should be the usual merry scramble of chattering children and stressed (or relieved) parents. There will also be something new: a fresh crop of 4-year-olds, more than 50,000, embarking on the first day of free, full-day, citywide, city-run prekindergarten.

It’s worth pausing to note what an accomplishment this is. Fifty thousand is a small city’s worth of children, each getting a head start on a lifetime of learning. It is so many families saving the cost of day care or private prekindergarten. It is a milestone of education reform.

The editorial goes on to heap praise on New York mayor Bill de Blasio who made the launch of such a program a key plank in his campaign platform and who now despite plenty of critics — including the Times editorial page — has now made good on his promise.

Let’s hope the program is a rousing success and that, like so many other trends that started in the Big Apple, it catches on all over (even in North Carolina) ASAP.

Commentary

If you needed proof that the deniers/defenders of climate change are having to dig further and further down into the barrel to find semi-credible “experts” to bolster their position, check out next Monday’s featured Locke Foundation Shaftsbury Society speaker, William Happer. Happer’s talk is entitled “The Myth of Carbon Pollution.”

As the Huffington Post reported a few weeks back, not only does Happer claim it’s a good thing that there is a growing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he’s one of those troubled ideologues who can’t resist the temptation to compare those who disagree with him (i.e. the overwhelming majority of climate scientists) to, sigh, the Nazis.

Here is the full text of the HuffPo article (which also includes video of the CNBC interview in which Happer made the unfortunate analogy.) :

“The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,” said Princeton University professor William Happer while being interviewed on “Squawk Box” on CNBC. Before host Andrew Ross Sorkin could respond in incredulity, Happer went on to say, “Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.” Read More