Commentary, Education, News

Study: North Carolina pre-K expanding, but still lags national average

A new study says North Carolina Pre-K is on the rise, but there’s still a great deal more work to do.

The report should provide new fodder for North Carolina lawmakers, who’ve been debating expanded public access to Pre-K for several years.

From WRAL’s report Wednesday:

North Carolina has increased state preschool funding and enrollment, but access has hovered at 23 percent of 4-year-olds – below the national average, according to new research released Wednesday by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The State of Preschool 2018 annual report, based on 2017-18 academic year data, found that North Carolina boosted pre-K spending by nearly $6 million in 2017-18, with plans to continue increased funding. However, the state “needs to both expand access and restore funding per child to pre-recession levels to help close the pay gap between pre-K and K-3 teachers with the same qualifications,” the group wrote.

“North Carolina is moving in the right direction,” NIEER founder and senior co-director Steven Barnett said in a statement.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers discussed a possible three-year virtual early learning pilot program called “UpStart” that would give at-risk, preschool-age children access to online pre-K classes at home.

Earlier this year, North Carolina business leaders, including CEOs at Red Hat and SAS, pushed for more slots for students in pre-K.

Across North Carolina, about 30,000 children participate in the NC Pre-K program, which focuses specifically on educating at-risk 4-year-olds. Teachers in the program have to be certified in early reading, a criteria that has been recognized across the country for success, according to SAS CEO Jim Goodnight.

The positive impacts of early childhood education are well-documented, and the under-funded programs might have the potential to decrease achievement gaps as well.

Meanwhile, questions also persist about pay for pre-k educators.

More from WRAL:

Nationally, the group found that just a third of 4-year-olds and 5.5 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs, with virtually no change in years. Meanwhile, state funding “is failing to keep pace with even the slow increases in enrollment and state spending per child has decreased, when adjusted for inflation,” the group reported. “Inadequate funding undermines classroom quality, and most states fail to pay pre-K teachers comparably to K-3 teachers.”

Barnett said he is “disappointed by the lack of progress and concerned about the number of children missing the quality early learning experiences.”

This year’s report includes a special section on policies affecting the preschool teacher workforce, focusing on salary and benefit parity.

Enrollment has more than doubled since 2002 – with almost 1.6 million children enrolled nationwide – but expansion has slowed in recent years, according to the report. “In some states, slow growth is due to a shift from part-day to full-day programs, which can better support child development as well as family work schedules, but nevertheless leaves many children unserved.”

For North Carolina’s state profile in the new study, go here.

Commentary, News

Report: Allegations of vote-buying in Robeson County predated District 9 controversy

"Vote" pin

A lengthy new report from WRAL’s Tyler Dukes details how allegations of vote-buying in Robeson County long predated the District 9 ruckus, begging questions about local prosecutors in the eastern North Carolina county.

According to that report, published Tuesday morning, state election investigators held evidence that appeared to indicate a candidate for local elected office may have paid voters to go to the polls. But the local district attorney — who defends himself in the story — did not prosecute.

The emails that raised eyebrows in 2015 didn’t concern the 9th Congressional District, which made national headlines in 2018. Instead, they focused on a nonpartisan race for city council in Lumberton, where one candidate accused her opponent of paying three voters to cast ballots in exchange for $7 apiece.

Robeson County, of course, was tied up in the allegations of ballot harvesting that forced a new election in Congressional District 9 this year.

But today’s reporting lends further credence to the notion that Robeson County — and the District 9 region — may have been ripe for election malfeasance.

The most important questions, though, involve how state officials will approach these cases in the future. The reporting delves into that as well:

[Former Robeson County D.A. Johnson] Britt’s decision in 2016 was not the first time local prosecutors – or even state and federal ones – have declined to pursue charges over allegations of election improprieties.

In 2010, for example, a special deputy attorney general with the state Department of Justice declined a request from Bladen County’s top prosecutor to look into vote-buying allegations there. Despite allegations of “voter fraud and assorted trickery,” the DOJ lawyer wrote, most alleged victims were elderly and unreliable – they weren’t credible witnesses.

The Robeson County case stands out in some respects, said Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections. But he said it’s also emblematic, in some ways, that the agency sometimes has a difficult time “getting traction” with local prosecutors.

Lawson said his agency is doing its part. State elections officials have ordered at least nine new elections since 2016.

Yet criminal charges like those in the 9th Congressional District investigation remain a rarity – and are well outside the legal purview of the board.

“We’re not trying to cast blame on anybody,” elections board spokesman Pat Gannon said. “But what can happen if these things are allowed to linger and keep happening without any repercussions, the offenders get more brazen. Things that appear to have happened in Bladen this year will happen.”

And if a local prosecutor declines to bring criminal charges – whatever the reason – the board essentially has no recourse.

“Until something happens to change the culture in those areas, we’re going to continue to have to repeat this conversation over and over again,” Gannon said.

Former Robeson District Attorney Britt said one potential fix is a change in state law. Legislators could give the authority to prosecute election law violations to the state attorney general’s office, or even the Wake County district attorney, where the state elections board is based.

That tactic worked for the 9th District, where Wake County’s district attorney took over the investigation after Bladen County’s top prosecutor recused himself.

“You put it in the hands of the people who are most familiar with it,” Britt said.

Commentary, Higher Ed

The hard truth about for-profit colleges that Virginia Foxx doesn’t want to hear

Rep. Virginia Foxx

In case you missed it, be sure to check out an excellent op-ed that ran in the Winston- Salem Journal on Sunday by Kelly Tornow of the Center for Responsible Lending. In it Tornow tells some hard truths about for-profit colleges and puts one of the industry’s top defenders, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, in her place.

As Tornow explains, for-profit colleges frequently produce poor results at an exorbitant, debt-inducing cost:

At a recent hearing on Capitol Hill about higher education, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina complained about the attention given to problems with for-profit colleges. She said, “To sit here and grind a tired old ax against certain types of institutions you don’t like is just disgraceful.”

But for-profit colleges have a bad reputation for good reason. And in North Carolina, this is no exception.

In fact, a key indicator shows that for-profit colleges in North Carolina have the lowest completion rates in the nation. While public four-year colleges in the state have a completion rate of 56.4%, for-profit four-year programs have an abysmal 16.1% completion rate.

Poor for-profit college outcomes mean lifelong consequences for North Carolina families, particularly people of color, low-income students, women and veterans – ignoring that fact is the true disgrace.

Consider the costs of an expensive, but substandard educational experience. North Carolina for-profit graduates carry over $30,000 in debt at graduation, compared to $23,000 for public students. Since for-profit colleges do such a poor job of preparing students for careers, for-profit college students also have much higher default rates on their student loans.

To make matters worse, Tornow points out, for-profit colleges frequently mask their lousy performance with slick marketing schemes that differ little from predatory lenders while they prey on vulnerable communities and suck up federal education dollars. Now, predictably, the Trump administration is trying to hinder oversight and regulation of the industry.

Here’s Tornow’s on-the-money conclusion:

The U.S. Department of Education is attempting to delay, suspend and rewrite rules that hold for-profits accountable. So Congress should maintain their focus on for-profit colleges as they grapple with responses to the crisis. And states like North Carolina should step up as the feds are stepping back and pass basic measures that give them the tools to oversee for-profit colleges and protect students within our borders.

We can increase oversight and scrutiny of for-profit schools based on poor performance on key indicators like graduation rates, cohort default rates, and job placement rates, requiring that schools meet these basic standards in order to remain licensed. And since for-profits spend much more on advertising and recruiting than on actually teaching their students, states can require, for example, that for-profit schools reverse that and offer value closer to that of public schools, spending more on education than advertising.

The widespread “dislike” of for-profit colleges held up by Rep. Foxx is not arbitrary. What folks don’t like about these institutions is plain and simple. They tend to rake in federal education funds and leave students with heavy debt and no degree or one of little value. With that kind of performance, what is there to like?

Click here to read the entire essay.

 

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

In case you missed it, be sure to check out an editorial that ran in the Charlotte Observer over the weekend and that appears again this morning in Raleigh’s News & Observer. In “A bad bill shows why the blue wave was good for NC,” the authors explain how things have changed in the state Legislative Building and for the better.

Here’s an excerpt:

Not long ago in North Carolina, news of a Republican-sponsored bill like SB367 would have been met like a terminal diagnosis. Democrats would have vowed to fight it, and editorial boards would have shaken their heads, but everyone would have known that there was nothing they could do. The bill, bad as it might be, was going to happen.

Make no mistake, SB367 is a bad bill. The legislation, which was introduced last month, would block cities and towns from passing new ordinances that protect trees from developers. The bill wouldn’t kill ordinances in cities like Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh that already have sanctioned by the legislature, but any city or town that wants to craft a new ordinance would have to go through the General Assembly. Also, any tree ordinance not covered by an existing local act would be voided.

After noting the importance of these kinds of local regulations, the editorial goes on to point out that there would have been no stopping a bill like HB 367 (or any other number of destructive bills) in the past when GOP supermajorities reigned. Now, happily, things are different since Democrats can sustain a gubernatorial veto. Here’s the encouraging conclusion:

In fact, it’s possible the bill might never make it out of committee, because Republican leaders know this losing battle isn’t worth the fight. That’s why the 2018 election was good for North Carolina. Eliminating super-majorities provides a natural buffer against extreme legislation. It forces the majority party to at least consider the minority party and, in the best of circumstances, work together to find compromise that’s palatable to all.

No one is claiming that there’s hand-holding across the aisle in Raleigh these days. But there’s certainly less partisan fireworks, and there’s a bit more conversation between the two parties on the front end of legislation. That’s an improvement from Republicans just doing what they want and how they want, knowing Democrats could do little about it. For now, at least, bad legislating isn’t terminal in North Carolina.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

After hate-filled murders, choosing a legacy of love and light over the darkness

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Those words were first spoken by Martin Luther King Jr., and many have repeated them. But it takes integrity to live by them, especially when hate has touched you in the most profound way.

Yet, that’s exactly what the families of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha have done again and again since February 2015, when these three promising Muslim students were senselessly murdered by an angry white neighbor. The crime not only ripped a hole in their families and deprived the world of three wonderful people, it terrorized the entire Muslim community. To make it worse, since the murders, their loved ones have been targeted with hateful slurs.

Their response has been to ensure that the legacy of their beautiful children will be one of love, not hate. They opened a community center for young Muslim people in a house that Barakat once owned. They started an annual interfaith food drive in the victims’ honor. Just this week, they traveled to Washington D.C. to share their story at a Congressional hearing on hate crimes.

And then Thursday, when the Durham district attorney announced that she would not seek the death penalty against their killer, the victims’ brother, Farris Barakat, stood before a crowd of reporters and expressed the family’s support for the decision. He cited those words from Dr. King and acknowledged that nothing that happens in a courtroom can ever bring true “closure” for their loss.

The myth of the death penalty is that it has a magical power to bring closure to grieving families. But the truth is that it only stokes more hate and anger. It only creates more grieving families. It only brings more darkness into our world.

D.A. Satana Deberry explained that removing the death penalty from the picture would allow the trial – already overdue – to proceed without delay. Deberry made the right decision in this difficult case, one that should be an example for other prosecutors dealing with painful crimes. The death penalty delays and extends trials and appeals, making them more painful for all involved. And, for all that, only a tiny fraction of cases ever result in execution.

Deberry also said that bringing the case to trial quickly will allow the family to begin to heal. It’s clear they’ve already begun that difficult work. Their actions this week were yet another step toward ensuring that the memories of their loved ones will be beacons of love and hope, rather than catalysts for hatred and death.

Kristin Collins is the Associate Director of Public Information at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. This post appeared originally on the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.