Commentary

Editorial: State school takeover turns “slimy”

In case you missed it, be sure to check out an editorial that ran in the Charlotte Observer this weekend on the latest developments with North Carolina’s so-called “Innovative School District.” As Policy Watch readers will recall, the ISD is yet another school privatization scheme from legislative conservatives that calls for private operators to take over troubled schools. As readers will also recall, however, the plan has been nothing short of a disaster since its inception and has thus far managed to effect the takeover of only a single school by a single, unqualified contractor.

This is from the Observer editorial “Charlotte company behind a promising schools idea that’s become an embarrassment” that describes the developments around the planned takeover as “slimy”:

“ISD officials have struggled to find a qualified company to operate the one school initially chosen for takeover — Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County. The operator that’s finally gotten the nod — Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children (AAC) — looks bad in every important way. AAC is only a year old and doesn’t have the long history of success that ISD’s creators had envisioned. Neither does a company that AAC chose as an operating partner, TeamCFA, which has a mixed record of student achievement in 13 N.C. Charter schools. That deficiency appears to violate the 2016 law that requires the operator or its partners to have a record of improving persistently low-performing schools and students.

An ISD-commissioned evaluator, SchoolWorks, also found that AAC was deficient in seven of 11 operational criteria, including startup planning, goals and “mission and vision.” In addition, SchoolWorks was alarmingly skeptical about AAC’s funding model.

But that may not be the worst part. AAC’s operating partner, TeamCFA, was founded by Oregon’s John Bryan, who contributed generously to N.C. political campaigns and has taken credit for getting the ISD law passed. On AAC’s board is Rob Bryan, the law’s author.

At the least, it’s horrible optics. At worst, it appears that North Carolina may have been scammed.

The state school board approved AAC in a somewhat contentious 7-4 vote this month, but as part of that approval, AAC must submit a response to SchoolWorks’ concerns. ISD superintendent Eric Hall told the Observer editorial board Friday he expected that response by day’s end. Hall said he’ll review it and report to the state school board. He stressed that the ISD has “significant accountability” in place.

Hall and the board should demonstrate that. Hiring AAC is, simply, an embarrassment, and any school board member voting to move forward with the company is doing a disservice not only to the students of Southside Ashpole, but to the Innovative School District overall.”

Commentary, News

The week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

#1 Governor appoints Joe John as head of Courts Commission after Duane Hall resigns

Rep. Duane Hall (D-Wake) quietly resigned as head of the North Carolina Courts Commission a month ago, shortly after NC Policy Watch detailed sexual harassment allegations against him.

Gov. Roy Cooper this week appointed Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) to take his place.
John said in a phone interview this week that he was honored by the Governor’s appointment. He is a first-term representative but had a 25-plus year career within the court system — he’s been a prosecutor, defense lawyer, district court judge, chief district court judge, superior court judge and court of appeals judge.

“I pretty well covered the waterfront and I have broad experience and overview as to how the court system operates,” John said. “I’m probably as familiar as anyone with the things that courts do well and the areas where probably there could be some improvement.”

The Commission, which has around 30 members, is tasked with evaluating changes to the state’s court system and making recommendations to the General Assembly.
The state court workload is one thing John hopes to address during his tenure. [Read more…]

Bonus reads in Courts & Law:
Judges: Wake legislative districts likely unconstitutional but election already underway
Pioneering women celebrate progress in the judiciary, make the case for more at Supreme Court ceremony

# 2 A second natural gas pipeline proposed for NC would run through Rockingham, Alamance counties | Read more

Bonus read in Environment:
DEQ, Duke agree on (small) penalty for illegal leaks from coal ash basins

#3 Controversial former charter principal’s involvement raises more concerns about takeover of Robeson County school | Read more

Bonus read in Education:
N.C. Supreme Court to hear arguments in pivotal Halifax County school case Monday

#4 Really? This is the best they can come up with?
After decades of propaganda and promises, the effort to privatize public schools in NC continues to fizzle | Read more

#5 Experts: We already know how to reform the state’s flawed cash bail system | Read more

Commentary

Editorial: Tillis must come clean about foreign involvement in his campaign

Sen. Thom Tillis

Dallas Woodhouse

There’s a fine editorial in this morning’s Greensboro News & Record entitled “Senator Tillis did one really good thing but needs to do one more.” In it, the N&R acknowledges that Tillis is to be commended for co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from any efforts by Donald Trump to fire him. It would be better if he actually got the legislation moving, but it’s still good that he at least lent his name to it.

As the editorial also goes on to point out, however, the action to protect Mueller doesn’t insulate Tillis from the necessity that he come clean with respect to his campaign’s actions in 2014 in employing a foreign firm (Cambridge Analytica) with Russian connections. As the editorial points out, this fact was highlighted by Tillis’ hypocritical posturing in questioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week:

“In 2014 N.C. GOP Chairman Dallas Woodhouse hired Cambridge Analytica to help stimulate voters to support Tillis in his race against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan of Greensboro, whom he beat in a mild upset. Until last month, when its connection to Facebook was uncovered, Cambridge Analytica’s support for Tillis was either obfuscated or overlooked.

The firm has been accused of collecting and employing the data illegally and for deploying foreign nationals to work on various campaigns, which violates election law….

Tillis has said very little about his relationship to the firm. He told the Post that it would be ‘deeply disturbing’ if his campaign was misled by a vendor. Woodhouse disclosed a $150,000 payment for ‘get-out-the-vote efforts.’ ‘No foreign workers worked for us,’ he told the Post.

But a few days later, WRAL.com quoted Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie as saying the firm had ‘three or four’ full-time staffers, none of them U.S. citizens, in the state for the successful 2014 effort to elect U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis.’ New questions, still fewer answers. Every written statement from Tillis focuses on the possibility of “vendor problems.”

Tillis and Woodhouse should bring forward all records associated with the firm’s work on that campaign. What details were included in contracts and billing documents? Who were those employees who worked in North Carolina? What did they do? Bad memories and ‘vendor problems’ aren’t acceptable.

The rule of law has taken lots of bullets from Washington these past 16 months. Some of the wounds have been serious, and the damage is a long way from being contained. Tillis is admirable on one hand in its defense but to sit on a panel inquiring about a relationship for which his campaign paid and benefited is duplicitous.

Why not stand in front of the people who elected you, Sen. Tillis, and provide the sort of clear accounting you demanded from Zuckerberg?”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

Fiscal policy expert: So you love North Carolina, huh? Well then fund it, doggone it

North Carolina Budget and Tax Center director Alexandra Sirota is out with a new BTC Brief that ought to be a “must read” for all state lawmakers as they prepare for the 2018 legislative session that commences next month. In “Love NC? Fund NC.” Sirota explains why it is essential for lawmakers to revisit their plan to inflict a new round of destructive tax cuts on the state in 2019. This from the introduction:

“As the General Assembly returns for a short legislative session, their primary focus should be addressing the impending cuts to corporate and personal income tax rates in January 2019. After successive rate reductions on the income tax side since 2013 — which primarily benefited wealthy taxpayers and large, profitable corporations — the state of North Carolina is poised to continue to reduce its investments in people and places and leave needs unmet again this year.

Scheduled rate reductions for January 2019 will put the state’s budgets out of balance in future years, requiring cuts to investments in public health, environmental protections and education, failing to keep higher education affordable and K-12 classrooms and schools funded to serve each child. North Carolina will lose roughly $900 million over a year in revenue from the reduction of the corporate income tax rate to 2.5 percent from 3 percent and from the flat personal income tax rate falling to 5.25 from 5.499 percent.

At this point in the state’s failed tax-cut experiment, it is time to return to an approach that prioritizes investments in people and places over tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Evidence shows it will not only strengthen the connection to prosperity for more people and places but will also grow the economy in more inclusive and sustainable ways. It will also ensure that the state is pursuing a fiscally responsible path in light of its long-term needs and the uncertainty of federal fiscal policy.

Removing the scheduled tax cuts from statute this session is the first step to ensure that North Carolina can adequately invest in its future, strengthen the economy for the long-term and prepare for likely external shocks to the state’s economic and fiscal health.”

Click here to read this rest of this very important report.

Commentary

Great news from Charlotte on guns, housing

There are two important pieces of good news emanating from the Queen City today:

Number One is Mayor Vi Lyles’ announcement, according to the Charlotte Observer that “she plans to seek $50 million in affordable housing bonds in the fall, more than tripling the amount of local money available for low-income housing.” This is from the Observer article:

“The city’s Housing Trust Fund, which largely subsidizes construction of housing for low-income renters by private developers, is funded by $15 million worth of voter-approved bonds every two years. Advocates have called that level inadequate, especially in the face of rapidly rising rents and home prices….

Average rents have jumped 36 percent in Charlotte over the past five years, rising from $842 to $1,142 this year. For-sale housing has seen an almost identical escalation, with the median price rising to $235,000 in March….

Affordable housing advocates have been pushing for the higher Housing Trust Fund level for months, and speakers at Monday’s City Council meeting held signs and talked about their struggles with finding a place they can afford in Charlotte.”

Number Two was an unrelated, but equally encouraging development in the corporate world. Bank of America has announced that it will stop financing the manufacture of military-style weapons for civilian use. This is also an article in USA Today:

Bank of America will stop lending to business clients that manufacture military-style weapons for civilian use, becoming the latest U.S. financial institution to break ties with gunmakers following the mass shooting massacre at a Florida high school.

‘We want to contribute in any way we can to reduce these mass shootings,’ Anne Finucane, vice chairman of the Charlotte, N.C.-based banking giant, said during a Bloomberg TV interview on Tuesday….

Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank by assets, started the process of cutting ties with makers of military-style weapons for average Americans after the Feb. 14 mass shooting in which 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The massacre has renewed nationwide calls for tighter gun control, demands that have been opposed by the National Rifle Association and other organizations citing constitutional protection for the right to bear arms.

Citigroup announced new gun-related restrictions on its business partners in March, requiring them to bar firearm sales to customers under age 21, as well as those who have not passed a background check.

The New York-based bank said it is also barring clients from selling high-capacity ammunition magazines and so-called bump stocks that enable more rapid firing.

Amalgamated Bank announced similar restrictions last week, saying it would not invest any of its own assets “in companies that manufacture or distribute firearms, weaponry or ammunition.” The bank also said it would work with industry peers to seek “responsible practices” from gun manufacturers and distributors.