Education, News

After backlash, North Carolina lawmakers give a reprieve to school targeted for takeover

After a swift backlash, North Carolina legislators approved a handful of changes to state law Thursday that would offer a reprieve to one struggling Wayne County elementary targeted for takeover by the Innovative School District.

The changes emerged from a conference report on a technical corrections bill approved Thursday by House and Senate lawmakers.

The bill is bound for Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, and it’s unclear whether or not the Democratic governor will sign off, given its inclusion of a controversial allowance for municipal charter schools — like those in the works in the Charlotte suburbs — to opt into the state’s retirement and health system.

Such an allowance clears a major hurdle for the prospective schools, which critics say will exacerbate segregation in Charlotte-area schools, already one of the state’s more divided districts.

Even if Cooper vetoes the bill, Republican lawmakers still hold a veto-proof majority, at least until the newly-elected members of the General Assembly take office in January.

This week’s revision to the Innovative School District law would appear to head off a confrontation with Wayne County school leaders, one of which would not rule out a lawsuit in an interview with Policy Watch this week.

Local district leaders blasted state officials’ process in selecting the school, Carver Heights Elementary, which would now be allowed to follow through on its application to join the state’s “Restart” program. Under the program, struggling schools can be cleared for charter-like flexibility.

This week’s bill also nixes a requirement that the ISD take over at least two schools by the 2019-2020 school year, potentially setting up an even busier Fall 2019 for the program. Under state law, the initiative would have to take over another four schools going into 2020-2021.

State leaders approved the program’s takeover of a Robeson County school last year.

Wayne County school leaders applauded the news Friday.

“The positive support from State Board of Education members and State legislators about Wayne County Public Schools improvement efforts currently underway at Carver Heights Elementary has been absolutely tremendous,” Wayne County Superintendent Michael Dunsmore said in a statement.

“We are extremely pleased with this legislation that is now on its way to the Governor’s Office. Our school district is highly appreciative of our local legislative delegation and the bi-partisan support that led to the passing of this legislation in both the House and Senate. Their actions speak volumes, and further affirm our district’s ability to change the academic trajectory of this school.”

The ISD was created by state lawmakers in 2016, potentially allowing charter operators to pilot operations in lagging traditional schools.

Education, News

After years of warnings about K-12 infrastructure, Speaker Moore to file $1.9 billion school bond bill

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

North Carolina lawmakers were told nearly three years ago that the state’s school infrastructure needs had reached a staggering $8 billion or more.

Yet efforts to put a statewide school bond referendum on the ballot were stymied by North Carolina lawmakers in recent years.

Today’s news might mean, however, that the proposal may finally have some momentum in the legislature.

State House Speaker Tim Moore announced that he would file a bill to put a $1.9 billion public school bond on the ballot, addressing at least a portion of the state’s capital needs.

According to Moore’s release, $1.3 billion would go to K-12 construction needs, $300 million to the UNC system, and $300 million to North Carolina’s community colleges.

“Education is what matters most to families and businesses — to the private and public sectors alike — and North Carolina is poised to build on historic commitments to our schools with another long-term investment in capital construction for our rapidly growing student population,” Moore said in the release.

“Our state’s explosive growth over the past decade brings opportunities and challenges for our school systems. The state General Assembly must continue to meet those needs with investments in our future.”

It’s worth mentioning that while Moore refers to “another” investment in our student population, this would mark the first statewide K-12 bond since 1996.

Lawmakers did authorize and voters approved a $2 billion bond in 2016 to fund STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) facilities on UNC campuses, but the state’s K-12 schools have long bemoaned the state of crumbling facilities in some of North Carolina’s poorer regions.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson also announced his support for the bond in Moore’s release Thursday, which came hours after GOP lawmakers choose Moore for his third term as state House speaker.

State officials told legislators nearly three years ago that the school construction tab was expected to balloon to $13 billion by 2026, and that’s before a controversial elementary class size cap may have exacerbated the problem for local districts.

No word yet on whether the bill has backing in the state Senate, which has been considerably more problematic for public school advocates in recent years.

Moore said in his release that the bill should be approved in the 2019 legislative session and be placed on the ballot in 2020.

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member calls Silent Sam suggestion “sheer cowardice”

In a video on his personal YouTube channel, UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby called the UNC Board of Trustees’ suggestion on the fate of Silent Sam “sheer cowardice.”

The proposal to build a $5.3 million UNC history center at which the Confederate monument could be housed has incensed both the political right and left, Goolsby said.

A large scale protest of the plan was held Monday night by students, faculty, staff and community members.

Goolsby, one of the most vocal conservatives on the conservative dominated Board of Governors, criticized the trustees as pushing their own agenda and said they’re misinterpreting the law on how the Confederate statue can be relocated.

Goolsby is known for dramatic statements and actions that divide the board. While other members of the board are not always as histrionic, Board Chairman Harry Smith has defended Goolsby a number of times and the board’s most conservative faction tends to agree with him.

The board will meet next week to take up the Silent Sam issue.

Board members Bob Rucho and Phil Byers attended the UNC Board of Trustees meeting at which the trustees’ plan was released, but neither would comment on the board’s report.

Education, News, race

Combating poverty and other barriers, Wayne County coalition focuses on equitable economic development

Marking nearly a year of planning and progress in Goldsboro, a group of community residents, nonprofit leaders and elected officials that have been part of an initiative focusing on equitable economic development known as WAYne Forward, hosted a Fall Summit to discuss the ways in which the community can address poverty through collective effort. With high energy and deep conversations, the event highlighted the value of sustained work that brings many stakeholders together to promote opportunity for all.

These aren’t always easy conversations. A history of exclusion and discrimination that persists in eastern North Carolina creates barriers for current residents, as have policy choices and systems that block opportunity. Problems ranging from disproportionate suspension rates of minorities to disproportionate juvenile court rates and detention admittance rates to the lack of affordable housing and too few good paying jobs with career pathways. As well, multiple census tracts or neighborhoods in the county experience a poverty rate of over 30 percent, delivering what is considered a double burden on residents poor and not poor.

Yet, for the past year, the community organized around these troubling outcomes and has been working to understand the landscape of opportunity in their community. Building from community-based outreach such as food drives or school reading initiatives, these are just some of the ways Wayne County aims to bridge the gaps to fight poverty. Along with a continued emphasis on building a strong civic leadership, and grassroots network that can mobilize and organize residents, and a growing effort to revitalize main streets and lift up the arts and regional connections the community has proven assets to build on.

Still like many places, Goldsboro has its obstacles to overcome. In 2014, it was ranked as one of the areas with the greatest decline in the middle class by Pew Research Center. Research by the UNC Poverty Fund released last year found the persistent and concentrated poverty in Goldsboro along with systemic exclusion of communities of color was creating a toxic environment for children.

The opportunity to demonstrate solutions that have been proven to work and advance the wellbeing of all residents is available in Wayne County. Read more

Commentary, Education

Student voices: It’s time for NC legislators to stand with us in taking action against gun violence

The following op-ed comes from Lily Levin, a student leader and ally of the NC Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, who shares her thoughts about the actions that all caring and thinking people must take to combat the gun violence epidemic.  

On October 19th, I had the privilege of attending the Student Gun Violence Summit in Washington, DC. I arrived at the event with an understanding of the effect of gun violence in a variety of different communities. I left the summit understanding that gun violence is inextricably tied to violence against minorities, violence against women, violence against children—in essence, it is a symptom of the cycle of institutionalized violence perpetuated in America.

We all know that gun deaths in America are countless. Most of us know someone affected by gun violence. A large number of us have been affected by gun violence ourselves.

Although I am only an ally, I feel that it is my duty to advocate alongside survivors. “Survivor” is a broad term; survivor of what, exactly?

Survivor of hate. Survivor of cruelty. Survivor of trauma.

Gun violence is not an isolated evil. It is a product of the encouragement of white nationalism by those in office, including the President.

It is a product of the disenfranchisement of low income communities of color. It is the product of a culture of misogyny and the normalization of rape. It is the product of police brutality. It is the product of access to guns.

The Student Gun Violence Summit taught me that in order to prevent gun deaths, we must approach the reform argument from a place of intersectionality, meaning, striving toward an understanding of how so many issues are tied to public policy—mental health (two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides), school safety, and racial bias training and mitigation. America’s gun problem is so incredibly expansive that we cannot simply enact one legislative action and expect a significant reduction in gun deaths: we must approach this debate from a systemic level.

One policy is a step in the right direction, but reform requires sweeping and massive change. Those of us who are paying attention to the increasing rate of gun deaths in America know this all too well.

Teachers, students, and survivors of school shootings and inner-city gun crime and family-member suicide joined me at the summit. At times, listening to the stories of others, I felt hopeless, but when my peers shared their passions and dedication to this issue, I knew that I must be hopeful. When we ratified the Student Safety Bill of Rights, I knew that, one day, we will win. I urge you all to access the Student Safety Bill of Rights and advocate for it in front of your local school boards and with your state legislators. Visit the Action Network Website to learn more:

The North Carolina General Assembly will be back in session on November 27—presumably to review and implement the voter ID amendment, among other issues—but there is no mention of gun reform and education, which are urgent needs in light of the Butler High School shooting and mass amounts of gun violence every day.

My friend Raina and I are beginning to plan a March for Our Lives Wake County chapter, which is inclusive, diverse, and honors different voices, but we cannot fight this fight alone.

Stand with us. Stand against gun violence, and most importantly, stand for humanity.

Lily Levin is a high school student, social justice advocate, change-maker, and ally. She co-founded Triangle People Power, a youth activist group pursuing multi-issue advocacy based on the ACLU’s grassroots agenda, and currently serves as its executive leader. She is also a passionate proponent of intersectional gun reform, having coordinated the Why Wake Walks rally on the anniversary of Columbine and working with Mom’s Demand Action, Bull City United, and March for Our Lives.