Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. How a Trump attack on the federal “Waters of the United States” rule imperils the waters of North Carolina

This is the second of a three-part series  about a commonly used method of environmental protection for wetlands and streams called “compensatory mitigation.”

This a place where the Atlantic Ocean begins: A yawning storm pipe draped by kudzu about a half-mile south of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Little more than a murky ditch, the shallow stream winds south, beneath the American Tobacco Trail bridge, behind a strip mall, and past two gas stations, to Forest Hills Park.

To illustrate the connections between Durham’s lowly downtown ditch to the coast, if you floated a paper boat from the headwaters in Forest Hills, its 150-mile journey would run south through Third Fork Creek, which in turn merges with New Hope Creek, which flows into Jordan Lake, a drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people. The boat would skim over the dam and into the Cape Fear River, which travels through southeastern North Carolina and spills into the Atlantic south of Wilmington.[Read more…]

2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg reviews her remarkable life, battles for gender equality in Raleigh appearance

Veteran justice laments politicization of Supreme Court confirmation process, expresses optimism about the future

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to a crowd of mostly women Monday in Raleigh, recalled when so many opportunities were off limits for her gender.

“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s Garment District, which my mother was, and a Supreme Court justice?” she asked. “And my answer is, one generation.”

The audience burst into applause. More than 1,600 people attended the conversation with Ginsburg as part of Meredith College’s Lillian Parker Wallace lecture series in Raleigh.

“As bleak as things may seem, I have seen so many changes in my lifetime, opportunities opened for people of whatever race, religion, and finally, gender,” said the 86-year-old.[Read more…]

3. Five simple truths about the Medicaid expansion debate

Prescription to apply for health insurance with personal computing tablet and stethoscope.

Medicaid expansion is back on the table at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Sort of.

Maybe.

The latest maddening and semi-hopeful development in this seemingly never ending saga arose in the aftermath of the September 11 budget veto override debacle when House Speaker Tim Moore announced that he would fulfill “a promise” to revive the GOP version of the proposal now that the House was “finished” with the budget.

Last week, the measure – House Bill 655 – was approved by the House Health Committee on a voice vote and forwarded on to the House Rules Committee. The same committee had already taken the same action on a very similar version of the proposal back in July in a 25-6 vote.[Read more…]

4. National civil rights group calls on Forest to withdraw from event featuring anti-Muslim speakers


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest to withdraw from headlining an event featuring several controversial anti-Islamic speakers.

Forest’s top-billing at such an event sends a dangerous message, said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw.

“By sharing the stage with anti-Muslim speakers, the lieutenant governor would legitimize the bigoted views espoused by the speakers and delegitimize the Republican Party’s claim of supporting religious freedom for all,” McCaw said. “Lieutenant Governor Forest should immediately withdraw from this event and reaffirm his commitment to representing all North Carolinians regardless of faith or background.”

The group, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, is responding to Forest’s planned speech to the The American Renewal Project’s “North Carolina Renewal Project” event. The event takes place next week, Oct. 3-4, at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel.

Forest has not responded to requests for comment from Policy Watch.[Read more…]

5. Burr, Tillis stick with Trump as Senate passes another resolution to block border emergency declaration


The U.S. Senate voted again on Wednesday to block President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the southern U.S. border.

The Senate voted 54-41 to end the declaration, delivering a rebuke that’s likely to be symbolic. Both chambers of Congress already voted to block the resolution, but the effort failed after the U.S. House failed to override Trump’s veto in March. The White House is expected to veto the resolution again.

Eleven Republicans joined Senate Democrats this week in voting to block Trump from circumventing Congress to obtain funding for a controversial border wall. The National Emergencies Act allows Democrats to seek a vote on repealing the emergency declaration every six months. The resolution disapproval requires a simple majority to pass the Senate.[Read more…]

6. In 2019, with student debt and tuition soaring, is UNC still the university of the people?

“I speak for all of us who could not afford to go to Duke,” Charles Kuralt once declared in 1993, in that inimitable oaken voice, during the UNC system’s bicentennial celebration.

Kuralt, speaking to an august assemblage that included former President Bill Clinton and then North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, was in the midst of one of the regal monologues the famous newsman was lauded for in his 22 years at CBS News.

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?” he boomed. “It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls, or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming. … No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the university of the people.”

Kuralt, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and Wilmington native, earned a place in a generation of UNC commercials for that dedication. You can also catch Kuralt’s folksy love letter to Chapel Hill at any UNC sporting event, although the kum-ba-yah has an oddly dissonant sound in 2019.

Today, it is difficult to imagine many institutions of higher education in North Carolina, much less in the United States, can reasonably claim to be the “university of the people” anymore, unless we are to change the definition of “the people.” [Read more…]

7. Does NC adequately prepare and test its teachers?


National education advocate says state is falling short but local experts tell a different story

Kate Walsh, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has a reputation for being provocative.

She lived up to that billing this month during a visit to North Carolina to discuss strategies for improving college and university teacher prep programs.

In North Carolina, there are 52 such programs approved by the State Board of Education (SBE). They include private and public universities and colleges as well as smaller programs created by school districts and nonprofits to feed the teacher pipeline. [Read more…]

8. Policy Watch podcasts:

Click here for the latest commentaries and newsmaker interviews with Rob Schofield

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

Education

Lejeune High alums win fight to keep school’s name from changing

“I think Walter B. Jones would be happy with the decision. I believe he deserves to be honored, so I hope a fitting federal building will be named in his memory.”

— Lisa Beaver, a 1986 Lejeune High graduate who teachers at the school 

Alumni of Lejeune High School are reporting the school’s name will remain the same.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who represents parts of San Mateo County and San Francisco, had filed an amendment to the national defense bill to rename the high school in honor of the late North Carolina congressman Walter B. Jones, who died in February.

Ric Logg, who attended the school from 1978-81, posted on his Facebook page Thursday that Lejeune High School Principal Eric Steimel was notified that the effort to rename the school was not included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“The name of our school will remain as Lejeune High School!” Logg wrote.

Lejeune High alums, Marines and others vigorously opposed renaming the school.

“I am very excited that the process — Lejeune alumni and students letter writing, contacting State Representatives, State senators around the country, appealing to Base Commands and local politicians, attending town halls, signing petitions, as well as appealing to the media — was successful and we are still Lejeune High School,” said Lisa Beaver, a 1986 graduate who teachers at the school. “I think Walter B. Jones would be happy with the decision. I believe he deserves to be honored, so I hope a fitting federal building will be named in his memory.”

A staffer in the office of Todd Curkendall, Camp Lejeune’s community superintendent, said the news that the school’s name will remain Lejeune High School is accurate.

Lejeune High School

The staffer said any further comment must come through the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), which oversees schools on military bases.

DoDEA staffers had not returned Policy Watch calls by Thursday afternoon.

Speier and Jones, the longtime Republican lawmaker from Eastern North Carolina, were colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee. Jones often visited Lejeune High, a school of roughly 500 military dependents, to meet with students.

The school was founded in 1944 as Camp Lejeune High School but was renamed Lejeune High School in 1990.

The base and the high school are named in honor of Lt. Gen. John Archer Lejeune. Lejeune is widely considered the greatest Marine to ever wear the uniform.

Education

Proud Boys supporter to hold rally in support of cheerleaders placed on probation for posing with Trump 2020 banner

“The Stanly News & Press” is reporting that one of the organizers of a rally being held tonight to support cheerleaders at North Stanly High School who were placed on probation by the N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) for posing with a Trump 2020 banner has ties to the Proud Boys, a far-right group identified as a general hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The photo with one cheerleader and a male student holding a banner has received national attention and stirred controversy in the small town of New London where the school is located.

The paper identified the rally organizer as Jay Thaxton of Cabarrus County, who is putting on tonight’s event with Jeremy Onitreb.

Thaxton didn’t deny being a Proud Boy supporter, but took issue with critic’s  characterization of the group as a “white nationalist” organization.

Here’s what the SPLC has to say about the Proud Boys:

Their disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions: rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric. Proud Boys have appeared alongside other hate groups at extremist gatherings like the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Indeed, former Proud Boys member Jason Kessler helped to organize the event, which brought together Klansmen, antisemites, Southern racists, and militias. Kessler was only “expelled” from the group after the violence and near-universal condemnation of the Charlottesville rally-goers.

The cheerleaders were not punished by the school because they didn’t violate the student code of conduct.

But NCHSAA Commissioner Marilyn Que Tucker placed them on probation, punishment tantamount to a warning, after a teacher posted the photo on Facebook.

Tucker told the paper that she decided to reprimand the cheerleaders because the incident caused a negative athletic environment.

“One of the rules we have is that every contest should be conducted in a wholesome, athletic environment,” Tucker said. “We take that to mean that it’s in an environment where good sportsmanship is shown, where people feel safe … that respect for all people participating is being shown.”

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican whose district includes Stanly County, sent a letter to Tucker expressing disappointment at the decision to place the cheerleaders on probation.

“As the representative of Stanly County, I’m appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech,” Hudson wrote. “As leaders we should be encouraging America’s youth participation in our democracy and political process – not punishing and silencing them.”

Education, News

UNC system chancellors weigh in on search for next UNC system president

Chancellors from UNC System schools weighed in on the search for the system’s next president Thursday at a meeting of the UNC Board of Governors’ Presidential Search Committee.

N.C. State University President Randy Woodson told the board he believes it’s essential the next president of the system understand the system, its schools and how the ways in which they are all unique. As important, he said, is that they be willing to do things differently in a fast-changing higher education environment.

To do that effectively, he said, the next president will have to have the support of the board.

“We need a leader who is embraced by this board and empowered by this board to lead the system,” Woodson said.

The relationship between the board and the system’s new leader was a recurring theme among the chancellors Thursday, with allusions to the tensions between the board and its last president, Margaret Spellings.

Spellings resigned her position last year after just three years as president of the system. During her tenure political and personal tensions with members of the board of governors exploded into public acrimony.

N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold Martin addressed that problem most directly, saying the system’s next leader needs both the support of the board and also the system’s chancellors.

“My observation — and I think I speak for our chancellors around the table — is the president seemingly over the last few years of tenure, has had the appearance of protecting the universities from the board around matters that were in our minds relevant, quality, competitive conversations we should be having,” Martin said.

That led chancellors to feel they had to defend their universities and the roles they play, Martin said — not a position in which most leaders want to find themselves.

There was disagreement among the chancellors and board of governors members Thursday about how important it is for the system’s next leader to be a native North Carolinian or at least a long-time resident of the state.

UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois said he doesn’t believe it’s important the system’s next leader come from North Carolina — but he would like to see the next system president serve from between 8 and 10 years.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz agreed that where the next president comes from shouldn’t be a determining factor – but did say he believes they should have a strong grounding in higher education. His comments may be in response to some board of governors members who have said they believe chancellors and presidents should be chosen from other areas — especially business.

Board of Governors member Philip Byers said he doesn’t believe the board needs to look far for its next president.

“When I look around this table, I see people who could be the next president of the UNC system,” Byers said. “I don’t think we need to look all over the country.”

One person around that table — board of governors member Tom Fetzer — denied persistent rumors he wants the job as system president or to become the next chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Lord no,” Fetzer told Policy Watch Thursday.

Fetzer said he has young children and wouldn’t want to put his family through the current social media environment in either a bid for that sort of leadership position or a run for office.

Under rules approved by the board, any Board of Governors member who did want to be considered in a search would need to resign their board position first.

Education

Private religious school receives state voucher money despite teaching homosexuality is a sin

In the western part of the state, the “Citizen Times” reports that a conservative religious school that receives a third of Buncombe County’s opportunity scholarship money teaches students that homosexuality is a sin.

Temple Baptist School in West Asheville is also dismissive of the theory of evolution, the paper reports. It opts to evangelize about Young Earth creationism, which contends Earth is no more than 10,000 years old.

Here’s how Brian Washburn, the administrator at Temple Baptist, explained the school’s approach to those subjects.

“What we do is based on the Bible as our foundation,” Washburn told the “Citizen Times.” “So that’s going to influence our approach to teaching all of our subject areas.”

The “Citizen Times” reported that 95 of nearly 150 Temple Baptist students receive tuition assistance of up to $4,200 through the state’s voucher program during the 2018-19 school year.

Read the paper’s full report here.

Teaching children that homosexuality is a sin wouldn’t fly in a traditional public school, and neither would Young Earth creationism. But such lesson are OK at Temple Baptist and other private religious schools despite the fact that such schools benefit from thousands of dollars in public money.

Private schools accepted 9,651 scholarships last year totaling $37.7 million.

Critics complain that the voucher program drains money from traditional public schools. Meanwhile, supporters say vouchers give economically disadvantaged students educational opportunities they otherwise couldn’t afford.

Another chief complaint about North Carolina’s school voucher program is that the program provides money to private schools that may discriminate based on race, gender, sexuality and religious affiliation.

Kathryn Marker, director of grants, training and outreach at the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA), the agency that oversees the state’s voucher program, told Policy Watch in June that the program’s participation agreement forbids discrimination on the basis of “race, color or national origin.”

That agreement, however, does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Read the participation agreement here. Provision 5 forbids discrimination based on race, color or national origin.

The language in the agreement is similar to that in federal law:  “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program, or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”