Courts & the Law, News

Cooper, parties in Leandro case taking steps forward to help state meet education requirements

The News & Observer is reporting today that the parties in the landmark education case Leandro v. North Carolina have agreed to nominate an independent consultant to come up with a specific plan to improve North Carolina’s education system.

The agreement announcement was made Monday on the 20th anniversary of the state Supreme Court’s first ruling in the case, when it declared that the State Constitution guarantees every child “an opportunity to receive a sound basic education,” according to the article.

“After two decades of litigation, the plaintiff school districts and the state agreed to nominate an independent, “non-party” consultant to the court by Oct. 30, or, if they can’t agree on one, they’ll nominate three possibilities.

If the court concurs, the consultant will work to come up with a specific plan for meeting the court’s 2002 mandates in its second Leandro ruling – a well-trained, competent teacher in every classroom, a well-trained, competent principal in every school and enough resources that every child has an equal opportunity for education. Those mandates were upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004.

It’s unclear what influence, if any, the consultant would have in the legislature, which allocates funding for education.”

Gov. Roy Cooper also announced today in a press release that he has signed an executive order to establish the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education to help North Carolina meet its duties under the state constitution as underscored by the landmark rulings in Leandro and Hoke County Board of Education v. North Carolina.

“No matter where North Carolina students live or go to school in our state, they all deserve access to a quality education that prepares them for the jobs and opportunities of the future,” Cooper said in the release. “That is their right as children of North Carolina and we must not let them down.”

The Commission will assess North Carolina’s ability to staff schools with competent, well-trained teachers and principals and its commitment to providing adequate resources to public schools, according to Cooper’s Office.

Seventeen representatives will be appointed in the coming weeks by Cooper from the fields of education, business, local government, law, health care, early childhood development, psychology and counseling, and public safety. The first meeting is expected to be in the fall.

Commission leaders will work with the independent consultant appointed in Leandro to help with their review and assessment.

Commentary, News

Human rights advocates call on Cooper, Stein to support inquiry into NC’s involvement in CIA torture

Human rights advocates are calling on Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein to support the work of a non-governmental commission that’s been formed to examine, among other things, North Carolina’s role in the illegal and immoral torture program administered by the U.S. government in early years of the last decade. As is explained on the website of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture:

“In the years following 9/11, North Carolina was used as a staging ground to launch flights that picked up suspected terrorists abroad and transported them to CIA ‘black sites’ and third-party countries where they were illegally detained and tortured. Declassified documents and news reports have confirmed that the CIA front company Aero Contractors, which is headquartered in the state, used North Carolina’s aviation infrastructure and public airports to launch these ‘torture taxi’ flights in support of the United States’ Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program.

The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) is a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating and establishing public accountability for the role that North Carolina’s government and state resources played in helping to facilitate the U.S. torture program. The NCCIT has established a blue-ribbon panel of policy experts, academics, and community leaders to do the job their government refuses to do: investigate North Carolina’s involvement in the U.S. torture program, prevent it from happening again, and make North Carolina a leader against torture.”

A draft letter to Cooper and Stein prepared by advocates at NC Stop Torture Now calls on the two leaders to cooperate with and aid the investigation. In support of the request, the letter notes that:

  • The U.S. government has done nothing to hold officials responsible for the CIA’s failures or for the terrible damage caused by U.S. torture, both at home and abroad.
  • Torture has boosted terrorism and damaged U.S. global standing. 
  • President Trump has repeatedly endorsed torture as a foreign policy “strategy.”
  • New evidence has recently emerged that the U.S. may be re-engaging with torture in Yemen.
  • A North Carolina-based contractor has played a key role in torture, has used the state’s public public airports in its efforts and could again.

Let’s hope the effort bears fruit. To learn more about the efforts of Stop Torture Now NC, visit their website by clicking here.

News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

State Board of Education to vote on DPI budget cuts, layoffs Tuesday

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and Bill Cobey (right)

Details may not be public yet, but North Carolina K-12 leaders on the State Board of Education will look to pass down $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered budget calls in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

As reported by Policy Watch last week, the legislative spending cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are likely to impact personnel in the state agency and its services for poor and rural districts across the state.

This year’s $3.2 million cut is part of a two-year reduction for the state’s top education bureaucracy, which has been under withering scrutiny from Republican legislators in recent years. The agency had already weathered roughly $20 million in funding reductions since 2009.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to like the cuts we make, because they’ll have to be in the area of services to the districts,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said last week.

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last year, has been silent about the cuts thus far, although Cobey said the superintendent has shared multiple proposals for dishing out the cuts.

Cobey noted the daily changes to those proposals last week.

Board members are expected to vote on the cuts Tuesday. But a DPI official, citing the confidentiality of personnel information, said details on the cuts won’t be available to the public and the media until after Tuesday’s meeting.

Watch for Policy Watch coverage of the cuts this week.

News

Payton McGarry, HB 2/HB 142 plaintiff, running for Greensboro City Council

Filing for local elections ended Friday and – perhaps predictably in a politically fractious year at the state and national level – there are a raft of first-time candidates on this year’s ballots.

Among them, one of the most interesting is Payton McGarry. The 21-year old transgender man was a plaintiff in the original HB 2 lawsuit – and is playing the same role in the amended suit against HB 142.

McGarry, a student at UNCG, has filed to run for City Council in Greensboro.

Payton McGarry, now a candidate for Greensboro City Council.

Since HB 2 was originally passed, McGarry has been a visible and vocal part of opposition to measures that would limit transgender protections. Now he’s looking to become the first openly LGBT member of the Greensboro City Council. It’s McGarry’s first run for office – and it could be an uphill battle. Though the city council races are officially non-partisan, McGarry is a liberal Democrat running against a moderate Democrat incumbent in Councilman Justin Outling. Leaning socially liberal and fiscally conservative, Outling won the District 3 seat in his own right after initially being appointed to finish the term of a departing councilman. That was no small feat for Outling, a black Democrat running in a council district whose representatives have traditionally been white and more conservative.

Outling has proven to be a moderate in office, which has made him a target for some more left-leaning candidates.

Two other candidates have also filed for the seat – Anturan Marsh and Craig Martin.

The primary election will be held Oct. 10. Election Day is Nov. 7.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper

Gov. Cooper asks lawmakers for emergency funds for DEQ, DHHS over GenX; Sec’y Cohen says water is safe

GenX levels have dropped below state public health goals in the Lower Cape Fear River in Wilmington but residents are still concerned about the safety of their drinking water. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Gov. Roy Cooper and state health and environmental officials today tried to assure Wilmington residents that their drinking water is safe, even if it contains low levels of GenX, an unregulated chemical found in the Lower Cape Fear River.

Meanwhile, Cooper unveiled a plan at the press conference to investigate not only GenX, but other unregulated contaminants in the state’s public water systems. This includes an assessment by the State Bureau of Investigation as to whether a criminal probe is warranted and $3 million in emergency funding for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

.@NC_Governor We shouldn't have to have a public health situation to get those resources Click To Tweet,

Seven weeks ago, the Wilmington Star-News first published scientific findings about GenX in the Cape Fear. At that point, DHHS set an original goal of 70,000 parts trillion for the chemical. This is a lifetime exposure of drinking roughly 2 liters of water a day, and is based on one animal study provided by the EPA — the only science the federal agency said was available. DHHS later reduced that goal when federal officials produced a second “proprietary” study. “We wish we would have had that initially,” Cohen said. “We’re looking at every bit of available evidence.”

Cooper said he has also requested a public health assessment review of GenX from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cooper and DEQ are asking state lawmakers for $3 million in emergency resource funding to review not only GenX but also other unregulated chemicals, such as 1-4 dioxane and Chromium 6, in drinking water. NCPW reported on Thursday about  the scientific and regulatory inertia in addressing the health risks of these chemicals.

Ten years’ worth of cuts, which have become especially acute since Republican lawmakers have held the majority, have decimated DEQ. Funding for water quality staff has decreased by 41 percent over the past decade, and the most recent state budget cut $1 million in salaries and eliminated a minimum of 16 positions throughout the agency.

The $3 million figure for inspectors, environmental specialists and engineers, said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan, “is conservative, but gets us in fighting shape.”

Regan said the department is already “combing through our permits” to ensure no other releases of GenX are happening.

DHHS is also requesting money for water health safety unit, which would include a toxicologist, epidemiologist and a health educator. Lawmakers are scheduled to hold a special session on Thursday, Aug. 3. However, until this funding request, it appeared that it would merely perfunctory until the next special session in September.

Although Chemours has since stopped releasing GenX into the river from its Fayetteville plant, state environmental officials plan to deny the company’s ability to discharge GenX as part of its wastewater discharge permit. The permit has expired and is up for renewal. DEQ officials had administratively continued the permit until the state investigation into the company’s discharge of GenX is complete.

“I have directed my administration to perform their work as if they and their families would be drinking this water,” Cooper said.

Cooper also is asking the State Bureau of Investigation, DEQ and the EPA to determine if a criminal probe is warranted into Chemours’s discharge of the chemical into the Lower Cape Fear River. That chemical, which is unregulated by the EPA, wound up in the public drinking water of 250,000 people living in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties.

A federal consent order related to a case in West Virginia prohibits Chemours from discharging GenX into waterways unless it is a byproduct of manufacturing. Chemours has contended that the Cooper said he also spoke with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to “see if that consent order needs to be updated and tightened.

On Friday, the state attorney general’s office launched a civil investigation, demanding extensive documentation and information from Chemours.

GenX is one of hundreds of unregulated contaminants classified as “emerging” by the EPA. The health effects of these contaminants have not been fully studied. “I’m concerned about other compounds,” Cooper said. As a result, DEQ will required “enhanced disclosure” of companies seeking discharge permits. The governor is also expanding the scope of DEQ’s Science Advisory Board to examine unregulated compounds and their potential threat to public health.

Regan is expected to announce his appointments to the advisory board by the end of July.

The press conference occurred after Cooper, Regan and Cohen met with state and New Hanover County elected officials this morning. In what is becoming a common practice, that meeting included a pool reporter from the Wilmington Star-News, but no other journalists were allowed to attend.