Education, News

State Board of Education’s Greg Alcorn to become fourth board resignation this year

From L-R: Bill Cobey, Becky Taylor, and Greg Alcorn will all step down from the State Board of Education next month.

Greg Alcorn, a Rowan County resident serving on the State Board of Education, will become the fourth member of North Carolina’s top school board to step down this year, Policy Watch has learned.

Policy Watch received a copy Friday of Alcorn’s resignation, dated Aug. 7, from the state board. In the letter, Alcorn says he intends to leave following next month’s board meeting. Alcorn added that he wants to focus on ApSeed, the early childhood nonprofit he started.

But it’s worth noting that Alcorn, like departing members Bill Cobey and Becky Taylor before him, was set to watch his term expire in March. A fourth board member, former Vice Chair A.L. “Buddy” Collins, also stepped down this spring in order to run for a county commission seat in Forsyth County.

Republican state lawmakers have voted on partisan lines to deny replacements for board members appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but Cooper’s appointments will not require legislative confirmation to serve out the rest of Cobey, Taylor and Alcorn’s terms.

“With the legislature not approving the governor’s appointments, really the only way that a board member’s seat gets filled appears to be the way that Bill and Becky are going,” the board’s vice chairman, Eric Davis, said in a Policy Watch report this week. “That’s the only way a new member gets appointed.”

As this week’s report noted, board members Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt watched their terms expire in March 2017, but both have remained on as lawmakers first delayed and then voted down Cooper’s replacements.

From Alcorn’s resignation letter:

This letter is to inform you that I am resigning from the North Carolina State Board of Education at the conclusion of the Thursday, September 6 board meeting. I have shared my decision of resignation with my fellow board members and I would like to serve through the September board meeting.

The primary reason for resigning is to spend more time with my ApSeed early childhood education non-profit. ApSeed is designed to provide “Kindergarten-ready” children to our fine public schools in North Carolina. I firmly believe that ApSeed can have a generational, positive impact to help eliminate achievement gaps. My belief in ApSeed and its impact compels me to devote my community service time to this non-profit.

It has been my pleasure and honor to serve on the NC State Board of Education, during the past 5+ years. My service on the Board has informed me of the many challenges in education and has been invaluable. I firmly believe in the constitutional responsibilities of the State Board of Education and am sure your new appointee will continue to deliver on those responsibilities.

It has been an honor to serve with such an outstanding group of board members who have faithfully made their first priority the interest of our public school children. I will miss serving with them.

Education, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration, Betsy DeVos, slash for-profit college regulations

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have made no secret of their support of for-profit colleges.

Today, they’re taking the next step to cut regulations for such controversial programs, Politico reports.

According to the report, DeVos will do away with an Obama administration rule.

From Politico:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Thursday to eliminate Obama-era regulations that were meant to cut off federal funding to low-performing programs at for-profit schools and other career colleges.

The Education Department unveiled a proposal to rescind the “gainful employment” regulation, which was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s crackdown on for-profit education companies.

The goal of the rule, which took effect in 2015, was to make sure that students who graduate from for-profit schools or other career-oriented programs make enough money to repay their student loans. But the schools, and congressional Republicans, have long criticized the regulation as unfair and overly burdensome.

DeVos’ proposal to kill the regulation goes further than other draft plans circulated by the Trump administration. Previous proposals would have gutted the penalties associated with the rule, but they would have kept mandatory consumer disclosures by colleges to prospective students.

The Trump administration said it plans to update the Education Department’s College Scorecard website with expanded data about the outcomes of students who attend all colleges and universities receiving federal aid. The department plans to calculate and publish the earnings and debt levels of graduates broken down by individual academic programs.

The Scorecard website is not required by any law or regulation, so the Trump administration’s promise to expand the data published on it isn’t binding on the department.

Consumer groups and Democrats have already sharply criticized the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the rule as a giveaway to the for-profit college industry. They say they’re worried DeVos’ plan will open up billions of taxpayer dollars to low-performing colleges.

Democratic attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia are suingDeVos over her previous delays in enforcing the “gainful employment” rule.

The Education Department said it would accept public comments on the proposed elimination of the regulation for 30 days.

The department must publish a final regulation by Nov. 1 for it to take effect in July 2019.

News

Overhaul of North Carolina’s Medicaid program moves one step closer

If you’ve been reading about Medicaid reform for years, but not fully understanding how the state plans to reshape the program that currently serves 2.1 million North Carolinians, hop over to NC Health News this weekend and read the latest article by reporter Sarah Ovaska-Few.

This week the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released a Request for Proposal (RFP) for private insurance companies that wish to takeover the $14 billion state-managed health care system for low-income children, seniors and those with disabilities.

As Ovaska-Few and reporter Rose Hoban explain:

DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen

All told, private companies or commercial managed care companies will earn about $6 billion of that annual total, tallying up to $30 billion over five years.

“It’s 2.1 million folks in the program, right now, and we think it’s about 1.6 million who will move into the program once it’s fully phased into managed care,” said Mandy Cohen, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, in a call with reporters Thursday. Many of these are children and pregnant women, people for whom care is relatively cheap.

The remaining 500,000 – such as low-income seniors in nursing homes and people with mental health and intellectual or developmental disabilities – have more complex needs. Cohen said they will be phased into the managed care system in later years.

Medicaid recipients will have four statewide plans to choose from, as well as up to 12 smaller provider-led entities, which could be led by hospital systems or other localized health care groups.

Selected prepaid plans will come on for an initial three years, with the option to renew the contract, and renegotiate rates, for an additional two years, Cohen said.

Seeking budget stability

The major shift in Medicaid management comes at the behest of the N.C. General Assembly, which decided in 2015 to move Medicaid away from being managed by DHHS in favor of contracting the program out to commercial managed care companies or hospital-led health care systems to oversee patient care. Members of the Republican-led state legislature had voiced their displeasure for years about fluctuating Medicaid expenditures and said moving to a system where the state prepays an upfront price for each patient will lead to more budget stability and savings.

North Carolina is the largest state that does not currently have big swaths of its Medicaid program run by managed care companies.

Thursday’s RFPs make up the largest set of contracts the state’s health department has ever sought, with an estimated $6 billion a year in combined state and federal dollars expected to be contracted out, Cohen said.

But it’s not clear how much the move will save, if it even saves anything.

Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Federal court blocks mass voter purges in NC after NAACP sues

A federal court has ordered that three counties in North Carolina must stop purging voters based on private party challenges.

Here is the release from the North Carolina NAACP, a plaintiff in the suit.

A federal court ruled for the North Carolina NAACP, Moore County Branch of the NAACP, and individual voters yesterday in a landmark voting rights case, issuing a permanent injunction prohibiting the state and county boards of elections from purging voters based on mass challenges filed by private parties.

The North Carolina NAACP, the Moore County Branch of the NAACP, and individual plaintiffs brought the lawsuit in October 2016 after learning that county boards of elections in at least three counties across the state—in Moore, Beaufort, and Cumberland County were conducting mass removals of voters based on private challenges, including challenges by the voter integrity project, brought on the basis of returned mail. In Beaufort County, voters who were purged were disproportionately African American.

“It is fitting that this decision comes on the week of the 53rd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act,” said Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, President of the North Carolina NAACP. “The odious practice of using mass mailings and undelivered mail to suppress and intimidate voters of color has a long and shameful history in North Carolina. Yesterday’s federal court decision will ensure that voters are not wrongly disenfranchised on the basis of returned mail.”

The lawsuit, filed against the State Board of Elections and the Cumberland, Moore, and Beaufort Boards of Elections, alleged that the purges violated the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”), Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs won an emergency injunction on the eve of the 2016 election, ensuring that wrongly removed voters were able to vote in that election and that the state was temporarily enjoined from engaging in further purges.

Yesterday’s decision makes this injunction permanent. In ruling for the plaintiffs and finding that the purges violated the National Voter Registration Act, the federal court ordered:

Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and those persons in active concert or participation with them, are hearby enjoined and restrained from:

(1) Removing the registration of voters from the official list of eligible voters in elections for federal office through the challenge procedures set forth in NC Gen Stat 163A-911, when those challenges are based on change of residency and the State has neither received written confirmation from the voter of a change of residency outside of the county, nor complied with the NVRA’s prior notice requirement and two-election cycle waiting period;
(2) using the challenge procedure set forth in NC Gen Stat. 163A-911 to remove voters from the rolls without individualized inquiry as to the circumstances of each voter in the 90 days preceding a federal election in the absence of a request of the registrant, necessity under State law….; and
(3) holding hearings or taking any actions(s) to process challenges filed under those provisions in the circumstances identified above.

“This ruling for plaintiffs is a victory for the voter of North Carolina whose rights under federal law were being violated by this practice of mass purges, “said Attorney Leah Kang of Forward Justice, “As the court said, the NVRA was enacted to encourage people to vote and to protect voters from the risk of being erroneously removed from the rolls. By purging dozens and sometimes hundreds of voters at a time based on returned postcards, the state was disenfranchising eligible voters and violating federal law. This ruling ensures an end to this illegal practice.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

3-judge panel sets hearing in two cases; Anglin announces ‘conditional withdrawal’

It’s a busy time for the courts tasked with settling legislative disputes.

The three-judge panel that will preside over the two lawsuits filed by Gov. Roy Cooper and the North Carolina NAACP and Clean Air Carolina challenging constitutional amendment ballot language set a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15. The hearing will be open to the public in courtroom 10C at the Wake County Courthouse.

The hearing will be just three weeks before ballots are set to go out by mail for absentee voting.

Meanwhile, there is another hearing set at 10 a.m. Monday with Judge Rebecca Holt for a preliminary injunction over a retroactive change in judicial filing rules. She issued a temporary restraining order to stop the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement from printing and certifying ballots until the case was settled.

State Supreme Court candidate Chris Anglin, who is one of two judicial candidates who sued over the change in rules, announced late Wednesday that if he did not prevail in court, he would withdraw from the race. He is challenging incumbent Republican Justice Barbara Jackson and Democratic candidate Anita Earls.

Anglin registered as a Republican to vie for the seat on the high court but the Party insists he is not a true member. GOP lawmakers called a special session to change the rules so that his party affiliation would not appear on the ballot.

It’s that possibility Anglin pointed to as the reason for his “conditional withdrawal.”

“While I firmly believe and intend to prove in court the Legislature’s action is an unconstitutional violation of my rights, in the unlikely circumstance that the courts allow it to go into effect, I will not allow my party designation to be misrepresented on the ballot and aid their efforts to rig this election,” he wrote in a statement. “Thus, I have informed the State Board of elections of my conditional withdrawal if I am not listed on the ballot as I intended when I filed.”

See the official notice below.

2018 08 08_Anglin Candidate Withdrawal by NC Policy Watch on Scribd