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There’s a great editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning that ought to be mandatory reading for every critic of our public schools — especially the ones who want to de-fund them and turn their mission over to the the “genius of the free market.” The piece is entitled “Don’t take public education for granted.” Here are a few highlights:

In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, some 156,000 and counting students were back in school this week. And in what is a remarkable feat of derring-do, most things worked smoothly.

Teachers perform miracles, it’s true. But the running of such a system is a miracle in itself: Buses have to be scheduled, enough teachers hired and in the classroom by that first day, food bought and prepared, supplies stored, classrooms decorated, curricula designed and extracurriculars planned.

And this:

Teachers, we hope, will begin the year with adequate supplies, but it won’t be long before they’re off to Target to resupply out of their own pockets. More affluent schools will have fundraisers to cover the multitude of extras not in the school budget. Others will just do without.

At one Wake elementary school toward the end of the last school year, a teacher was overheard telling a principal her pencil sharpener was broken. “Do we have some money for that?” the teacher asked. “I’m sorry, no,” said the principal.

A miracle worker can’t get a pencil sharpener?

And, finally this:

Yes, our public schools have been much criticized, unfortunately of late by self-serving politicians who have actually used underpaid and overworked public school teachers as targets. But every day, from dawn until dark, custodians and principals and classroom teachers and coaches and cafeteria workers and bus drivers pull off the miracle, somehow, and then do it for another day and another and another.

Merlin and David Copperfield had nothing on them. Many a military leader aware of what public school people do would be happy to have them consult on logistics and battlefield strategy. It’s simply amazing, this institution called public education, and we forget that sometimes while we’re taking it for granted.

To which all a body can say in reply is “amen.”

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The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced this afternoon that an architect of a stalled Medicaid reform plan is leaving the state agency.

Margaret “Mardy” Peal, 43, was hired in August 2013 by Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos despite having been out of the work force for more than a decade, according to a News & Observer article published shortly after Peal’s hire.

The job was not posted, and was a newly created position to look at privatizing the state’s complex $13 billion Medicaid program, which is funded with a mix of state and federal dollars and provides health care for low-income children and their parents, seniors and disabled residents.

Peal, who has a master’s in health education and lectured at East Carolina University’s medical school on patient care in the late 1990s, had donated $1,250 to Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign, according to the N&O article. She also organized the Eastern North Carolina chapter of the Tea Party.

She made $95,000 a year in her DHHS position to help the agency develop a reform proposal for the state’s $13 billion Medicaid program. Peal’s hire last year came while Wos was facing criticism for giving big raises to several inexperienced McCrory campaign staffers.

The agency, at the urging of doctor and other medical provider groups, ultimately proposed parceling out Medicaid health care responsibilities to accountable care organizations (ACOs) around the state but the agency plan failed to get the backing of leading Senate Republicans who wanted to take Medicaid out from under DHHS and open it up to bids from managed care companies.

In a statement, state Medicaid Director Dr. Robin Cummings thanked Peal for her work and emphasized that the state agency planned on pursuing its approach to Medicaid reform.

“Working with doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers and stakeholders across the state, DHHS will continue to pursue our Medicaid Reform plan,” Cummings said, according to a written statement.

In her Aug. 25 resignation letter (click here to read), Peal wrote that she was grateful for the experience working at DHHS but an unspecified opportunity in the private sector would allow her to spend more time with family.

“At this point in my family’s life, it is necessary that I spend a greater percentage of my time with them,” Peal wrote. “An opportunity presented itself that would allow me more time at home, and I have chose to pursue it.”

 

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The battle over school vouchers in North Carolina is now before the state Supreme Court, thanks to an emergency motion filed late Monday by attorneys on behalf of Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and parents to allow the taxpayer-funded vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last week, to be disbursed to private schools immediately while the fate of the program is decided.

Plaintiffs challenging the school voucher program — parents, educators, community members and school boards represented by the N.C. Justice Center, the North Carolina Association of Educators, and the N.C. School Boards Association – filed a response Tuesday morning to the motion now before the state’s highest court.

“[The defendants] implore the Court to put millions of taxpayer dollars at risk by turning on the spigot of public funds almost a month before the SEAA’s long-planned disbursement schedule, nullifying a decision by a senior trial judge entered after months of discovery and consideration of hundreds of pages of evidence and briefs,” said the plaintiffs’ response. Read More

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This week the ABC-TV affiliate in Houston, Texas has profiled some of the North Carolina teachers who took the school district up on their offer of higher pay, if they agreed to relocate more than 1,000 miles away and teach in the the Lone Star state.

Here’s an excerpt from the Eyewitness News story:

ABC13.COM

Source: http://abc13.com/

‘[Brittany] Emanuel says it was a $13,000 difference for her to move here from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Another teacher, Ricky Ferguson, says he nearly doubled his salary. He too moved from the Tar Heel State. He and Emanuel are two of 39 teachers HISD recruited from North Carolina during four separate recruitment fairs in the across that state this summer.

“I enjoy my job,” says Ferguson, who starts as a science teacher Monday at Cesar Chavez High School. “I enjoy what I do. I’m trying to better myself and my family and Texas is where it’s at.”

New teachers from North Carolina represent roughly 10 percent of all new out of state teacher hires this school year.

Why is HISD targeting North Carolina teachers? The answer might lie within the walls of the State Capitol Building.

After years with no raises, earlier this month North Carolina legislators approved an increase in salary for teachers effective this year. But critics of the budget plan say it’s not enough.

“I would say we are in crisis mode right now,” Mark Jewell tells Eyewitness News.

Jewell is with the North Carolina Association of Educators. He says HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, who used to work with Jewell in North Carolina, knows teachers are ripe for the picking because of low pay and lack of funding.

“He is doing probably what any employer would want to do, is go and look where there is discontent and offer them something better,” Jewell said.

Starting pay at HISD is roughly $49,000 a year. In North Carolina it averages $33,000. It takes a teacher there twenty five years of service to reach $49,000.’

To read the full article, click here. Or click below to watch the package on KTRK-TV 13.

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Casino slots

Image: www.stoppredatorygambling.org

If you subscribe to or frequently check out Raleigh’s News & Observer, you probably saw the featured Sunday story that looked at casino gambling in Cherokee as well as the coming expansions and the efforts to introduce more of the same in South Carolina under the banner of the Catawba tribe. It was a good and well-written story — as far as it went.

Unfortunately,  here’s the one hugely important item that you didn’t see anywhere in the lengthy and quite-thoroughly illustrated story: Any mention whatsoever of the the way that large and predatory gambling corporations exploit Native American tribes along with a huge proportion of the customers who visit the casinos.

One would think it might have occurred. After all, one of the Cherokee customers interviewed for the story admitted that he frequents Cherokee “42-44 weekends a year.”  Good lord, what’s next? An upbeat profile of a regular slot machine player who shares a cheap hotel room with seven other people and frequents the local blood bank?

Not that it would be hard to find out the truth about the predations of the casino industry or the tribes and individuals it exploits. Les Bernal, the longtime executive director of the national nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling (a group that does great work bringing together liberal and conservative gambling opponents) has been in North Carolina multiple times — including this summer — to speak out against the effort to create a Catawba Nation casino. Moreover, SPG’s website is chock full of stories and analyses detailing the disasters that predatory casino gambling typically begets. This is from a section devoted to Native American casinos: Read More