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Solar powerA giant Swiss investment  bank thinks so. As the good folks at Think Progress point out in this story, the bank, UBS, has issued a new report in which it concludes that Europe may soon be approaching the point at which “large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past.”

The reason for this incredibly hopeful prospect is pretty straightforward: “a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles…will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas.” Talk about a great response to the problem of coal ash production!

Meanwhile, here in the states, activists and entrepreneurs continue to make important inroads in advancing the cause of renewables despite the stubborn resistance of giant fossil fuel companies and the politicians and right-wing “think tanks” on their payrolls. A classic and hopeful example was in my email inbox this morning from the state chapter of the Sierra Club:

“Clean Energy For Raleigh” kicks-off program to fast track solar and energy efficiency for homeowners and businesses

RALEIGH – Clean Energy For Raleigh (CE4R), a ground-breaking community-based program that makes the adoption of solar power and energy efficiency upgrades cheaper and easier, has made its way to Raleigh.

“This model blows away the three biggest barriers to adopting clean energy – cost, red-tape, and inaction,” said Chelsea Barnes, the CE4R community coordinator and a volunteer with the NC Sierra Club Capital Group, the program’s sponsor. Read More

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School-vouchersThe N.C. Court of Appeals rejected an emergency request by the state’s Attorney General and parents to allow taxpayer-funded school vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last week, to be disbursed to private schools while a higher court decides on the fate of the program.

Last Thursday, state Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood found the recently-enacted “Opportunity Scholarship Program” unconstitutional and permanently enjoined disbursement of state funds for that purpose (see our feature story about Hobgood’s decision here). 

Attorneys for the state and parents wishing to take advantage of the school vouchers this fall filed an emergency motion with the N.C. Court of Appeals on Friday requesting that the vouchers, worth $4,200 annually for roughly 2,400 students, be paid out for this school year while the case is appealed.

The attorneys filed their emergency motion before Judge Hobgood released his written order — a premature move, according to attorney Burton Craige, who represents plaintiffs challenging the school voucher legislation.

“If there’s no written order, then there’s nothing to appeal,” said Craige, who said the move to file an emergency petition was an attempt to get around the usual order of business.

The Court of Appeals did make it clear in its decision that once a written order is in place, the state may re-file its motion for a temporary stay in the case, “without prejudice.”

But Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in NC (PEFNC), a pro-voucher advocacy organization that has hired an out-of-state law firm to intervene in the school voucher litigation, issued a press release today saying the Court of Appeals’ decision immediately paves the way for bringing an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“Today’s decision is disappointing but we’re glad we can now quickly appeal to the highest court to help many Opportunity Scholarship students who have already begun their school year and been thrown into disarray… the Supreme Court overturned a previous temporary injunction ruling once before this year and I am confident they will do the same in this case which will allow the Program to move forward until the merits of the case can be heard.  

Stay tuned for further developments.

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Common Core pic

***See update below***

An academic standards review commission tasked with reviewing the Common Core State Standards and deciding whether or not to recommend keeping them in place here in North Carolina must hold its first meeting no later than September 1—but legislative leaders have yet to announce appointments to that commission, and time is running out.

Members of the General Assembly passed legislation this summer that halted the implementation of the Common Core standards, which are a set of guidelines for what students should know and be able to do in math and English Language Arts. Gov. Pat McCrory, previously a supporter of the Common Core, signed the bill into law.

The legislation also mandates a full review of the Common Core State Standards, which would be undertaken by a group of eleven appointees to an Academic Standards Review Commission. Four of those appointees would be made by Senator Phil Berger, four would be appointed by Speaker Thom Tillis, one would be appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, and the remaining two must be members of the State Board of Education.

Inquiries to the Speaker’s office and Senator Berger’s office requesting information about their commission appointments have not been fulfilled, although late last week a spokesperson for Speaker Tillis’ office indicated his appointments were imminent.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s education advisor, Eric Guckian, told N.C. Policy Watch on Monday, “we are in final stages of making our appointment, and it’s my understanding that the state board and legislature is on same timeline.  My understanding is that the first meeting may be pushed back a few weeks, but that is unconfirmed at this time.”

***Update: Martez Hill, a spokesperson for the State Board of Education, told N.C. Policy Watch Monday afternoon that “the meeting date has been delayed because we have not received information about all appointees. Chairman Cobey will convene the first meeting within 30 days of the naming of all appointees.”

The law requires the review commission to hold its first meeting no later than September 1.

Commission members must vet the Common Core math and English standards and suggest modifications to the State Board of Education, which is then obligated to take those recommendations into consideration in its own review of the standards. Commission members could suggest a full repeal of the standards after reviewing them.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which were developed by local stakeholders, the National Governors Association and The Council of Chief State School Officers, of which North Carolina’s State Superintendent, Dr. June Atkinson, is president-elect.

But states have recently begun to step away from the standards. Five states have repealed Common Core, and many others have expressed their intention to step away from them.

North Carolina has spent many millions on implementing the Common Core, using mostly federal Race to the Top (RttT) funds. The state has spent at least $72 million of RttT money on transitioning to the Common Core, and an additional $68 million was spent on building local districts’ technological capacity to be able to deliver on the new standards.

The review commission must make a final report to the State Board of Education and the General Assembly no later than December 31, 2015 – or sooner.

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McCrory budgetIn case you missed it over the weekend, Gov. Pat McCrory told an interviewer that he plans to sign the coal ash clean-up bill even though he believes that part of it is unconstitutional. This is from a story on WRAL.com:

McCrory said the bill’s creation of an independent coal ash oversight commission, appointed by House and Senate leaders and the governor, blurs the separation of powers of different branches of the government – just one example, he added, among several such proposals lawmakers advanced this year.

“I’m going to have to fight them from a constitutional standpoint, including even the coal ash commission,” he told Campbell. “I think this concept of creating commissions that are appointed by the legislature – or a majority by the legislature – is unconstitutional, regardless of the subject. Because that means the legislature is doing the operations of state government, which is not their responsibility. I think there’s a constitutional issue there.

How such a position squares with the Governor’s sworn duty to support the Constitution is hard to figure. Of course, when you’re listening to the rather unique policy observations of North Carolina’s current chief executive, you always have to take things with a grain of salt. In the same interview, the Guv expressed his approval for the General Assembly’s rejection of another bill during the waning hours of session last week because it contained multiple, unrelated topics. Again, this is from the WRAL story:

“There were parts of the bill that had no relevance to the other part of the bill, and that’s not the way you should do legislation,” he said.

Uh, Governor, we hate to tell you this, but you’ve already signed dozens of bill that do exactly the same thing — most notably, the infamous SB 353 from just last year. You remember that one. It dealt with those two closely-related topics: abortion clinic regulations and motorcycle safety.
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The Charlotte Observer:

In striking down the state’s new school voucher law on Thursday, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood laid out a cogent, compelling constitutional case against the bad law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt…,” he said from the bench, “the Opportunity Scholarship program funds a system of private schools from taxpayer dollars as an alternative to the public school system in direct contravention of the North Carolina Constitution….”

Voucher advocates say they will appeal, noting that parents need choices other than traditional public schools. But Hobgood correctly notes that the state is constitutionally obligated to provide a sound, basic education to N.C. students, and lawmakers can’t delegate that obligation to “unregulated” and “unaccountable” private schools.

The Greensboro News & Record:

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s opinion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was blunt.

“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” he said Thursday in ordering an immediate halt to the voucher plan.

That was not a political statement. Hobgood, a veteran judge holding court in Wake County, cited several provisions of the state constitution violated by the voucher program….

Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office will appeal to higher courts, but Hobgood’s interpretation of the state constitution seems sound.

It was the legislature that went off track in enacting a program that diverts millions of dollars from public schools and contradicts good judgment. At a time when more accountability is demanded of public schools and educators, this program asks almost nothing of participating private schools. It just sends them money.

Bad idea. And, according to the judge, it violates the state constitution.