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marriage amendmentThe Fourth Circuit today denied a request by parties defending Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban to stay the court’s ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer pending a petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On July 28 the court held that the Virginia law was unconstitutional and entered judgement on that date. The ruling is scheduled to go into effect on August 18, 2014.

Michèle B. McQuigg, the  Prince William County Clerk of Circuit Court and a defendant in Bostic, told the court that she intends to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court by October 26, 2014, and asked that implementation of the ruling be stayed in the meantime, citing the potential of confusion and inconsistent results:

The absence of a stay will likely produce legal uncertainty and confusion. The Utah marriage case serves as a useful example. In Utah, after the district court struck down the state’s marriage laws, the district court and the Tenth Circuit declined to issue a stay.  As a result, many same-sex couples in Utah obtained marriage licenses pursuant to the district court’s injunction. Days later, however, the Supreme Court stayed the injunction, and Utah’s man-woman marriage laws went back into effect. Thus, the State of Utah now declines to recognize the licenses that were issued to same-sex couples during that interim period.

Same-sex couples who obtained licenses during that period filed a lawsuit in federal court to require the State to recognize those licenses as valid. The district court held that the interim licenses must be recognized, but the Supreme Court again stayed that decision pending appellate resolution. Thus, the validity of those licenses is still in limbo.

For more on the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in Bostic, read here.

A couple of days ago, I reported that Gov. McCrory was reaching out to state school superintendents to figure out a couple of fixes to the education budget that he proudly signed last week. As it turns out, he’s casting a wider net – on Monday, his education staff also met with staff at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to brainstorm solutions, according to Dr. June Atkinson.

“I appreciate the Governor’s office reaching out to us…to find a solution,” Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch yesterday afternoon.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s at issue: educators and advocates around the state are up in arms over two provisions (among many) in the new state budget that they say hurt education: a) the move to stop funding local school districts on the basis of student enrollment growth, and b) a complicated allocation of money that puts funds that would normally go to teacher assistants in a pot for teachers — but school districts have the “flexibility” to move that money around (although some say that’s a false choice).

As a result, local school districts will have great difficulty budgeting and hiring necessary personnel to accommodate more students in their classrooms—and at the same time, they are faced with either instituting a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistants or saving those positions by taking money out of their funding streams designated for teacher positions.

Atkinson said no solution was ultimately crafted between DPI and the Governor’s office on Monday with regard to the enrollment funding issue.

“We are still thinking about how to get to a place where we can help schools do the planning they need to do, like hiring more teachers when enrollment goes up,” said Atkinson. “There’s no solution yet, short of the General Assembly reinstating annual student growth as a part of the base budget.”

McCrory agreed to sign the budget, in part, because it preserved teacher assistants. But local media reports already indicate TA jobs are disappearing as local districts prepare for the upcoming school year, thanks to state budget cuts.

And the provision in the budget that stops funding school districts based on enrollment growth received very little attention from lawmakers as they debated the budget — perhaps because they only had hours to digest it before voting.

Gov. McCrory’s office hasn’t returned inquiries seeking comment on this issue.

Frack-free-400This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer tells it like it is with respect to the state’s pro-fracking forces and a little thing called “science.” As the N&O explains, compelling evidence on the dangers of fracking from experts at Duke University is being summarily ignored by the Mining and Energy Commission because it presents some inconvenient truths.

Robert Jackson and Avner Vengosh of Duke University’s esteemed Nicholas School are viewed by some in the oil and gas industry as enemies. At Duke, they’ve done studies with compelling evidence that shale gas extraction, fracking, causes drinking water problems in other states.

The industry, which got North Carolina to lift its moratorium on fracking with drilling next year, has long made the case that drilling is absolutely safe.

Jackson and Vengosh have serious doubts about that, and given that the Nicholas School in the field of environmental science is considered among the elite in the county, it would be logical to assume that state officials developing rules to govern shale gas exploration would want to hear from them.

But the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission did not invite either Jackson or Vengosh to offer any views while commission members were in the process of determining the rules. Read More

Confusion over teacher pay and the loss of teaching assistants are not the only troubling stories making headlines as the new school year is set to begin.

The Asheville Citizen Times reports today that a reduction in state funding for textbooks will force many Buncombe County students this fall to share their books, or rely on textbooks more than a decade old.

Here’s an excerpt from reporter Julie Ball’s story:

“I have students who come to me every year, and they’ll say I don’t understand why I don’t have a textbook for this class,” Owen High Principal Meg Turner said.

State funding for textbooks has dropped since 2009-10 from more than $111 million or about $76 per student to $23.3 million this year or $15.37 per student, according to Eric Moore, with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

For Buncombe County Schools, funding dropped from around $1.7 million in 2008-09 to around $368,000 in the most recent school year. That’s about $14.26 per student.

State officials say the average cost of a textbook is around $60. High school textbooks can cost around $100, Turner said.

Rather than buying a book for each student, Owen High has been purchasing classroom sets of books that are used by multiple students and remain in the classroom.

“So you might have a set of 30 books to keep in the classroom and the teachers would use those and kids couldn’t take them home,” Turner said.

Turner said some textbooks are available online, but there’s also a cost to those as well.

“My understanding is it has become common practice. Teachers get one classroom set of textbooks now. They do not get one set for each class,” said Anna Stearns, who has a son at Owen High.

Stearns said during her son’s freshman year she spoke with his math teacher to try to find out why her son didn’t have any math homework. Stearns said the teacher told her the school didn’t have textbooks or graphing calculators for students to take home.

Stearns worries about the lack of math practice at home and whether her son will be prepared for out-of-class work that will be required once he gets to college.

Buncombe County Rep. Susan Fisher is also worried about textbook funding. Fisher sat down for an interview with Chris Fitzsimon last weekend to discuss the state budget. In addition to adequate classroom resources, Fisher remains concerned about teacher compensation and changes to longevity pay.

For an excerpt from that radio interview, click below. To read the full story in Wednesday’s Citizen-Times, click here.
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Inequality - long termThe good people at Inequality.org and the online publication Too Much do a great job each week of documenting America’s one-sided class warfare and the fast-mushrooming gap between the haves and have nots. If you’re not already a subscriber to their updates, click here to get signed up.

The graphic at left was featured in the most recent edition of Too Much and paints a remarkable picture of where the market fundamentalists appear bent on taking the country in the years to come.

Note: You might want to make sure that anyone you share it with this evening has a cold beverage close by to ease the pain.