Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

SCSJ makes interim director permanent ahead of Supreme Court argument

Kareem Crayton

Kareem Crayton was announced Wednesday as the new executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ). He has served as the organization’s interim director since January 2018.

“We are proud to name Dr. Kareem Crayton as the Executive Director of our organization,” said Ryan Roberson, Chair of SCSJ’s Board of Directors. “It is abundantly clear to the Board that Dr. Crayton is the right person to continue leading SCSJ forward.”

Crayton was brought on after current state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, former executive director and founder of SCSJ, resigned to pursue running for a seat on the high court.

Crayton is a Montgomery, Alabama, native and was managing partner of Crimcard Consulting services, a firm that he founded to assist communities globally in their effort to seek political efficacy and equality. He had served on faculties including Harvard, the University of Southern California, the University of Alabama, the University of North Carolina and most recently, Vanderbilt University Law School.

The SCSJ announcement comes less than a week before the organization takes its second case in two years to the U.S. Supreme Court. Next week’s cases, Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina paired with sibling case Rucho v. Common Cause, are partisan gerrymandering challenges to North Carolina’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan. The high court could establish a national standard for how lawmakers use partisanship in the redistricting process.

Crayton said in a news release he is convinced this this pivotal moment in time in America makes the most sophisticated and mission-oriented work of civil rights advocates more crucial than ever.

“SCSJ’s work remains vital to protect voting rights and to advocate for key reforms in the criminal justice and youth justice arenas as well,” he added. “Our distinct brand of work as a community-centered organization has impact not only in the South but across the country. I am therefore proud to continue leading this talented and creative team as it defines a story that is true to SCSJ’s original vision while drafting a new chapter in its second decade of service.”

Education

See why House leaders believe North Carolina should change how it hands down school letter grades

The growth versus student achievement debate took center stage Tuesday during a House Education Committee meeting

Under House bill 354, student achievement and growth would be given equal weight – 50 percent each — when North Carolina’s controversial school performance grades are determined.

Currently, student scores on state exams accounts for 80 percent of a school’s performance grade while growth makes up the other 20 percent.

Educators have long argued that a school’s performance grade should be weighted in favor of growth, which measures how much students learn from one year to the next. They believe growth more accurately reflects the quality of teaching and learning occurring in a school.

Critics of the current yard stick contend achievement, or proficiency as it’s often called, measures only how well students performed on state exams.

Growth is the ‘essence of education’

Rep. Craig Horn, (R-Union), one of the bill’s primary sponsors said schools that show students growing academically shouldn’t be penalized under the state grading scheme.

“My definition of education is growth,” Horn said. “That’s what we do. We move kids [academically] from here to there. That’s the very essence of education.”

Horn added that improving academic outcomes for a child who is not motivated, doesn’t care or is facing significant challenges is tough work.

“That’s why we think, in this bill, we’re suggesting that growth should have equal weight with performance,” Horn said.

Rep. Linda Johnson, (R-Cabarrus), also a committee co-chair, said HB 354 isn’t perfect but the current system needs to be changed to provide a more accurate picture of student achievement.

“If we don’t change these numbers or get a better system, all we’re ever going to know is that we have low-wealth schools,” Johnson said. “What we want to know is how many years are the children who are sent to us behind, how many years have they made up and how long is it going to take to get them to where they need to be.”

Rep. Donny Lambeth, (R-Forsyth), wanted to know if committee leaders have looked at best practices in other states that hand down letter grades.

“Or, is this just what you perceive or believe is the next best step,” Lambeth said. “I do trust your judgment on this but I do wonder what other states are doing.”

Brian Gwyn, a member of the Legislative Analysis Division, said that in most states that award school letter grades, growth is either weighted equally or more heavily than student achievement.

Separate grades for growth, achievement?

The bill received a favorable report from the committee and was referred to the House Rules Committee where it will be considered along with House Bill 266, which would create two separate grades, one for growth and another for proficiency or student achievement.

Rep. Dennis Riddell, (R-Alamance), a co-sponsor on HB 266, said growth is underrepresented in the current formula.

Riddell said HB 266 would establish a 0-100 grading scale for achievement with a 15 point spread between grades. A second grade for growth would be based on a 0-50 point scale with a 10 point spread between grades.

“What this does, it gives the public, it gives parents, it gives teachers, it gives everyone involved in public education in our state a much better picture, a more complete picture of what is actually taking place in a given school,” Riddell said.

State Rep. Graig Meyer, (D-Orange), said he appreciates the intent of HB 354 particularly since the State Senate has been unwilling to “budge” on the issue in recent sessions.

But Meyer said he believes the House must be more aggressive in its recommendation.

“I think that we can be more audacious than changing the formula to 50-50,” Meyer said.

He said states with the best grading scales have more complex systems.

“There are a lot of state’s that what they do is add a specific component about how quickly are you moving your bottom 25 percent of students, so they get double weighted in the formula, for instance, so that school really has to pay attention to the most struggling kids,” Meyer said. “We haven’t done hardly anything for the lowest performing schools in our states, schools that are full of those kids.”

Meyer said Florida, considered a leader in school grades, has 11 factors in its school-grading scale.

“We’re just punishing poverty, but if we can figure out how to use public policy in a grading scale in the way that a state like Florida and other states have  to incentive schools to do what we want, we could do a heck of a lot better in North Carolina,” Meyer said, endorsing HB 266 as a good start.

The bill received a favorable report and was referred to the House Rules Committee. The committee will decide whether to let the full House vote on the bill.

A bill to reward growth

Also, on Tuesday, the committee referred HB 276 to the House Rules Committee. Under the bill, schools that receive a “D” or “F” letter grade would no longer carry the stigma of low-performing if the school meets growth targets.

“To tag a school as low-performing when there is growth taking place, measurable growth, that’s meeting or exceeding [growth], is unfair to the teachers, unfair to the students, unfair to the parents and the leadership at the school,” Riddell said, a primary sponsor of the bill. “What this bill seeks to do is to bring a little more equity to the definitions.”

If the bill becomes law, Riddell said there would be fewer schools identified as low-performing. Last year, 476 schools were identified as low-performing schools.

Corporal punishment ban

The committee ended its busy meeting by backing legislation that would end corporal punishment in North Carolina.

Under HB 295, spanking and paddling would be banned in all of the state’s traditional public schools and charters schools. Private schools would still have the option to use corporal punishment.

None of the state’s 115 school districts currently use the practice.

“What this bill would do is clean up our statues to affirm that fact,” said Rep. Susan Fisher, (D-Buncombe), one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Commentary

New report: Raising the minimum is good for everyone in NC

Raising the minimum wage in North Carolina will provide families with bigger paychecks, create more good jobs, and build thriving communities, all without hurting employment, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center.

North Carolina’s current wage floor is identical to the nation’s at $7.25 an hour, but legislators have introduced a plan that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. A new report from the NC Justice Center finds that this bold effort to improve wages will benefit working people, businesses, and communities. Specific findings include:

  • Raising the minimum wage is necessary because median wages in North Carolina have actually dropped by 10 cents an hour over the past ten years, from $1,681 an hour in 2008 to $1,781 in 2018.
  • This plan would boost paychecks for almost 1.6 million working people, giving each of them a raise of $4,422 per year, and a combined $7 billion for all workers across the state.
  • It doesn’t just affect teenagers—it helps adult workers and parents who rely on minimum wage jobs to support their families. More than 93% of people who will receive the raise are older than 20, and more than 765,000 children have parents who will benefit. Half of all single parents and a quarter of all married parents will see a raise.
  • Raising the minimum wage will create thousands of good jobs by transforming low-wage jobs into good-paying, family supporting jobs. For example, more than 260,000 retail workers would see their paychecks grow by $4,100 and 160,000 people working in the food services industry would receive almost $6,000 more every year.
  • Raising the minimum wage will not increase joblessness or unemployment. Looking just at the 18 states that raised their minimum wage to take effect January 1, 2018, those states had identical employment growth and unemployment over 2018 when compared to states that did not raise their wage floor. This finding is similar to rigorous academic studies by professional economists.
  • The plan creates an unparalleled opportunity for bringing historically marginalized communities into the mainstream economy. Almost half a million African American workers and a quarter million Latinx workers would benefit—largely because of the plan’s elimination of discriminatory provisions that exclude domestic workers, agricultural workers, and tipped employees from full minimum wage protections. Historically, these types of discriminatory barriers have held back overall economic performance, so including these marginalized working people will help boost economic growth.

Raising minimum creates good jobs, it doesn’t kill them. More than 30 states have raised their minimum wages in the last decade, yet mass job loss and unemployment have never occurred. Job growth and unemployment are the same in the states that raised their wages for 2018 compared to those that that didn’t. That’s one big why raising the minimum wage is good for the economy.

The full report can be found here.

Commentary, News

The fight for $15 arrives at the General Assembly

[Cross-posted from the website of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.]

North Carolina lawmakers joined Raising Wages NC — a growing coalition of labor groups, advocates, business, and faith leaders — at a legislative press conference today to announce the introduction of H.B. 366, inclusive legislation that raises the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2024, indexes it to the cost of living, ends the subminimum wage for persons with disabilities, phases it out for tipped workers, and repeals exemptions for agricultural and domestic workers.

North Carolina’s minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for a decade and does not cover everyone. At the event, legislators, workers, business owners, and faith leaders called attention to the moral and economic imperative of making sure that everyone who works full time can earn a living wage, afford the basic necessities, and has a fair opportunity to work hard and succeed — including people with disabilities, people who care for our homes and families, people who serve our food, and the people who grow it.

“This bill will undo decades of exclusions for workers like me,” said Priscilla Smith of Durham, a direct care worker and a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which is part of the Raising Wages NC Coalition. “We are taking steps to finally include all workers and make sure no one gets left behind in the fight for living wages.”

According to a report released today by the nonpartisan NC Justice Center, gradually raising the minimum wage in North Carolina to $15 an hour by 2024 “would boost paychecks for almost 1.6 million working people, giving each of them a raise of $4,422 per year and a combined $7 billion for all workers across the state.” Moreover, the report’s authors reviewed empirical studies on job growth and employment rates and found no difference between states which have enacted minimum wage increases and those that have not. Even in cases where employers reduced hours to offset higher labor costs, the report finds that workers still came out ahead from higher hourly earnings and predicted that North Carolina “businesses will directly benefit” when 1.6 million new customers are able to spend those higher earnings on their goods and services.

“As I always say, the economy and community cannot be successful unless everyone has an opportunity to participate,” said Eric Henry, president of TS Designs in Burlington and chair of the N.C. Business Council. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 is a good step toward achieving that goal.”

Reps. Susan Fisher, Jean Farmer-Butterfield, MaryAnn Black, and Pricey Harrison are primary sponsors of H.B. 366. In addition to lawmakers, speakers at the press conference included Rev. Jennifer Copeland, NC Council of Churches; Wendy’s worker Earl Bradley and Waffle House waitress Eshawney Gaston, Raise Up for $15 and a Union; direct care worker Priscilla Smith, National Domestic Workers Alliance We Dream in Black NC Chapter; TS Designs president Eric Henry, NC Business Council; and Ana Pardo, NC Justice Center Workers’ Rights Project.

For more information about the campaign, visit www.raisingwagesnc.org.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, News

A must-read: New series shows long odds for sexual assault convictions in NC

From time to time, good reporters go above and beyond in their public service.

Case in point: A new four-part series publishing this week details the stunningly long odds of a sexual assault conviction in North Carolina today. And in some counties, it’s near impossible.

The numbers indicate, quite frankly, what many advocates have long believed to be the case: the criminal justice system is stacked against victims. 

From Carolina Public Press’ synopsis of the series:

Analysis of 4 ½ years of North Carolina court data shows that about 1 in 4 sexual assault defendants who were charged and had their cases resolved in that time window were convicted of either sexual assault or a reduced and related charge. Of those cases in that time period, 50 defendants went to trial; 23 were found guilty. But individual counties had different outcomes. More than 30 of the state’s 100 counties had no sexual assault or reduced-charge convictions at all. A few were well above the statewide level.

A collaborative investigative project spanning 6 ½ months and including 11 news organizations analyzed statewide court data and conducted extensive interviews with sexual assault survivors, victim advocates, medical professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors and state officials across the North Carolina.

The result is Seeking Conviction, an investigative series examining sexual assault convictions in North Carolina, the challenges to successful prosecution, the differences across jurisdictions and the issues state court rulings create when it comes to consent.

Keying on its exhaustive analysis of court records, the series found that the prospect of a sexual assault conviction varies depending on your zip code.

Indeed, in some counties, suspects face very little chance of a conviction, while in others, the chances are markedly higher.

This week’s series is a call to action. Make it the first of many, many conversations.