Commentary, News

If you’re looking for a measure of good news to get you through the weekend (and are willing to look outside North Carolina), check out this story (and the amazing photos) on NPR.org detailing the massive new solar power plant in the northwest African nation of Morocco. To quote:

Image: http://www.maroc.ma/en

Image: http://www.maroc.ma/en

“Morocco has officially turned on a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert, kicking off the first phase of a planned project to provide renewable energy to more than a million Moroccans.

The Noor I power plant is located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara. It’s capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power and covers thousands of acres of desert, making the first stage alone one of the world’s biggest solar thermal power plants.

When the next two phases, Noor II and Noor III, are finished, the plant will be the single largest solar power production facility in the world, The Guardian says.

Morocco currently relies on imported sources for 97 percent of its energy consumption, according to the World Bank, which helped fund the Noor power plant project. Investing in renewable energy will make Morocco less reliant on those imports as well as reduce the nation’s long-term carbon emissions by millions of tons.”

The plant is especially exciting because it uses a technology that will allow it to generate electricity well after the sun goes down each day.

Mind you this is a country with roughly one-fifth the gross domestic product of North Carolina. And still, somehow, it has managed to muster the kind of world-changing investment that all nations need to be pursuing. If the Moroccans can do it, surely so can Americans (and North Carolinians). The fact that the U.S. solar industry added jobs twelve times faster than the rest of the economy and created more jobs than were created by the oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined last year indicates that we’re already on the right track.

For more information on North Carolina’s mixed/wavering commitment to this essential field, check out a pair of interviews on yesterday’s edition of WUNC’s The State of Things by clicking here and here.

Commentary, News

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5b1. UNC system official explains N.C.’s prodigious drop in those seeking teaching degrees

Members of the N.C. State Board of Education received some more troubling news about teachers Wednesday.

Alisa Chapman, vice president for academic and university programs in the UNC system, presented data that show the state’s increasing inability to attract students to the teaching profession.

Since 2010, enrollment in bachelor’s and master’s education programs systemwide has plummeted 30 percent, said Chapman. And while the plunge has slowed—enrollment declined just 3.4 percent from fall 2014 to fall 2015, Chapman told state education leaders that the trend should be “very concerning.”

“The challenge in hiring teachers in our state is going to increase,” said Chapman, adding that it would be “even more challenging” to recruit educators in rural counties, many of which serve a low-income population that tends to struggle academically. [Continue reading…]

lw-af-1-4002. Low-income students need more support, not an achievement school district

The public rationale for many of the efforts to dismantle traditional public education with various privatization schemes almost always includes the claim that it is all about helping students do better, most often low-income and minority kids.

Supporters of the sketchy North Carolina voucher program say that often, that it’s all about helping poor kids. The program, euphemistically called opportunity scholarships, currently has income eligibility limits, though they have already been increased once and the long term plan is to make vouchers available to thousands of more students.

The same is true of the state’s current experiment with unproven virtual charters, one run by K12, Inc., a company embroiled in scandals in other states and run out of Tennessee.

The online for profit charters will help kids who are struggling in traditional public schools. That’s the line anyway. [Continue reading...]

WB-20220163. When paranoia and fearmongering trump common sense

McCrory refugee emails show state leaders at their worst

It’s been almost 83 years since President Franklin Roosevelt, facing a moment of enormous national suffering and angst, uttered one of the most famous and insightful observations regarding the American experience in our nation’s history:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt’s prescient words were delivered, of course, in response to the greatest human and economic crisis ever to afflict the nation. Here’s where things stood when he took office in March, 1933: [Continue reading…] Read More

News

If you feel secure in your current job, here’s something that may give you pause:

New analysis by NC State University suggests that jobs in some 39 major current employment categories in our state are at least 70% likely to be eliminated within one generation as a result of automation.

The so-called Disruption Index for North Carolina finds that low-wage jobs are especially at risk.

The index that was developed for this year’s Emerging Issues Forum also finds that on average, North Carolina counties face the potential loss of more than 25% of their current jobs as a result of automation, robots and future technologies.

According to the index, counties poised to take the greatest hit include: Watauga (41% predicted percentage of job losses), Carteret (40%), Dare (40%), Johnston (40%), Buncombe (39%) and Catawba (39%).  See the interactive map below for anticipated job and wage loss.

Anita Brown-Graham, director of the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), joins us this weekend to discuss the index and the focus of FutureWork. Click below for a preview of her interview with Chris Fitzsimon.

Monday’s Emerging Issues Forum will be streamed live on the web and broadcast on UNC-TV.

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Commentary

Our neighbors in the Midwest Money Exchangehad a big victory earlier this year when Cincinnati passed an innovative ordinance aimed at reducing wage theft. Recognizing the devastating impact of this common problem on workers and the local economy, Cincinnati is setting expectations for companies that do business with the city or that receive incentives. These companies must disclose prior labor law violations as part of the bidding process and report to the city any wage or payroll fraud complaints received from employees (including employees of subcontractors) during the performance of the contract. In turn, the city will refer complaints to appropriate agencies and, if an adverse determination is issued, will take steps such as termination of the contract, reduction of the incentives payment, and/or debarment from future contracts.

In 2013, the NC General Assembly clamped down on local governments’ ability to take some of these steps in our state. In its expansion of the public policy known as “preemption,” the state now prohibits cities and counties from placing certain requirements on their contractors. Local governments in North Carolina do have the ability to take some measures to improve worker wellbeing in their communities, as explained in our brief The power of wage policies: how raising public sector wages can promote living incomes and boost the economy  – but legislative action is required to enable North Carolina communities to follow Cincinnati’s lead and put other proactive measures into place to protect workers’ wages.

Commentary

An editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer (“In NC a teacher shortage develops by design”) tells it like it is:

“One would have thought, when Republican lawmakers raised starting teacher pay in North Carolina to $35,000, that they’d marched into classrooms in North Carolina with sacks of gold and silver. Of course, that salary is hardly a king’s ransom, and teachers with more experience didn’t fare so well. The state remains in the bottom half of the country in teacher compensation.

Teachers also are skeptical of these GOP lawmakers, who have so cheated public education at all levels and undermined conventional public schools with a too-rapid expansion of charter schools and public “scholarships” for children in private schools.

So it should come as no surprise that enrollment in the 15 schools of education in the public university system has dropped – by 30 percent since 2010.

This forecasts a deepening teacher shortage in North Carolina, one that will impact tens of thousands of families.”

After refuting the notion that the decline is driven merely by the fact that young people are more interested in “making a lot of money as opposed to making a difference,” the editorial concludes this way:

“Republicans are going to reap what they sowed with their lackluster support of public education. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to reap it, too. When there are not enough teachers to get the job done, and classrooms are overloaded and children are being deprived, the political rhetoric from the GOP about lowering taxes on the wealthy and big business for the good of North Carolina isn’t going to pass muster with the people of North Carolina, who support more investment in public education.”

The bottom line: Would-be teachers have eyes and ears. They see and hear how low the morale is amongst a large percentage of current educators — not just because of low pay, but also because of the Right’s multi-front attack on the profession and public education generally. Plenty of people are willing to make sacrifices to become teachers, but understandably, fewer and fewer are willing to endure the constant attacks on the very idea of public education (e.g. the effort to eliminate their professional association, the derisive drumbeat of attacks on “government schools,” the deceptive snake oil “competition” provided by unaccountable voucher and charter schools, the efforts by the religious right to dismantle the teaching of actual science).

Sadly, despite the crocodile tears being shed in some corners, the new numbers are exactly what the ideologues on the right had in mind decades ago when they commenced their effort to dismantle and privatize our public schools. It’s going to take sustained commitment over the next couple of decades for caring and thinking people to roll back the tide.