Education

A community speaks but their voices go unheard

Photos by Sarah Montgomery

Eric Hall, previous ISD Superintendent reassures community members that their concerns will be addressed (Carver Heights Elementary Oct 8th, 2018)

Last week, almost 200 parents, educators, community members and supporters, gathered at Carver Heights Elementary school in response to an invitation by leaders from the Innovative School District (ISD).  Their representatives came to deliver the news that the school had been included on a short list of schools under consideration for inclusion in the controversial school improvement model, which might shift control from the locally-elected School Board to an outside, for-profit charter school operator.

Despite a stark lack of evidence for this model’s success and its dismal track record for transforming high needs schools in other states, representatives seemed to offer little to no alternatives to what they proposed was needed: an ISD takeover.

Although the meeting’s invitation pledged to allow community members a chance to provide feedback and engage in a “conversation,” it seemed apparent to those who had gathered that the stated intent was misleading. Rather than invite community members to discuss the school’s needs and share what seems to be working well, the ISD representatives started their presentation by presenting test scores that painted a picture of “failing” students, an “under-performing” school and offered inclusion in the ISD as the only possible solution.  These labels landed heavily upon the school’s educators, who had joined the event all wearing their yellow Carver Heights shirts, displaying the message: “Talk to Me, I will Listen, Teach Me, I will Learn, Inspire Me, I will Succeed.”

Community members also struggled to process the decision-making timeline presented: one of the schools being considered would be selected within a week’s time.

Why the Rush?

Cultivating good leadership, building trust and school improvement strategies takes time to develop. Trust and time is precisely what the school’s community asked ISD representatives to provide. Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Elections sites won’t display ‘No Photo ID Required’ signs

Early voters might notice something a little different at the polls today: election sites will not be displaying “No Photo ID Required” signs this year.

“With a constitutional amendment on the ballot regarding photo voter ID, there are concerns this signage could ultimately be more confusing than it is helpful to voters, and that it could be perceived as taking a position on the merits of the amendment,” states a Monday memo from State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Executive Director Kim Strach. “Voters who ask should be told verbally that they do not need a photo ID.”

Strach, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory,  has the authority to specify what supplies, signage, and other materials must be present at each voting site, according to the memo.

A GOP-backed constitutional amendment requiring voters to have a photo identification to vote is one of six on the ballot this year. Lawmakers have not told voters how they plan to implement a voter photo ID requirement if the amendment passes or what type of photo ID would be required. Opponents of the amendment say it would give them a blank check to discriminate against certain voters, particularly voters of color, the elderly and those living in poverty.

The memo about photo ID signage was sent to county boards of elections. State Board spokesman Pat Gannon added in an email Tuesday that aside from what’s in the memo, some counties didn’t have enough signs in good condition to cover early voting sites and polling locations.

“We wanted uniformity in voting site setup throughout the state, per the new rule cited in the memo,” he added.

There are several new rules cited in the memo, including ones that affect voting site uniformity, curbside voting regulations and clarification of Strach’s emergency authority as executive director.

The memo also notes that state law does not describe what county boards should do with the official constitutional amendment explanations once received.

“However, you should have copies in your office if the public requests more information about the amendments,” the memo states. “It is important that you remind your precinct officials that they may not provide any substantive information about the amendments.”

Members of the public can find the official explanations here. Read the full State Board memo below.

Numbered Memo 2018_14 by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

As early voting begins, a quarter-million more North Carolinians are registered than in 2016

"Vote" pin

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Early voting starts today and North Carolina’s steadily growing population is reflected in the latest voter registration numbers. As the 2018 general election gets underway, there are 7,049,452 individuals registered to vote — an increase of more than a quarter-million people over the same time two years ago, when there were 6,795,706 people on the rolls.

Another noteworthy development is the continuing rise of unaffiliated voters. In 2016, 39.7% of registrants were Democrats, 30.2% were Republicans and 29.7% were unaffiliated, with 0.4% registered as Libertarians.

Today, it’s 37.9% Democratic, 31.7% unaffiliated and 29.8% Republican, 0.5% Libertarian and just tiny handful registered as members of the Green and Constitution parties.

Let’s hope the rising registration numbers are paired this year with high voter turnout. As a general matter, off-year elections tend to draw less participation — especially when there is no high profile statewide race like a U.S. Senate contest to attract attention. Most non-presidential elections in recent decades have had voter turnout percentages in the low-to-mid 40’s range. The last one in which there was no Senate race (2006) had a turnout of just 36.58%.

The bottom line: Get out there and do your civic duty.

Commentary

Another state ends the death penalty and it’s past time for NC to follow suit

Last week, Washington became the 20th state to end the death penalty after its Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment is arbitrary and racially biased. If those are reasons to outlaw the death penalty, then it is surely time for the North Carolina death penalty to go.

How much more proof can you ask for that the death penalty is racist and arbitrary in our state?

More than 63 percent of North Carolina’s death 141 row prisoners are people of color, even though they make up less than 30 percent of the state population. More than two dozen of the people on death row were sentenced to die by all-white juries.

A comprehensive statistical study found that defendants who kill white victims are more likely to get the death penalty, and that across the state, African American citizens are systematically, and illegally, excluded from capital juries.

If that’s not enough, let’s talk about arbitrariness.

A new report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation shows that most of the people on N.C. death row are only there because they had the bad luck to be tried under outdated laws, before there were basic legal protections to ensure fairness at their trials. Had they been tried under modern laws, most wouldn’t be on death row today.

Watch the story of Nathan Bowie, who because there was no indigent defense agency at the time of his trial, ended up with an alcoholic lawyer who came to court drunk.

Today, after the enactment of many reforms, only a handful of people each year face capital trials. Yet, the selection of that handful remains arbitrary. It has more to do with the practices of the local DA, the county where the crime occurred, and the defendant’s willingness to accept a plea bargain than it does with the severity of the crime.

Across the country, people have become unwilling to ignore the obviousness unfairness that infects the death penalty. Last week, Washington admitted the truth about its death penalty. It’s time for North Carolina to do the same.

Kristin Collins is the Associate Director of Public Information at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. This post appeared originally on the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty blog.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

BREAKING: 3-judge panel rules Board of Elections, Ethics Enforcement structure unconstitutional

A three-judge panel ruled the evening before early voting that Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally restructured the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement after Gov. Roy Cooper was elected.

Provisions of a state law restructuring the State Board (including its executive director and chairperson) and county boards of elections violates the separation of powers clause in the Constitution by diminishing the Governor’s control over the agency, according to the 2-1 opinion released after 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Judges Jesse Caldwell III, a Democrat who presides in Gaston County and Todd Burke, a Democrat who presides in Forsyth County signed the opinion. Judge Jeffery Foster, a Republican who presides in Pitt County, wrote a dissenting opinion noting that he believed the issues were political questions and therefore nonjusticiable.

The split decision enjoins the parts of the law ruled unconstitutional but suspends that injunction until after the November election is certified so the election process can continue without interruption.

It’s not immediately clear if GOP legislative leaders will appeal the decision. There is a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that also restructures the State Board.

The State Board currently consists of nine members — four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated voter. The executive director is Kim Strach, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. County boards are composed of four members evenly divided by Republicans and Democrats.

The proposed constitutional amendment would eliminate the unaffiliated representation on the State Board and give the legislature more appointment power over the agency.

Read Tuesday’s full court opinion below:

3-judge panel order NCSBE by NC Policy Watch on Scribd