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.

It hasn’t taken long for the costly tax plan passed last year to replace grandiose promises with an unfortunate reality. State officials recently confirmed that the 2013 tax plan passed by state policymakers will cost at least $200 million more each year than initially projected, with a price tag of at least $5.3 billion over the next five years. Our own estimates point to the potential for the total revenue loss to reach $1.1 billion by 2016.

As the prolonged negotiated budget for fiscal year 2015 highlights, North Carolina’s revenue challenge hampers our ability to invest in public education, healthcare services, and other public investments that serve as the foundation of economic growth.

The General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division (FRD) was charged with assessing the fiscal impact of the tax plan and confirms that the personal income tax rate reduction is having a greater immediate impact on revenue collections. FRD attributes the larger-than-expected eventual revenue shortfall to slower wage growth. But it’s difficult to imagine that the income tax cuts are not driving the greater revenue losses given what we know about who benefits from the tax changes and slower wage growth suggests that the tax changes should cost less, not more. Moreover, slow wage growth raises additional concerns about the reality of a Carolina Comeback. Read More

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.

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.

Credit: Governing magazine.

Credit: Governing magazine.

As the case challenging North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan languishes in state Supreme Court, two similar cases out of Alabama that may bear directly on the legality of our state maps are set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabamaparties are challenging the legality of “packing” minority voters into districts where they already are in political control, reducing their impact elsewhere.

As summarized by SCOTUSblog:

Both [cases] challenge decisions by a federal district court that upheld (by a split two-to-one vote) a new boundary map that kept the  same number of state senate and state house districts that previously had majorities of African-American voters, but added to those majorities in almost every district.  Sponsors of the plan insisted they were doing so to obey their obligations to protect minority voters’ political strength under federal voting rights law, but the challengers argued that this was an unconstitutional use of racial gerrymandering.

In both the Alabama cases and the case pending here (Dickson v. Rucho), state lawmakers have argued that the Voting Rights Act required them to redraw districts and pack African-American voters into districts — even though those voters, while still a minority of the voting age population in their previous districts, had been electing their candidates of choice.

The viability of that argument will be before the nation’s highest court in the fall, and yesterday — in a friend-of-the-court brief filed there — attorneys for the parties challenging the North Carolina maps urged the justices to reject redistricting on that basis as “an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.”

Here is an excerpt from that brief:

This Court reiterated in Bartlett v. Strickland the well-established principle that the “‘moral imperative of racial neutrality is the driving force of the Equal Protection Clause,’ and racial classifications are permitted only ‘as a last resort.’” The Court further cautioned that “[o]ur holding also should not be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command, for that, too, could pose constitutional concerns.”

The North Carolina legislature, like the Alabama legislature, misapplied these principles in the 2011 redistricting by imposing a racial proportionality target for the number of majority-black districts and requiring every district to meet a specific black population percentage target. As in Alabama, the North Carolina General Assembly believed that these fixed racial targets were required by the Voting Rights Act.

Ignoring decades of progress in increasing opportunities for black voters to participate in the political process, in 2011 the General Assembly created more majority-black districts than ever before, thereby entrenching racial stereotypes and tearing apart effective cross-racial coalitions that had evolved over time. The General Assembly’s use of racial targets in redistricting was justified only by the mistaken belief that they were required by federal law. In addition to North Carolina and Alabama, there is only one other redistricting case, currently pending in Virginia, in which it is alleged that the Legislature admittedly and explicitly used racial targets in drawing districts.

Thus, what is needed here is not a revision of voting rights jurisprudence; nor will reversal of the trial court result in significant upheaval of redistricting maps throughout jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Rather, the misinterpretation of the Voting Rights Act’s requirements resulting in the unfair imposition of racial targets in redistricting in a few states is an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.

Read the full brief here.