News

Where will President-elect Trump fall on early childhood education?

Donald Trump speakingThe reaction to President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of a new education secretary in staunch school choice backer Betsy DeVos, according to many advocates, sends a clear message from the incoming president on where he will stand when it comes to the nation’s boiling school debate.

But one pivotal education issue—early childhood education—that’s earned less than its fair share of attention during the presidential election is getting a deep dive from Education Week this week.

And while Trump has indicated some support for early childhood programs through tax deductions and credits for working families, there’s still much up in the air, the paper reports.

From Education Week:

Making child care more affordable for working families was one of a handful of education policy positions that President-elect Donald Trump tackled with some specificity on the campaign trail, promising to offer “much-needed relief” through a combination of tax deductions and credits.

But the incoming administration’s views on a number of other early-childhood initiatives championed by the Obama White House—including federal support of state-run preschool programs, home visiting, and Head Start—are as yet unknown. The early-childhood-advocacy community is still grappling with what a Trump administration will mean for those policies and many others.

On the one hand, both Trump and his vice president, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, have made high-profile pitches on early-childhood issues. As governor, for example, Pence in 2014 made a rare appearance before the state Senate to push for a preschool program, and Indiana now has a pilot program operating in five counties.

A wise path for the Trump administration would include continuing programs that already exist, said Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, citing current federal efforts to support state preschool and to link private child-care providers and Head Start.

“We’ve enjoyed eight years, if not longer, of increasing national and federal attention to early-childhood education,” said Perry. “The federal role is one of partner. There is some accountability around quality, but [federal officials are] not in the driver’s seat.”

Katharine B. Stevens, a resident scholar on early-childhood policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, believes that Trump will be focused on programs that are popular, and that early-childhood policies could be a vehicle.

Read more

Environment

EPA, Justice Department reach $9 million settlement over Asheville Superfund site

A forested area with a small guard shack is where the contaminant TCE has been discovered at the old CTS site in Asheville.

The former CTS site in Asheville: What you can’t see — TCE — has contaminated drinking water, soil, groundwater and air. (Google maps/street view)

The toxic chemicals malingering  in the groundwater, air and dirt at the old CTS plant in south Asheville have been there for as long as 60 years. That’s longer than the neighboring homes have stood, longer than the families have been on bottled water or breathed polluted air, a consequence of unknowingly moving near a Superfund site.

Now after nearly 30 years of testing, but no significant cleanup, the EPA and the Justice Department have settled with three companies for $9 million: CTS Corporation, Mills Gap Road Associates and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation have agreed to spend the money on an interim cleanup for the 9-acre site.

The primary contaminant is TCE, an industrial solvent. Exposure to the compound has been linked to neurological and immune system problems, liver, kidney disease and cancer. High levels of TCE have been detected in the soil, shallow and deep groundwater, and air at and near the CTS site.

The saga of the CTS site has been documented not only by state and federal regulators, but also Asheville activists and media, who have pointed to the EPA’s many failures to protect the human health. Lee Ann Smith, chairwoman of the POWER Action Group, which has fought for a total cleanup of the site, explained that a nearby well contained levels of TCE more than 4,000 times the drinking water standard. She told Women Advance that her son, Gabriel, developed childhood cancer.

I learned about the abandoned facility when, several years after Gabe’s diagnosis, I began researching what could have caused his rare cancer. A question from Gabe’s pediatric oncologist kept haunting me. She wanted to know if our family had ever visited Chernobyl. Could an environmental malady be to blame for Gabe’s illness?

The International Resistance Company, later Northrup Grumman, built and operated an electronics manufacturing plant and electroplating facility on the site from 1952 to 1959. CTS then bought the plant and manufactured electronics used in auto parts and hearing aids until 1983.

For those 27 years, Indiana-based CTS Corporation dumped the carcinogenic compound TCE at their Asheville facility. But according to Mountain Xpress, it wasn’t until 1987, when resident Dave Ogren reported a chemical pond at the plant to state environmental officials, that any contamination had been documented. That’s the same year when CTS sold the 53-acre property to real estate developer Mills Gap Road Associates. MGRA in turn sold 44 acres to another builder, which constructed a residential subdivision. MGRA still owns about nine contaminated acres of the original site.

After getting a tip from Ogren about the pond, the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources declared the area a potential “imminent hazard” — three years later. In 1991, an EPA contractor inspected the site and gave it a clean bill of health, even though nearby springs were contaminated — springs that fed the drinking water well of the Rice property.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the EPA dithered and dallied. Not until 2012 did CTS install 101 water filtration systems in homes that were on private wells and that were within a mile of the site. Buncombe County eventually extended water supply lines to the neighborhood, but like a game of Wack-a-Mole, the next health crises to emerge were the plume moving through the groundwater and the vapors in the air.

Elevated levels of TCE vapor were detected not only outdoors but also in the indoor air at several homes, high enough that the EPA evacuated three families.

The cleanup of the 208,250 cubic yards of material is scheduled to begin in 2017 and will be overseen by the EPA and its contractors. The first phase will involved Electrical Resistance Heating to address the fuel oil and TCE mix that is in 1.2 acres beneath the former facility.

Essentially, this method applies electricity to the soil and groundwater. The generated heat boils the TCE and creates vapor, which are shunted to collection areas where the gases are treated. After the contaminants have been removed, the condensation and vapors are released into local sewer systems and the air.

The second phase will use In-Situ Chemical Oxidation to treat TCE in a 1.9-acre area. Chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide with iron, are injected into the affected area to break down the TCE.

The EPA said these remedies should remove 95 percent of the TCE. But a final solution, the agency said, is still years away.

News

McCrory moving forward with special legislative session to address Hurricane Matthew relief

Gov. Pat McCrory announced Wednesday that he plans to submit proposals regarding Hurricane Matthew relief to the General Assembly to be addressed in a special session. He said in a news release that the session will likely be held during the second week of December.

He made the announcement at the fourth regional Hurricane Matthew Recovery Committee meeting, which was held Wednesday morning in Pitt County. There is one more regional meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday in Kinston. After that meeting, McCrory plans to submit the proposals.

“The governor stated that his major goal in the short term is to help people affected by the storm, especially during winter months,” states a news release from the Governor’s Office.

The hurricane struck in early October and left widespread flooding and damage across much of eastern North Carolina. Legislators are expected to address long-term relief plans for victims during the special session.

Legislators can also take up other issues while in special session. One rumor that has been swirling since Election Day is that Republicans will attempt to pack the state Supreme Court during the meeting by adding two associate justices to gain political control.

Democrat Mike Morgan was elected over Republican incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds, flipping the court to a 4-3 Democratic majority. Republican lawmakers have not confirmed or denied that a court-packing proposal would be taken up at a special session, despite multiple attempts by many media outlets to clarify the record.

House Bill 2, the sweeping anti-LGBTQ law, was passed during a special session last March.

Commentary

NCGA school funding recommendations would shift funding from poor districts to rich districts

bus-878697_960_720A recent legislative report proposed a series of recommended changes to North Carolina’s school finance system that could dramatically alter the way the state funds its public schools.  If the General Assembly enacts the recommended funding changes, the net result would be a shift in funding from poor districts to richer districts.

As noted previously, the report, prepared by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED), failed to assess the extent to which the existing system is meeting the needs of North Carolina’s students.  North Carolina’s school finance system distributes funds to school districts through a number of formulas known as “allotments.”  These allotments are meant to provide school districts with differing funding levels based on district or student needs.  The allotments are simply the way the money goes out the door.  Once districts receive their allotments, they have considerable flexibility to deploy their resources across schools in order to best meet the needs of their students.  The goal of North Carolina’s school finance system is to allocate resources to each district relative to school district need, so any assessment of North Carolina’s school finance system must assess the extent to which resources are allocated in accordance with need.

A 2010 report from education finance consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich & Associates actually examined the extent to which North Carolina distributes funding in accordance with need.  Their report concluded that North Carolina’s school finance system distributes aid in an equitable manner and overall was working well. Read more

Commentary

Editorial: McCrory disrespects democracy, tarnishes his own legacy with “incomprehensible” lack of grace

Be sure to check out this morning’s lead editorial in the Governor’s hometown newspaper — the newspaper that once was one of the strongest backers of his long political career. It’s not a pretty assessment:

“In a razor-close race, he has gone way beyond asking that every vote be counted before a winner is declared. He and his fellow scaremongers have disrespected democracy and honest election workers of both parties while slandering innocent North Carolina citizens by recklessly accusing them of felonies. In doing so, he has further tarnished his already-stained legacy and will be remembered always for the lack of grace he showed in what may be his final election.

His behavior is so incomprehensible – he fights in the face of virtually certain defeat – that it suggests there is an alternative goal. Like President-elect Donald Trump’s, McCrory’s creation of phantom election cheats tills the ground for future voter suppression efforts.

After documenting the pointlessness (and even offensiveness) of many of the voter challenges McCrory and his team have lodged in recent days and the likelihood that GOP lawmakers are preparing for another legislative push for voter suppression laws, the Observer concludes this way:

“After initially asking for a statewide recount, McCrory now says he’ll surrender that if Durham County produces similar results in a hand recount of 94,000 early votes.

Such a recount would probably just widen the gap between McCrory and Cooper. But if it will erase doubts among McCrory supporters and allow the state to move on to its new governor, why not? All voters should want an accurate count, and if Cooper’s lead remains less than 10,000, McCrory has the right to seek a recount statewide.

What he doesn’t have a right to do is malign innocent voters with claims that he either knows are mirages or doesn’t care enough to vet. The state board of elections – which, like all 100 county boards, is majority Republican – issued an order Monday effectively dismissing all 52 of McCrory’s complaints.

They know voter fraud is not a real problem in North Carolina. And, down the road, voters shouldn’t allow the myth that McCrory foments to provide cover to overzealous lawmakers – in Raleigh or in Washington.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.