Under new federal education law, more public dollars may be bound for private schools

school-lunch-by-usdagov-with-flickr-creative-commons-licenseAt Policy Watch, we’ve reported extensively on the new responsibilities entrusted to state education leaders under last year’s Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal update to the long-unpopular No Child Left Behind law.

But there’s one major component of the massive and complicated federal education law that hasn’t earned much attention, according to Education Week.

The paper wrote today that, under ESSA, more public dollars may soon be funneled toward private schools.

Education Week explains:

Here’s what we mean: As with the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA requires that districts provide “equitable services” to certain students in private schools, after consulting with private school officials. This can impact migrant students in private schools, students who are English-language learners, and others. (The delivery of equitable services has been complicated by the growth of school choice programs, according to a recent report from the federal Government Accountability Office.)

A summary of ESSA spending and fiscal rules provided by the Council of Chief State School Officers states that under equitable services requirements, “Expenditures for eligible private school children must be equal, taking into account their number and educational needs, to the expenditures for participating public school children.”

In the simplest terms, private schools’ share of Title I education funding, which is designated for low-income children, is growing under new federal education mandates.

It’s a controversial notion given that private school critics argue the schools face more lax accountability measures than their public school peers. Such facilities have also been accused multiple times of maintaining discriminatory admissions policies toward the LGBTQ community.

Read more


Agencies mum on investigation into GOP firebombing


Image provided by the Orange County Republican Party

It’s been a little over a week since a firebomb was hurled at the Orange County GOP headquarters in Hillsborough, and officials investigating the crime are playing their cards close to the vest.

The Hillsborough Police Department and the FBI are the lead investigating agencies, and the State Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting. FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said Monday there was nothing new to release in the case. She said she didn’t know when the investigation would be complete.

“There’s no timeline for any type of investigation,” Lynch said. “They’re all different.”

Hillsborough police did not return a message seeking comment Monday. The Molotov cocktail was thrown Oct. 16 into the building on Ja-Max Drive, causing significant damage before burning itself out. Spray-painted outside an adjacent business was, “Nazi Republicans, leave town or else.”

The last update on the investigation was posted Wednesday on the police department’s Facebook pageSBI and ATF officials declined to comment and referred questions back to the police department.

Evelyn Poole-Kober, vice chairwoman of the Orange County Republican Party, said Monday that they had moved into another building within the same building complex after working outdoors for two days. She said she hadn’t been updated on the investigation in a couple days, but wanted officials to take their time to do it right.

“I want them to find whoever did this,” she said. “I prayed for (their) soul in church yesterday.”

She added that she wanted justice to be served to the fullest extent of the law, because a lot of harm was done and more could have been done. The building, she said, would have to be rebuilt. She added that the state’s GOP party and Gov. Pat McCrory have helped out with supplies since losing theirs in the fire.

North Carolina Democrats raised more than $12,800 online through crowd-funding to help the Republicans rebuild the Orange County headquarters.


Public School Forum’s study group XVI releases strong series of policy recommendations for North Carolina schools

Last week, the Public School Forum of North Carolina released the results of its sixteenth biennial study group, focused on educational opportunity in North Carolina.  The study group’s Action Plan and Recommendations reflect a year’s worth of work from over 175 committee members (including Rick Glazier and Matt Ellinwood of the NC Justice Center, and Billy Ball of NC Policy Watch) across three committees.  Their policy recommendations can be found below. Read more


Monday map time: When a landfill lacks a liner, it’s just a dump

All of the reported pre-regulatory landfills in North Carolina (Map: NC DEQ)

All of the reported pre-regulatory landfills in North Carolina (Map: NC DEQ)

True story: Back in the late 1950s or early ’60s, my grandad went to Canada for his annual summer fishing trip. On his way back to the U.S., customs officials stopped him for trying to bring in too many fish. However, those same officials overlooked the small jar of yellow cake uranium he was carrying.

Now, uranium mining was and still is a huge industry in Canada, but where he got the material, I don’t know. It was likely depleted uranium, which generally doesn’t cause major health problems unless you eat or drink it.

For several years, my grandmother kept the jar of low-level radioactivity above her stove. This was, after all, an era when the atom was considered to be our friend. When my grandparents moved to their retirement house in the 1960s, they simply threw the jar away. Off to the landfill — an unlined landfill, since at the time, there were few, if any federal or state regulations on how and where to build them, or what could be tossed in these gaping holes in the ground.

So somewhere in an old landfill in Indiana, lies a (likely) broken jar of uranium. Again, not weapons grade, but not a material that should leach into groundwater or drinking water.

Such is the problem with pre-regulatory landfills. They have no bottom liner to keep materials from leaking into the groundwater. And they have no cap to keep vapors from off-gassing into the environment.

These dumps, at least in North Carolina, are defined as any land area, whether publicly or privately owned, “on which municipal solid waste disposal occurred prior to January 1, 1983, but not thereafter, and does not include any landfill used primarily for the disposal of industrial solid waste.”

The above map shows the extent of these landfills. There are 673 known pre-regulatory dumps, although it’s likely that even more accepted waste from other sources besides cities or counties, and thus aren’t counted.. (The map is also interactive so viewers can zoom in. If you prefer a list, DEQ has provided one; it starts on page 159 of this document from 2015.

What it doesn’t show is what’s brewing in, or escaping from, them. Municipal waste, especially back in the day, contained all sorts of material that we now consider hazardous: Lead from TVs, radios and paint, even PCBs from electrical equipment. And much like modern times, these dumps were located in low-income and minority neighborhoods.

So these pre-regulatory landfills, while defunct, are not inert. DEQ is required to monitor them for soil and groundwater contamination. Yet the dumps continue to leave their toxic legacy behind. In the case of Uranium 235, that’s a half-life of 704 million years.



The best op-ed of the weekend

seven-springsIf you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out Ned Barnett’s on-the-money essay (“State inaction magnified Hurricane Matthew’s impact”) on North Carolina’s response to (and lack of preparation for) Hurricane Matthew. As Barnett makes clear, no amount of “rainy day funds” or politically motivated camera hogging can make up for the simple fact that the state has under-invested in infrastructure for years — precisely the kind of infrastructure that would have helped prevent some of the worst impacts of the storm. Here’s Barnett:

That shortfall was exposed by Hurricane Matthew’s flooding of eastern North Carolina. The state’s neglect of infrastructure and regulation exacerbated the disaster and will increase the cost of recovery. Despite the lessons taught in 1999 by the flooding of Hurricane Floyd, this governor and legislature are not committed to the funding and regulations needed to control flood waters and protect water quality from flood-related pollution….

Robin Smith, a Chapel Hill lawyer and environmental consultant who served for 12 years as assistant secretary for environment at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality), said the state has made “significant cuts in water quality programs” even as the risk of pollution and flooding has increased.

“Clearly, one of the causes of increased flooding is increased development,” she said.

When the floods come in the east, the environmental damage is compounded by an unfortunate concentration of industrial farms and plants that raise and process hogs and poultry. Fourteen hog waste lagoons were flooded during Hurricane Matthew, according the NC Pork Council. The storm killed nearly 3,000 hogs and 2 million chickens and turkeys….

Frank Holleman, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center who has pushed to clean up Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, said industrial waste shouldn’t be exposed to flooding. “You shouldn’t be storing any kind of dangerous waste in a flood plain. The whole idea of storing waste is to contain it, not have it wash away into our rivers,” he said.

And now, in case you missed the memo, the McCrory’s administration’s budget office is calling for another round of across-the-board spending cuts in 2017-18. As, you may recall, NC Policy Watch reporter Billy Ball reported a couple of weeks back that the administration is calling for $173 million in cuts to public education, but similar cuts are being demanded of all other agencies too. This includes the Department of Environmental Quality — the agency that houses things like water quality protection and even dam safety.

In other words, the seemingly hyperactive response from the administration to the hurricane in recent weeks has been more for show than anything else. When it came to the critical investments that could have prevented some of the damage and made recovery less onerous, state leaders were MIA. What’s more their, plan at this point is to double down on those cuts in the years to come in order to keep paying for their regressive tax cuts.

In other words, when the next hurricane hits eastern North Carolina, residents will get a shoulder to cry on afterwards, but little, if anything, to help prevent the devastation.

Click here to read Barnett’s entire column.