Commentary

The Pope Center for Higher Education is out with a new article in which it laments the fact that student loan debt and loan defaults are both up in North Carolina.  This is obviously not an unimportant problem and so good for them for raising it.

As one might have suspected, however, the group’s conclusion as to why this is so and what ought to be done about it are mostly the usual market fundamentalist gibberish.

According to the Pope people, too many North Carolinians go to college — especially minority students who go to HBCU’s. The “solution,” therefore, is for all those kids who are trying to better themselves to cut it out. Better to get a job in retail or fast food and get on with life as a cog in the new post-industrial North Carolina.

Uh, earth to Pope people: Your article never mentions the word “tuition” except to say that it’s generally lower in HBCU’s.  In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been skyrocketing in the UNC system in recent years as conservatives have repeatedly slashed the state’s commitment to higher education.

A critical and obvious part of the solution to the problem of rising student debt — notwithstanding the Pope group’s denials — is to lower tuition and the other costs associated with higher education.  That an article would purport to discuss the problem of rising student debt without even paying lip service to the rapidly rising cost of attending college (or for that matter, the proliferation of predatory, for-profit colleges) is a testament to the amazingly powerful blinders with which the ideologues on Right Wing Avenue view the world and dispense their toxic policy prescriptions.

Commentary

[The title of this post has been updated to assuage the concerns of those who interpreted it as somehow heralding criticism of the the City of Raleigh.]

In case you missed it Sunday, the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record did a great, if sobering, job of summing up the ongoing war on North Carolina’s natural environment that’s being waged by the state’s conservative political leadership.The editorial — “A toxic wish list,” begins this way:

“Don’t look now, but planet Earth is under attack. From Raleigh.

And resistance is futile. Or so it seems.”

After alluding to a 2013 bill by Greensboro’s Senator Trudy Wade that, amazingly, proposed to allow garbage trucks to spill more noxious liquid on the highways and byways of the state, the editorial puts it this way:

“But Wade’s bill was only the first drip in a noxious flood of legislation that followed from a GOP-controlled legislature that seems hell-bent on disintegrating protections against tainted water and filthy air. The list, contained in an omnibus bill, is as long as it is shortsighted.

One provision, pushed by Wade, would no longer require electronics companies to help defray the expense of recycling and disposing of discarded computers, televisions and other products that can create dangerous toxins in landfills.

Wade’s reasoning: The expense was too burdensome for those companies.

So, where, then would the additional costs logically shift? To the city and county governments that have established e-recycling drop-off programs. And ultimately to local taxpayers.

What’s the harm? Wade told the News & Record’s Taft Wireback. ‘It’s still banned from landfills.’ As if an electronics fairy comes and magically takes old e-junk away in the dead of night and leaves quarters.

Another pending change would allow construction nearer to streams.

Another would allow companies that turn themselves in for pollution not to be assessed penalties if they cooperate in clean-up efforts.

Another would force citizen groups that file lawsuits against state agencies on environmental issues to reimburse the state for attorney’s fees if the state wins in court. (In effect, it dares citizens to sue.)

Still another Read More

News

Halifax schoolsParents, grandparents and local community groups in Halifax County filed a lawsuit today in Superior Court against the County Board of Commissioners, contending that the board has failed to provide public school students with the “sound basic education” required under the state constitution.

The parties challenging the school districts allege in the Complaint that county schools now serve fewer than 7000 students assigned to three separate and racially identifiable school districts, rather than one unified district, thereby “forcing the districts to compete for limited educational resources and causing the County to incur duplicative costs.”

By maintaining a three-district system, especially as student population is declining,  the county board not only perpetuates racial lines but also fails to adequately fund the districts, they add.

Though county population is roughly 40 percent white and 54 percent black or multiracial, the student population at two of the three districts is overwhelmingly black. Test scores in those two school districts are among the lowest in the state while dropout rates are among the highest.

The parties suing also contend that the quality of educational resources—including facilities, teachers, learning materials, and curricular and extra-curricular resources—provided to students in Halifax County, and especially students in the majority black districts, falls well below constitutional standards:

Students at Northwest High School in HCPS have endured sewage in the hallways, crumbling ceilings and exposure to mold, and failing heating and air systems. By contrast, the students at RRGSD’s high school attend a school that has been repeatedly renovated since its initial construction, is on the National Register of Historic Places, has a building dedicated solely to physical education and music and a pristine athletic field.

They are asking the court to find that the three-district system fails to provide county students, especially those at risk, with the constitutionally-required sound basic education and to order the board to come up with a plan to unify and better fund county schools.

Read the full compliant in Silver v. Halifax County Board of Commissioners here.

News

An annual poll surveying the public about American education found that the majority of public school parents aren’t a fan of the idea that teachers should be evaluated on the basis of their students’ standardized test scores.

From the Associated Press:

The Gallup Poll released Sunday found 55 percent opposed linking teacher evaluations to their students’ test scores. Among those with children in public schools opposition was stronger, at 63 percent.

Standardized tests are necessary, but there’s an overreliance on them, said Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, an association for educators, and a former schools superintendent. PDK, which supports teachers and educational research, paid for the poll conducted by Gallup.

“Parents see the work their kids bring home every night,” Starr said in an interview. “They go to teacher conferences, and they’re more likely to judge the school and the quality of the teacher based on that, than solely using test scores.”

As many schools prepare for a return to the classroom in the coming weeks, more than 40 states are moving forward with plans to evaluate teachers and principals in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests. It’s something the Education Department has supported and encouraged through its Race to the Top grants to schools and other programs. While the department says other factors should be considered, such as student work and parent feedback, teachers, unions and others worry there’s too much emphasis on test scores.

North Carolina uses a system called EVAAS to evaluate its teachers, and partly relies on student test data to rate teachers’ effectiveness. Many teachers here don’t embrace the idea, saying that student performance on standardized tests is often influenced by a host of factors outside of the classroom—and outside of a teacher’s control.

A majority of respondents to the Gallup poll opposed the use of Common Core, a set of math and English standards that’s currently being reevaluated here and could be replaced, depending on the outcomes of a legislative review commission and lawmakers’ subsequent actions.

And while most supported the notion of school choice, only 31 percent supported school vouchers—a program that has recently come to North Carolina and was upheld by the state’s Supreme Court following a court battle challenging the idea of using public dollars to support unaccountable private institutions of learning.

Click here to see the full results of the 47th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools.

News

VoteThe state court challenge to the 2013 voter ID provisions of the monster voting law is set for a hearing this morning at the Wake County Courthouse on the state’s request to dismiss the case.

That request comes on the heels of the recent amendment to the law providing that voters lacking an acceptable photo ID can still cast a ballot after signing an affidavit that states they had a reasonable impediment to obtaining one.

The state contends the amendment moots the claims that the voter ID provisions are unconstitutional.

The law’s challengers argue though that even with the amendment the right to vote is still burdened, in part because of uncertainty over how election officials statewide will implement the reasonable impediment provision — particularly in light of a possible March 2016 election.  They point to a lack of any plan to educate poll workers and other election officials on how the amendment will work and also to lawmaker statements indicating an intent to repeal the reasonable impediment provision as soon as possible. They are asking the the court to allow them to amend their complaint to challenge the amendment.

Today’s hearing will proceed even as the parties in the pending federal cases challenging the 2013 law have indicated they may be able to reach a settlement of the voter ID claims, depending upon an agreement of conditions needed by challengers to ensure voter protection.

A report to U.S. Judge Thomas B. Schroeder on the status of those negotiations is expected by September 18, 2015.

(Correction:  An earlier version of this post stated that plaintiffs in the federal cases would report to Judge Schroeder on the status of settlement negotiations over the voter ID claims early this week. That has been corrected to reflect the correct date for such a report — September 18, 2015.)