Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, a middle school teacher from Forsyth County named Stuart Egan had a fine op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal in which he debunked the myth that flawed teachers are somehow the biggest problem facing our public schools. As Egan explained:

“Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and North Carolina legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article titled “Rotten Apples” that suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.”

Egan continues with the farming analogy:

“Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn. Read More

Commentary

State lawmakers sent the so-called “Ag gag” bill on to Governor McCrory today. As was explained at some length in this space a few weeks ago, this troubling proposal is targeted at activists who have exposed horrific abuses of animals in agricultural facilities but it raises other concerns that go beyond those circumstances:

“Crafting a statute that protects legitimate property rights when they are competing against the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees and the flow of information in a free society is an enormously complex and difficult proposition. Perhaps there is some reasonable point at which the two competing interests are properly balanced, but then again, perhaps such a balancing point really doesn’t exist. Let’s hope, at a minimum, that sponsors of the bill continue to fine tune the language with an eye toward finding that point and that, if they can’t do so, they opt for language that errs on the side of free speech. The current version isn’t there yet.”

Worker advocates at the North Carolina AFL-CIO issued the following statement today in response to the bill’s passage:

“North Carolina shouldn’t treat workers trying to expose criminal activity by their employers like criminals themselves, but House Bill 405 comes close to doing just that. If Governor McCrory signs this misguided bill into law, employers in our state will be able to sue their workers for having exposed criminal activity on the job. Senators even rejected an amendment that would have allowed those workers to use proof their employer broke the law as a defense in court. It seems lawmakers are more interested in protecting unscrupulous employers than the health and safety of our workforce or of the public at-large. HB 405 is as extreme as it is overbroad, and we call on Gov. McCrory to veto this dangerous legislation.”

Let’s hope that, if nothing else, the Governor’s well-known affection for animals leads him to do more than simply rubber stamp this troubling proposal.

News

In case you missed it, comedian Stephen Colbert delivered both on the punch lines and in his advice to Wake Forest University’s class of 2015.

Colbert told graduates on Monday to find the courage to set their own standards, hold high expectations, and then make the world better.

“Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done – like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions,” explained Colbert. “Your job – Pro Humanitate – is to prove us wrong.”

For a clip from Monday’s speech at Wake Forest, click below. The entire ceremony is available here.
YouTube Preview Image

Colbert, left the “The Colbert Report” in December after nine years on Comedy Central, and will take over the helm of the “Late Show” later this year.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Another round of tax cuts for corporations, extended tax breaks for selected industries, and considerable fee hikes for families and businesses are included in the tax and budget package that the House leadership unveiled yesterday afternoon. Because tax changes affect the level of state resources that are available for investment, lawmakers must decide on its tax priorities ahead of approving their budget bill for the upcoming 2015-17 biennium. The House Finance committee tweaked the tax changes last night and now the budget bill is moving through the committee process with the expectation of a final vote on the House floor by Friday.

How the state raises the money that supports public schools, health care, courts and other core supports to the economy and communities should get just as much scrutiny as the spending side of the budget debate—but this is rarely the case. Examining how lawmakers pay for the budget is important in light of the 2013 tax plan that continues to drain resources, which otherwise could have been used to build opportunity and replace the worst cuts enacted since the economic downturn.

The House leadership pays for its FY2016 budget proposal in the following way: Read More

News

Supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court has begun clearing the decks en route to the end of its term in late June, handing down six opinions yesterday.

Though none came in the high profile cases — Obamacare or same-sex marriage, for example, which will likely be handed down in the court’s last week — yesterday’s decisions still involved some issues worth noting.

In Henderson v. United States, a unanimous court held that convicted felons could sell or otherwise dispose of their guns to independent third parties.

More here at SCOTUSblog:

When people are arrested, they often surrender their firearms to police. Once those people are convicted of felonies, they can no longer lawfully possess their weapons. In this situation, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded, the felon can ask the government to transfer his firearms to an independent third party. This includes transfers to dealers for sale on the open market, but in some circumstances can also include directed transfers to specific people.

In Tibble v. Edison International, a likewise unanimous court held that employee retirement plan managers have a continuing duty to monitor investments and act “with prudence” to protect funds beyond that exercised when initially selecting such investments.

More here from Forbes:

“The Court’s decision confirms that fiduciaries cannot go on autopilot,” said John Donovan, a partner in the Boston office of Ropes & Gray, in an e-mailed comment. “Managing investments in ERISA plans involves not only prudently selecting those investments in the first place, but monitoring them to make sure that they remain prudent.”

In City of San Francisco v. Sheehan,  the court ruled in a narrow 6-2 decision that police officers have some leeway to fire their guns to subdue a mentally disturbed person who is violently threatening them. (Justice Stephen Breyer took no part because his brother, a federal judge in California, had ruled on the case in a lower court.)

More here from SCOTUSblog:

The Court provided little new guidance on the larger question of how the Fourth Amendment applies to claims that police used unnecessary force in carrying out arrests or other confrontations with the public — an issue that has gained new intensity in the wake of incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and other communities in recent months.

At most, the Court on Monday declared that it was not clearly established seven years ago, when the San Francisco incident occurred, that the Fourth Amendment requires police to take special precautionary steps to accommodate the mental disability of a person whom they are trying to subdue.   Because that was not the law at the time, the two officers had legal immunity from the woman’s claim that the Fourth Amendment require such an accommodation.

And in Comptroller v. Wynne, a divided court (5-4) held that Maryland’s personal income tax law violated the constitution because it doesn’t give residents a full tax credit for income tax paid out of state.

More here from the Washington Post:

[T]he state’s practice of withholding a credit on the county segment of the state income tax wrongly exposes some residents with out-of-state income to double taxation. The justices said the provision violated the Constitution’s commerce clause because it might discourage individuals from doing business across state lines.

###