News

virt-chartLast month, we reported on the troubling withdrawal rates reported in North Carolina’s pilot program for virtual charter schools, including the news that these online programs, led by for-profit companies, are not required to return their public funding despite dropouts.

Coupled with longtime reports of poor academics in virtual charters across the country, public education advocates have decried the use of public funding to support the schools.

Now comes a report last week in The Spokesman-Review about the very low graduation rate—about 20 percent—out of public-authorized virtual charters in the state of Idaho.

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Commentary

Raleigh’s News & Observer has featured two outstanding editorials on the subject of public education in recent days.

Number One  is in this morning’s paper and it’s entitled “Sorry teachers, your raises went elsewhere.” To quote:

“Republicans, even in a time of economic recovery, work on a tight budget because their priority is giving tax breaks to business and wealthy individuals, and they’re steering the state toward reliance on more sales and services taxes, which hit those of low and moderate incomes hardest.

Too bad for teachers. And too bad for North Carolina families when a teacher shortage hits. Though Republicans claim their salary boosts for teachers (particularly beginning teachers) have raised the state to the hardly proud ranking of 32nd in the country in pay, the National Education Association puts the ranking for 2015 about 10 spots below that. The state is going to pay a price for that sooner or later, and probably sooner.”

And Number Two comes from last Friday’s N&O. This is from “Don’t hand off failing NC schools to charter companies”:

“The frustration that some elected officials feel about low-performing schools and the inability to improve them is understandable. But the proposal floated by some lawmakers to have charter companies take over some of the schools and form a “special district” is wrong.

This would not represent a solution to the problem of perennially low-performing schools, which typically have large proportions of poor and minority students. This would be an abdication of responsibility. The state is under a long-standing mandate from the courts to ensure that every child in North Carolina get a “sound, basic” education.

The best way to improve failing schools is to invest more in personnel and resources and to focus on improvement. Handing those schools over to charter companies ensures nothing.”

Commentary, News

1. Controversial plan to allow for-profit charter school takeovers of low-performing NC schools re-emerges

Achievement school districts may be reporting mixed numbers in other states, but the controversial reform model—which could effectively turn over management of low-performing public schools, including hiring and firing powers, to for-profit charter operators—seems bound for a pilot program in North Carolina.

Republican education leaders in the North Carolina House’s Select Committee on Achievement School Districts met for the first time Wednesday, with plans to convene two more meetings in February and March before making a legislative recommendation.

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2. The real test of McCrory’s commitment to helping the mentally ill

Governor Pat McCrory is garnering praise these days for the recommendations to improve mental health services being considered by a task force he created—and he deserves it. McCrory has spoken out passionately about the need for better support and treatment for people with a mental illness or addiction since he became governor in 2013.

But there’s an undercurrent to the work of the task force that McCrory appointed that is sadly familiar and threatens to undercut the progress on mental health that McCrory says publicly that North Carolina needs to make.

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3. The Right’s disingenuous propaganda about “choice”

There’s one thing you’ve got to hand to the politicians, pundits and plutocrats driving the modern American conservative movement: They are genuine champs when it comes to “branding” and pasting smiley faces on policies designed to favor the wealthy, while dividing and excluding everyone else.

In area after area, conservative advocates take hoary ideas traceable to creaky and privileged European theorists of bygone centuries and gussy them up with labels like “rights,” “liberty,” “freedom” and “choice.”

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4. McCrory makes a political decision to listen to a local government—for a change

It’s not very often that a governor issues a press release touting the benefits of a new economic development project his administration has negotiated and then two weeks later says the project is no longer viable, but that’s exactly what Gov. Pat McCrory has done.

The reversal on the proposed CSX railroad hub in Johnston County came after the county commissioners voted to oppose the project after local residents complained about plans by the company to use the power of eminent domain to force property owners to sell their land.

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5. North Carolina now unprepared for next recession

When last week’s blizzard hit, North Carolinians got another reminder that tough times are easier to handle if you’re prepared. Those who stocked up on food and made sure they had a good snow shovel fared best.

It’s the same with the economy. The preparations, of course, are different. What a state needs to weather hard times can’t be bought in stores. We depend on our elected officials to make decisions in good times that will help us get through an economic storm. And the distressing reality is that actions they’ve taken in the past few years actually leave North Carolina more vulnerable – not less.

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Commentary

A new poll from the nonpartisan organization NC Child shows that a large majority of North Carolinians support closing the health insurance coverage gap that was created when the Governor and legislature declined to use available federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility. This support extends to Independents and Republicans. The poll found that overall 72 percent of North Carolinians support closing the coverage gap. Among the Independents who often make the difference in close elections support is 62 percent. The same percentage of Republicans want to close the gap.

You can read the analysis from NC Child here.

We know that support or opposition to closing the coverage gap can depend on how you ask the question. This poll was a pretty straightforward description of the Medicaid gap and the policy option before the Governor and legislature. Here’s how the poll was worded:

In North Carolina, more than 350,000 adults, most of them working, cannot afford health insurance on the wages they are paid in industries like retail, construction, and food service. Their incomes are too low to qualify for the tax credits available through the Affordable Care Act and too high to qualify for Medicaid. They are stuck in the ‘insurance coverage gap.’ The Legislature and Governor McCrory could fix the coverage gap by creating a special North Carolina plan in partnership with the Federal government. Do you think North Carolina should make a plan to fix the health insurance coverage gap, or not?

We’ll have to see whether this changes the minds of political leaders. After elected officials in a number of conservative states saw similar polls and watched federal funds flow to other regions they decided to take action to protect their residents and boost rural health care. Let’s hope our politicians have a similar reaction.

News

Saying that the General Assembly violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution when it empowered lawmakers to make appointments to commissions that performed largely executive functions, the state Supreme Court today backed the governors who challenged what they called a usurpation of power by the legislature.

The battle between the branches of government came to a head in the fall of 2014 after lawmakers created the Coal Ash Commission, Oil & Gas Commission and Mining Commission and authorized the House speaker and Senate president to appoint most of the members on each.

Gov. Pat McCrory, joined by former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, then filed suit against the speaker and president, alleging that lawmakers had overstepped their authority in limiting the governor’s appointments to commissions that functioned under the province of the executive branch.

But the legislative leaders claimed absolute authority to make those appointments, saying that the state constitution clearly gave them that power.

A three-judge panel ruled for the governors in March 2015, holding that state lawmakers had violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

In a 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Mark Martin, the court ruled that the statutes in question did not violate appointment provisions of the state constitution but did nonetheless extend executive functions to the legislature in violation of the separation of powers clause.

Martin wrote:

When the General Assembly appoints executive officers that the Governor has little power to remove, it can appoint them essentially without the Governor’s influence. That leaves the Governor with little control over the views and priorities of the officers that the General Assembly appoints. When those officers form a majority on a commission that has the final say on how to execute the laws, the General Assembly, not the Governor, can exert most of the control over the executive policy that is implemented in any area of the law that the commission regulates. As a result, the Governor cannot take care that the laws are faithfully executed in that area. The separation of powers clause plainly and clearly does not allow the General Assembly to take this much control over the execution of the laws from the Governor and lodge it with itself.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Paul Newby wrote that the General Assembly acted well within its authority when it enacted the challenged statutes.

Read the full decision here.