News

Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) filed a motion Tuesday asking the state Supreme Court to allow the controversial school voucher program to proceed for the 2015-16 academic year while the high court continues to debate the constitutionality of allowing families to use public dollars for tuition at private schools.

“Intervenor-Defendants respectfully request that this Court modify its 12 December 2014 Order granting in part a writ of supersedeas and permit the Opportunity Scholarship Program to move forward for the 2014-2015 academic year unimpeded by the Superior Court’s permanent injunction,” wrote attorneys who filed the motion on behalf of Senator Berger and Speaker Moore, who are defendant intervenors in a case that is seeking to halt the school voucher program.

The North Carolina Supreme Court last released opinions on June 11, and many expected a decision on the case at that time from the state’s highest court.

But a decision did not come, and the next scheduled date for Supreme Court opinions is not until August 21 — a point in time, as Tuesday’s motion highlights, when it will be nearly impossible to ensure that the program can continue for the upcoming academic year should the Court decide that the Opportunity Scholarship Program passes constitutional muster. (The Supreme Court is, however, able to issue opinions at any time and without regard to the scheduled dates, if the Court so desires.)

Last summer, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood put a halt to the Opportunity Scholarships program, enacted by the General Assembly in 2013.

Judge Hobgood found that the program failed constitutional muster for several reasons—chiefly because it funnels public dollars that should be used exclusively for establishing and maintaining the uniform system of free public schools to private institutions instead, which the state holds to almost no curricular requirements or standards of accountability.

“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” Judge Hobgood said.

The state, along with defendant-intervenors for parents as well as then-Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger appealed Hobgood’s ruling to the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeals ruled last fall that the program could continue for this past academic year as the fate of the program was debated.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the Opportunity Scholarships beginning in 2014. The vouchers, worth $4,200 per student annually, funnel taxpayer dollars to largely unaccountable private schools––70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions.

Proponents of the voucher program say it’s necessary to provide low-income families with options outside of the public school system—especially for those whose schools do not have the means to ensure a student’s academic success.

The House’s 2015-17 budget, passed last month, proposes expanding the school voucher program from $10 million to $17.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year. The Senate’s proposal does the same, but with recurring funds instead and for both years of the biennium.

Commentary

Some seats still remain for tomorrow’s Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Is the death penalty broken beyond repair in North Carolina?

Click here to register

NCPW-CC-2015-6-25-gretchen-engelNCPW-CC-2015-6-25-ken-roseNCPW-CC-2015-6-25-kristin-collins

Featuring Gretchen Engel, Ken Rose and Kristin Collins of the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation

The recent pardons belatedly granted by Governor Pat McCrory to Henry McCollum (who sat unjustly on North Carolina’s death row for 30 years) and his half-brother Leon Brown (who had been sentenced to life in prison) have served to draw attention once more to North Carolina’s flawed criminal justice system and, in particular, the question of whether the death penalty can ever be fairly applied.

Today, in fact, two-thirds of North Carolina’s 149 death row inmates were sentenced more than 15 years ago, before key reforms vastly reduced the number of death sentences imposed in North Carolina. Many, like McCollum and Brown, were tried before DNA testing was widely used, and before laws requiring confessions to be videotaped and allowing defendants access to all of the state’s evidence in their cases.

Now, a soon-to-be-released report from experts at North Carolina’s nationally recognized Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL) promises to raise even more questions about wrongful capital prosecutions, their financial and human costs and the very legitimacy of our criminal justice system.

Please join us for this very special NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation with the report authors – CDPL Executive Director Gretchen Engel, Senior Staff Attorney Ken Rose and Associate Director of Public Information Kristin Collins.

When: Thursday, June 25, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

NC Budget and Tax Center

During the Senate budget debate last week, some lawmakers demonstrated a lack of understanding—or a willingness to ignore the economic reality—of how money loses its value overtime. By ignoring inflation, Senate leadership readily claimed that education spending in the state is the highest that it has ever been. This claim, however, when placed in proper context is not factually accurate, as pointed out in a new Fact Check from WRAL.

In fact, when accounting for inflation, the largest state education budget was in the 2008 fiscal year, the last budget enacted before the recession hit.

The “fairy tale” denial of how inflation works—a basic Economics 101 concept—signals that the Senate leadership is sensitive to public concerns over the erosion of the state’s funding commitment to services such as high-quality public schools, health care, and child care. North Carolinians have seen and felt too much to be fooled into thinking that today’s investment in these public services exceeds pre-recession levels. That just doesn’t bear out in the data or in our current lived experience.

Here is an excerpt from WRAL’s fact check: Read More

Commentary

“The perpetrator has been arrested, but the killer is still at large.” That’s Rev. William Barber’s insightful take in the aftermath of the Charleston tragedy.

Barber, the President of the North Carolina NAACP, spoke those words today during an interview with Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! News Hour. As Barber went on to note:

“Reverend Pinckney, as a colleague in ministry, was not just opposed to the flag, he was opposed to the denial of Medicaid expansion, where now the majority of the state is opposing Medicaid expansion where six out of 10 black people live. He was opposed to voter suppression, voter ID in South Carolina. He was opposed to those who have celebrated the ending of the Voting Rights Act, or the gutting of Section 4, which means South Carolina is no longer a preclearance state, and the very district that he served in is vulnerable right now. He was opposed to the lack of funding for public education. He wanted to see living wages raised.

So I would say to my colleagues, let’s take down the flag—to the governor—but also, let’s put together an omnibus bill in the name of the nine martyrs. And all of the things Reverend Pinckney was standing for, if we say we love him and his colleagues, let’s put all of those things in a one big omnibus bill and pass that and bring it to the funeral on Friday or Saturday, saying we will expand Medicaid to help not only black people, but poor white Southerners in South Carolina, because it’s not just the flag.”

You can watch the entire Democracy Now! segment below:

 

News

North Carolina doesn’t have a Confederate battle flag flying over its state capitol, but it does have a specialty license plate featuring that  flag, issued by the state on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

It’s just one of many vanity plates offered by the Department of Motor Vehicles “allowing citizens with common interests to promote themselves and/or their causes.”

Virginia has a similar plate, and today — with a nod to the horrific shootings of nine black churchgoers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. and the ensuing actions of South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley in ordering the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol grounds — the governor of Virginia ordered that flag removed from state license plates.

“Although the battle flag is not flown here on Capitol Square, it has been the subject of considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people,” Governor Terry McAuliffe said. “Even its display on state-issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people.”

McAuliffe now joins a growing group of state officials recognizing the divisiveness of the Confederate flag, even if offered as an historical symbol to state residents choosing to display it.

He can’t stop private citizens from waving that  flag, but he sure can stop the state from letting it appear on a state license plate.

That’s all the more important now, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last week in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, holding that specialty license plates are government speech.

(Notably, in that case, Texas refused to allow the Confederate Veterans plate, finding it too offensive.)

“As a general matter,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “when the government speaks it is entitled to promote a program, to espouse a policy or to take a position.”

What that means here, of course, is that the Confederate flag on a North Carolina license plate is no longer the message of a private group.

It’s now the message of the state of North Carolina.

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Update:  Several media outlets are now reporting that the governor will act to stop the issuance of state license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag emblem.  “The time is right to change this policy due to the recent Supreme Court ruling and the tragedy in Charleston,”  Josh Ellis, spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory, said in an email to WRAL.

SCV

 

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