Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch


bb-6151. Federal complaint says new N.C. policy harms poor children with special needs

To JoAnna Barnes, it’s the biggest education story you’ve never heard of in North Carolina.

Barnes, a Triangle attorney and president of the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of N.C., says the state’s education leaders have, for about a year, been devising sweeping policy changes to how North Carolina identifies children in need of special education services.

The policy that they crafted, which was approved by the N.C. State Board of Education in February, will seriously undercount the number of low-income, minority children who qualify, she says, and it’s a violation of federal law.

Barnes, along with advocates like the nonprofit Disability Rights N.C., warned state board members repeatedly that their actions might harm the roughly 200,000 or so children across the state who qualify for special education. When state officials moved forward anyway, Barnes says she filed a complaint this month with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, asking federal education officials to bar North Carolina’s reforms. [Continue reading…]

Protesters gathering outside the State Capitol in Raleigh Wednesday.2. Teachers, NAACP blast legislature and Gov. McCrory over school funding

“This group here and that man there need somewhere else to live.”

When he said it, Donald Dunn, former president of the N.C. Parent Teacher Association, pointed at the legislature and in the direction of the governor’s mansion, respectively, setting off cheers all around.

Dunn was one of just a handful of educators and civil rights leaders who gathered on the front steps of North Carolina’s legislative building Wednesday afternoon to protest the public education policies of the GOP-led legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory, urging voters to show up at the polls this November to cast both parties out.

The heat from the crowd of about 100 or so nearly matched the blazing heat of the afternoon, as a group of pro-public education protesters, calling itself Organize 2020, completed their 23-mile march from schools in Durham and Raleigh to the legislative building. [Continue reading…]

Berger_2016C3. Do Senate leaders believe their own claims on teacher pay?

Senate leaders made a big splash touting their two-year plan to raise teacher salaries. They held a packed press conference and launched, the strange website that – in exchange for handing your contact information over to the NC Republican Senatorial Committee – will let you view information on their plan.

For those who are unwilling to fork over your email address to Senate leader Phil Berger, please allow me to summarize: The Senate claims that by the 2017-18 school year, teacher salaries in North Carolina will average $54,224, an average salary that would propel our state ranking from 41st in the nation to 24th.

Are these claims accurate? [Continue reading…]

Shooting at Pulse Nightclub4. Another massacre—and nothing changes.

There’s simply no way to make sense of the tragedy in Orlando that left 50 people dead and 53 others wounded. It just doesn’t seem possible that one human being could commit such an unspeakably horrific act against fellow human beings in cold blood for whatever twisted motive emerges from the current investigation.

It seems that way every time this happens, when a man opens fire in a movie theater in Colorado or an elementary school classroom in Connecticut or an African-American church in Charleston.

It simply doesn’t make sense.

Neither does the fact that we continue to make it easier for it happen again and again.

Nothing changes after we are horrified and we find out that the shooter was seriously mentally ill or identified with foreign terrorists or domestic hate groups or maybe was tortured himself by a lifetime of agony and abuse and self-loathing.

Sometimes the victims are targeted because they are gay. Sometimes they are targeted because they are African American. Sometimes it’s impossible to know why they were targeted. [Continue reading…]

wb-613B5. McCrory vs. Obama
Much of the current political debate in North Carolina boils down to competing views of the Governor and the President

There’s a well-known maxim used in many walks of life that “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” And so it is when it comes to the economy and overall societal wellbeing in the world of policy and politics.

When things are going well, anyone with the slightest connection to political power claims credit. Meanwhile, when things are trending downward, blame usually gets shed like water off of a duck’s back.

Often, the politicians in question have very little to do with the trends for which they are claiming credit or shunning blame. Frequently, it’s just a matter of having the good fortune of being in office at the time that natural swings in the business cycle are trending upward or having the bad luck to preside over a decline that was years in the making.

Herbert Hoover had been President for just seven months when the 1929 stock market crash plunged the nation into the Great Depression. As many historians have noted, it was his do-nothing predecessor Calvin Coolidge whose policies (and lack thereof) helped precipitate the crash. Yet Coolidge escaped public blame while Hoover bore the full brunt and has long been considered one of the nation’s failed presidents. [Continue reading…]


N.C. lawmakers intervene in Union County school funding battle

education-early-childhoodNorth Carolina lawmakers may have set a new precedent for handling the all-too-common squabbles between local school boards and county commissioners over cash, and not everyone is going to be happy about it.

As the N.C. Insider reports today, legislators in the state House gave their approval to a rather narrow bill Thursday that specifically forbids the board of education in predominantly conservative Union County from suing its county board over school funding this year.

From the Insider:

After a lengthy debate cut off by a procedural maneuver, the House gave final approval along party lines, 79-35, to a local bill prohibiting the Union County Board of Education from suing the county Board of Commissioners over school funding for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The bill also requires the two boards to conduct joint meetings during the coming fiscal year to assess school capital needs and develop a five-year plan to meet those needs.

The Senate already approved the bill, which becomes law because the local bill doesn’t require the governor’s signature. The Union County delegation in the House, all Republicans, supported the bill. Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, described it as a “narrowly tailored” one year moratorium on lawsuits that mandates the school board and county commissioners meet to try to reconcile their differences.

“It is time for leadership, not time for litigation,” said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, in supporting the measure. But Democrats argued that the state shouldn’t inject itself into a local political struggle.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said the bill sends a strong message to boards of county commissioners across the state that they don’t have to negotiate with their school boards. Lawsuits filed by school boards bring both parties to the table, she said.

Its worth noting that Arp, the Union County rep who voted for the measure this week, is the former chair of the Union Board of Education.

School and county leaders in the growing suburban district just outside Charlotte have clashed many times over education funding in the last decade. And with some education advocates pointing out that a greater deal of the cost burden for schools is falling on local governments rather than the state, Thursday’s vote is pivotal because such arguments have become a fixture across the state.

Read more


Late session environmental changes “an unfortunate way to do business”

enviroWith the legislative session winding down, legislators are moving quickly on a regulatory reform bill that could have a big impact on the state’s environment.

House Bill 593, simply titled “Amend Environmental and Other Laws,” covers a lot of ground — everything from prohibiting certain stormwater control measures, to changing stream water mitigation requirements, to seizing reptiles, to delaying insurance for moped owners.

Rose Hoban at North Carolina Health News highlights some of the bill’s environmental concerns:

There would be fewer requirements around capturing the runoff from a building site. Another provision would allow for more landscaping material like gravel, mulch and sand to run into existing streams and tributaries.

Folks on the downstream end of things found that concerning.

Todd Miller, head of the NC Coastal Federation said that material running into streams, rivers and, eventually, into the ocean, has lots of bacteria in it, from soil, from animals and from people.

“When we develop or use the land, we create runoff that wasn’t there before and increase transport of what’s going downstream,” Miller said. “We have to work to prevent the transport of pollutants off the landscape where they’re in natural abundance.”

He said once that stuff gets into the water, it’s harder to clean it up. It’s better to prevent it from getting there in the first place.

Another part of HB 593 would allow landfill managers to spray the water that collects at the bottom of the landfills, known as leachate, into the air to get rid of it.

According to a presentation submitted to the Environmental Review Commission in February, the aerosolization pumps can spray as much as 600 gallons per minute, with netting controlling the mist created by the spray. Darden said the idea is that spraying the stuff onto the existing landfill allows for the liquids to evaporate and the solids to be reintegrated into the rest of the garbage.

The 14-page bill sailed through committee 45 minutes after being introduced and could be up for a vote on the Senate floor next week.

Guilford County Representative Pricey Harrison calls the rushed legislation “an unfortunate way to do business.”

Read full coverage of HB593 here.


This morning’s “must reads” on America’s gun violence crisis

Here are two hopeful reads to start your Friday regarding the United States’ absurd, NRA-constructed gun violence crisis:

#1 is this morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer“Let’s get logical about guns.” After pointing out that Democrats have made minor headway in pushing for a couple of small but important expansions of federal background check and anti-terror requirements (over NRA opposition) in the U.S. Senate, the the authors put it this way:

“The difference this week, of course, is the massacre of 49 people Sunday at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Although the Orlando shooter wasn’t currently on a watch list, his purchase of an assault-style weapon illustrates how easy it is for a lone-wolf ISIS sympathizer to get armed for a similar shooting spree.

Terrorist groups have noticed. “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” an Al Qaeda spokesman said in a 2011 recruitment video that encouraged the purchase of weapons at gun shows. “What are you waiting for?”

Lawmakers can make such purchases more difficult by giving the FBI the ability to prevent gun sales to people it believes might engage in terrorism. Yes, the government’s terror watch list is imperfect; some on it have no links to terrorism. That’s why at least one bill this week – from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein – allows those people to challenge their status quickly in federal court.

But let’s take the watch-list gun bill to the next logical step….

If lawmakers want to better protect Americans from gun massacres, they need to do more than just close the so-called terror gap with gun purchases.

They need to expand background checks to gun shows and online sales, so that people legally barred from gun ownership (such as felons and the mentally ill) can’t buy weapons.

They need to ban high-capacity magazines, as some states have already done.

Finally, they need to ban assault-style weapons, which have no useful purpose in civilian hands.

Americans agree with all this, and parts of it overwhelmingly. We want to be safe from those who intend to mow down innocent people. It doesn’t matter if those shooters are on a government watch list. It shouldn’t matter to lawmakers.”

#2 is this brief note from the good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence about this weekend’s “Stand-up Sabbath” event:

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the shootings that killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. On June 17th, 2015, a young white supremacist shot and killed nine grandmothers, fathers, sons and daughters during a Wednesday evening bible study session.

Less than a week ago, in the early hours of June 12th, a man walked into an LGBTQ-friendly night club in Orlando with an assault rifle and murdered 49 people, injuring even more. The nation is still absorbing the scale of the Orlando shootings. People of all walks of life are finding ways to grieve together, and calling on our leaders to act to prevent the next mass shooting.

This weekend, we are calling on faith communities to join in a Stand-Up Sabbath. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

The top 1 percent earned almost 18 times more than everyone else in N.C. in 2013

While most North Carolinians have dealt with stagnant or declining real incomes, the top 1 percent saw their incomes increase substantially during the current recovery, according to a new report, Income inequality in the US by state, metropolitan area, and county, published by EPI.

The last decade in North Carolina has been the most unequal since the 1930s. On average, the top 1 percent earned almost 18 times more than everyone else in North Carolina in 2013. Report authors Mark Price and Estelle Sommeiller lay out the average incomes of the top 1 percent, the income required to be in the top 1 percent, and the gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent in every county and state as well as in 916 metropolitan areas. The authors found that, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth nationwide from 2009 to 2013, while here in North Carolina all of the new income during that period went to the top 1 percent.

Key findings for North Carolina include:

• The top 1 percent earned 17.7 times more than the bottom 99 percent in North Carolina in 2013.

• The average annual income of the top 1 percent in North Carolina was $745,686 in 2013. To be in the top 1 percent in North Carolina, one would have to earn at least $327,549.

• Inflation-adjusted incomes for the top 1 percent doubled between 1979 and 2009, while the rest of North Carolina only saw incomes increase by 10 percent.

Fact Sheet - Income Inequality-hi res-1