Commentary

A small bit of progress on Jones Street: House advances A-F school performance grade change

In case you missed it, the state House  took a positive step in education policy last week when it voted in favor of HB 322, which would change the way A-F school performance grades are calculated. The current school grading calculation is based 80% on test score proficiency and just 20% on student growth. This has led to criticism that the A-F grades assigned to schools undervalue growth in student learning and are too closely correlated with school poverty rates. A and B grades are overwhelmingly concentrated amongst schools that serve the fewest number of poor students, while high poverty schools, even those with high levels of student growth, are saddled with D and F grades. Lower grades can be harmful to student and staff morale and make schools less desirable for prospective parents, potentially leading to even higher concentrations of poverty.

To his credit, bill sponsor Rep. Craig Horn is seeking to address these deficiencies in the school grading system, noting during the committee meeting that “[i]n my view, education is growth” and that “proficiency rewards schools for the students they take in but not necessarily for how they teach students.” HB 322 puts more emphasis on growth in student learning by changing the calculation to 50% proficiency and 50% growth. The bill garnered broad, bipartisan support with only one dissenting vote in committee and only two on the House floor.

There are certainly problems with the A-F model, particularly the focus on standardized test scores as the sole indicator of school quality. A more robust and informative system would include other indicators of student achievement like measures of school culture, climate, and access to key resources like advanced courses, pre-kindergarten programs, school technology, and highly qualified teachers. But HB 322’s focus on growth in student learning represents an important step toward creating a school accountability system that promotes student achievement and provides parents with meaningful information about the schools their children are attending. HB 322 is now in the Senate (it’s been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee) where it’s fate is less certain. Let’s hope Senator keep the dialogue moving on this extremely important subject.

Courts & the Law, News

Groups protest Gorsuch as confirmation begins

Progressive groups and advocates gathered Monday morning to protest the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for U.S.Supreme Court.

A number of progressive groups and advocates gathered in front of the Federal Building in downtown Raleigh Monday morning to protest Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court confirmation hearings began in Washington.

Rob Schofield, director of policy and research at N.C. Policy Watch, led off the protest with a statement about Gorsuch’s fitness for the position – and the process by which he was nominated.

“We’re here today to call on North Carolina’s two U.S. senators – particularly Thom Tillis, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee which is meeting at this very moment – to rethink their support for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch,” Schofield said. “We also call on Senate Democrats to do whatever they can to stop the Gorsuch nomination.”

Schofield pointed to The Gorsuch Report, prepared by the non-partisan legal advocacy group Alliance for Justice, as a good summary of why Gorsuch is a poor nominee. The report outlines Gorsuch rulings and statements that suggest his confirmation would be bad for – among other issues –  the environment, LGBT rights, worker’s rights, the separation of church and state and the unchecked power of corporations.

“It’s outrageous these hearings are taking place in the first place and that Gorsuch is under consideration,” Schofield said. “If there was any integrity at all in the process, Merrick Garland would be on the Supreme Court today as its ninth justice.”

Schofield called Gorsuch a right wing extremist who would take American backward.

MaryBe McMillan, the secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO of North Carolina, agreed.

“We need a Supreme Court justice who cares more about ‘we the people’ than corporations pretending to be people,” McMillan said. “Despite President Trump’s promise to protect the interests of American workers, he has nominated a judge who has consistently sided with corporations over working folks.”

Citing cases involving employee negligence that led to an employees death, workers whose wages were shortchanged and women in gender discrimination suits, McMillan said it was obvious Gorsuch is no friend to working people.

“Working people need a judge on the Supreme Court who will look out for the little g uy,” McMillan said. “A judge who understands there can be no special protections for corporations and the wealthy, a judge who will uphold our constitutional and moral values of liberty, equality and justice for all.”

“Neil Gorusch is not that judge,” McMillian said.

Ames Simmons, director of transgender policy for Equality North Carolina and board member of the Human Rights Campaign, highlighted Gorsuch’s hostility toward LGBT rights. Read more

Courts & the Law, Legislature, News

Wake County leaders push “Raise the Age” legislation

As Policy Watch has noted in recent weeks, support for “raise the age” legislation seems to be growing in North Carolina among both political parties and law enforcement. This week, it’s getting another thumbs up from leaders in Wake County, which operates the state’s largest public school system.

The News & Observer reports today that county officials scheduled a Monday press conference to tout the bipartisan bill, which, in most cases, would require that the state no longer prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

North Carolina is one of just two states nationwide maintaining such a practice, which critics blame for youth leaving school with criminal records.

From The N&O:

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, earlier this month filed a bill known as the “Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act,” which would move most crimes committed by 16- or 17-year-olds to juvenile court. Violent felonies and some drug offenses would still be considered in adult court.

Commissioner Jessica Holmes said she supports reform efforts because the current laws are “archaic” and create a “school-to-prison” pipeline.

“Evidence shows that adolescents who go through the juvenile justice system are less likely to keep committing crimes than their peers who are treated like adults in the system,” Holmes said.

“The juvenile justice system is best equipped to rehabilitate young people in a crucial stage of development,” she said. “Raising the Age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 will lead to safer communities, long-term financial savings and better outcomes for young people and their families.”

The effort, known as “raise the age,” has faltered in the past in part because sheriffs and prosecutors said the juvenile-justice system is inadequately funded to take on more teenagers. The group pushing for change this year claims support from the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association.

Advocates say teen offenses can have impacts stretching far beyond schooling years. They add that relatively minor school-age infractions could seriously blunt a person’s ability to succeed later in life.

The legislature’s draft bill is currently assigned to a House judiciary committee. Policy Watch will track this bill as it progresses.

Commentary

This report explains why Neil Gorsuch shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court

With the Senate Judiciary Committee commencing hearings into Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee this morning, be sure to take at least a few minutes to review The Gorsuch Record, a damning in-depth report prepared by the nonpartisan legal advocacy group, the Alliance for Justice. The report puts it this way:

“Judge Gorsuch has repeatedly shown hostility toward the efforts of vulnerable populations to use the courts to protect their constitutional rights. He has, moreover, consistently downplayed constitutional abuses by government officials. And he has placed the rights of corporations over those of other Americans, weakened critical acts of Congress, and advocated for overturning long established legal doctrines that ensure the federal government can properly enforce protections for the American people.”

The report goes on to spell out dozens of areas in which Gorsuch will almost assuredly work and vote to take the nation backwards. These include:

  • The power of corporations,
  • Government illegality and overreach vis a vis individuals subjected to abuse,
  • Workers’ rights,
  • Voting rights (where he has praised the work of one of the nation’s leading voter suppression advocates and co-architect of NC”s Monster Voting Law”)
  • Civil rights and racial justice
  • Equal opportunity,
  • Consumer protection,
  • Reproductive freedom, including the right to an abortion and access to contraception,
  • The rights of children and workers with disabilities,
  • LGBTQ rights,
  • The rights of immigrants,
  • Money in politics,
  • Separation of church and state,
  • Environmental protection,
  • Criminal justice – including the rights of criminal defendants, the rights of prisoners, excessive police force, searches and seizures and criminal sentencing,
  • the rights of Native Americans, and
  • The right to die.

In each of these areas and others, the report shows Gorsuch’s record to be that of a man who will vote to uphold and extend Trumpism. The report concludes this way:

“While his resume may be objectively impressive, his ideology is disqualifying. Time and again, we found evidence of Judge Gorsuch’s ideological pursuit of legal outcomes that systematically denigrate the rights of everyday people. While this is never desirable, it is even more disturbing at a time when the rights and freedoms of so many communities face heightened threats on a daily basis.

…We believe that a thorough analysis will lead to the same conclusion we have reached: that Neil Gorsuch is the wrong choice for a position that demands its occupants embrace the philosophy that the Constitution protects all of us, not just the wealthy and powerful.”

In short, the Gorsuch nomination is quite arguably the most dangerous act that a very dangerous president has taken during his first months in office. Let’s hope the U.S. Senate is paying attention.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

If you get a chance, be sure to check out the Saturday editorial in the Greensboro News & Record entitled “A judicious veto.” In it, the N&R rightfully praises Roy Cooper’s first veto as Governor (this one of legislation seeking to make District and Superior Court elections partisan).

“Gov. Roy Cooper delivered a well-aimed veto Thursday.

‘We need less politics in the courtroom, not more,’ he said in rejecting House Bill 100, which would require partisan elections for District and Superior Court judges. He added that, under the bill, ‘judges who have chosen to register as unaffiliated voters so as to avoid partisan politics now have a difficult path to getting on the ballot.’

Cooper should keep his veto stamp handy because several more efforts to politicize the courts are likely to reach his desk. The Republican legislature keeps trying to weaken the governor and make the courts more partisan.

Bills have recently passed the House to transfer the power to fill judicial vacancies from the governor to lawmakers and to reduce the N.C. Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12. None of these measures was recommended by the judicial branch.”

After detailing the problems with the other bills targeting the judiciary that the General Assembly is advancing, the editorial concludes this way:

“Over the past 15 years or so, North Carolina had moved away from partisan judicial elections. Now the legislature is working to restore party labels at all levels of the courts. Not only does that invite more politics into the courts, it puts truly nonpartisan candidates at a disadvantage. It makes no sense to discourage men and women who don’t want to be partisan politicians from serving in our courts.

The legislature has the power to make these changes, and override Cooper’s vetoes, but this is not how anyone should promote court reform. Where is the objective analysis of how courts can work more effectively, serve the public more fairly and see that justice is done more impartially?

None of these proposed changes seems designed to accomplish those objectives. On the contrary, they look more like maneuvers intended to give the legislature and political parties more power.

The judicial branch of government should be the least political. Cooper should veto every bill that threatens the integrity of the courts.”