Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: The truth about education spending

Education-budgetThe lead Sunday editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer is a “must read” for anyone trying to make sense of the claims suddenly emanating from conservative politicians (and flooding the TV and radio airwaves) that they just love public schools and spending big bucks on teacher pay. As the N&O rightfully points out:

“Instead of investing in the state’s children, instead of improving education as a way for poor children to escape poverty and all children to achieve goals, the Republican-led General Assembly has chosen to reduce state taxes, mostly to the benefit of the wealthy and big corporations. Billions of dollars in tax revenue that could have lifted North Carolina’s schools to new heights instead has been diverted into tax cuts that have produced no tangible results.

Republican lawmakers are acutely aware of their culpability in this choice, but instead of defending it or apologizing for it, they’re denying it. Even worse, they’re claiming credit for increasing spending on public education. This is duplicity joined with sophistry, and it should stir the smoldering anger over the neglect of public schools into outrage.”

After debunking claims of the Pope-Civitas Institute and others that spending growth driven by inflation and growing student population somehow equates to a real and meaningful increase in state outlays, the editorial concludes this way:

“In terms of per-pupil funding, the most telling measure of a government’s commitment to public education, North Carolina remains near the bottom of national rankings. Indeed, after six years of Republican control and an improving economy, per-pupil funding in inflation-adjusted dollars has not returned to its pre-recession level. In 2008-09, it was $6,237. Today, it is $5,616

If Republican lawmakers think public school budgets are rife with waste and heavy with administrative workers, they should say that and defend tightening budgets as squeezing out the unnecessary expenses. They would be wrong, but at least they would be truthful. But doing it and saying they’re not is both wrong and dishonest.

Are Republican lawmakers serious about improving North Carolina’s public schools, or are they buying time, ducking their way through elections, hoping their alternatives – charter schools, virtual charters, voucher programs – take root and the “government schools” fade into a permanently ill-funded, second-class system that counties can bolster if they want?

If that’s their vision, let them run on it. Otherwise, Republicans will have to spend more on a long-term plan to improve teacher pay and better fund the operation and staffing of North Carolina’s public schools.”

Commentary

Positive spin about the NC economy is simply not borne out by the numbers (Updated)

Conservative think tankers and elected officials continue to make grand claims about a supposed “Carolina Comeback,” but as Dr. Patrick McHugh of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center explained in a release this afternoon, the numbers tell a different story:

North Carolina still not seeing people get back into the labor market
‘We keep hearing claims that North Carolina’s economy is the strongest in the nation, but that’s simply not true’

North Carolina has made virtually no progress over the past three years in increasing the percentage of people in the labor market, and its economy doesn’t even make the top 10 nationally, despite an above-average performance across much of the Southeast.

“We keep hearing claims that North Carolina’s economy is the strongest in the nation, but that’s simply not true,” said Patrick McHugh, a Budget & Tax Center Policy Analyst at the NC Justice Center. “Since this time last year, most of our neighbors in the South have matched or exceeded North Carolina’s pace of job creation, and we are still well below historical levels of employment.”

A lack of truly robust job growth continues to leave many North Carolinians behind. The state has made no progress in helping the percentage of North Carolinians in the labor market increase over the past three years, and it remains far below the level of labor force participation that was the norm before the Great Recession. Part of the decline in the unemployment rate over the past several months is actually due to a dip in the share of North Carolinians who are actively looking for work, so the headline unemployment rate doesn’t actually tell the whole story.

Other key findings from the labor market release include:

  • North Carolina pay remains below the national average: The average weekly paycheck in North Carolina came in roughly $80 below the national average. While wages in North Carolina have historically been below the nation, the gap today is substantially larger than it was before the Great Recession.
  • Far too many North Carolinians still cannot find work: There were over 225,000 North Carolinians looking for work last month.
  • The state is not making progress in getting people back into the labor market: Labor force participation (the share of North Carolinians who are working or actively looking for a job) remains well below historical norms and has made no net progress over the last several years. July figures show that approximately 61 percent of North Carolinians were employed or looking for work, which is where we stood at this point in 2013. By comparison, labor force participation was above 65 percent from 2000 up through the onset of the Great Recession.

Nor do the administration’s employment figures account for the nearly 2,100 jobs that are scheduled to be eliminated over the next two months. Those numbers come from monthly WARN notices issued by the N.C. Department of Commerce. Read more

Commentary, News

This week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

voterhere41. The GOP effort to suppress the African-American vote continues

An extraordinary thing happened three weeks ago when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit threw out most of the massive voter suppression law passed by the General Assembly in 2013 and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

The court found that legislative leaders asked for data broken down by race about how people vote and then as the court put it, with “surgical precision” changed the voting methods used disproportionately by African-Americans.

The motives could not have been clearer.

The General Assembly leadership created a photo ID requirement, ended same day registration at early voting sites, ended pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, and shortened early voting by a week—all to make it less likely that African-Americans would vote. [Continue reading...]

NagsHead_4002. Meet Jeffrey Warren: The mastermind behind the state’s bad environmental laws could get a plum job at UNC

In mid-August, the high season’s last hurrah, the packed beach at Nags Head is veiled with blue umbrellas that match the color of the ocean and the sky. Yet at just three feet above sea level, Nags Head is sinking, and portions of the beach are receding, both natural geologic occurrences that have shaped the coastline for thousands of years.

But what’s not natural is the sea level rise that will eventually engulf the area where beach-goers relax under their umbrellas. What’s also unnatural is the state legislation that jeopardizes the environmental and economic viability not only of the coast but the entire state, as well.

These laws were partially crafted by Jeffrey Warren, a geologist by trade and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s powerful science and energy advisor by anointment.

“I can’t think of an individual whose had more of an impact on the environment in a negative way than Jeffrey Warren,” said State Rep. Pricey Harrison, a six-term Democratic lawmaker from Guilford County. [Continue reading…]

Bonus read: Jeffrey Warren’s Greatest Hits

Hawkes23. Tempers flare among charter school supporters as state tightens vetting process

It was 13 days ago that the State Board of Education signed off on just eight of 28 aspiring new charter schools in North Carolina, a stunning flip for a board that’s approved dozens of new charters since state lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap on charters in 2011.

Today, Alan Hawkes, a Greensboro charter leader who sits on the state’s Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB), is still hot.

That’s because five schools tapped for opening by Hawkes’ board, which makes recommendations on charter applicants to the state board, were overwhelmingly voted down by the State Board of Education (SBE).

Board members cited typos, weak applications and publicly questioned whether some schools’ academic plans were ready for prime time despite the CSAB’s support. Typically, state board members heed the counsel of the CSAB, but not this month.

“Don’t get me started about public charter school no-nothings (sic) on the NC State Board of Education,” Hawkes wrote in an email to Policy Watch this week. [Continue reading…]

BB-HB2-6294. Uncertainty, anxiety overshadow new school year for transgender students
LGBT advocates, Republican leadership await court ruling on HB2 injunction

As North Carolina families load up at back-to-school sales this week, a looming question remains for North Carolina students:

Will they be returning to public schools and universities where House Bill 2 still dictates which restrooms they can use?

Two weeks ago U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder held a four-hour hearing to consider a preliminary injunction against the law. Keeping in mind the swiftly approaching school year, he said he would rule as soon as possible. His decision could still come any day.

The law, known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, requires people to use restrooms, showers, locker and changing rooms that correspond to their birth certificates in public buildings, schools and universities.

This leaves transgender people – of whom it is estimated there are about 40,000 in North Carolina – with a dilemma. [Continue reading…]

Learn more: A glossary of terms for Transgender discussions

McHenry-Forest-Locke-AdobeS5. The Olympics of right-wing whoppers
NC pols and advocates hit some medal-worthy new lows

With so much attention being paid to the presidential race and the reliably controversial comments of one of the major party candidates in recent weeks, it’s been tough for state-level politicians and advocates to break through and garner much attention for their own inane comments. Like the badminton and trampoline athletes at the Rio Olympics who find themselves constantly overshadowed by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, these hard right North Carolina voices are no less serious about their work and over-the-top reactionary views; it’s just a matter of a crowded election year news environment in which there’s only so much mainstream media coverage to go around.

Here then, as a service to some local voices of reaction that might’ve otherwise gotten lost in the media shuffle, are some of their recent “medal worthy” takes that deserve to be recognized and held up to the light of day – even if it’s just to remind caring and thinking North Carolinians what it is that they’re up against.

The bronze medal: Congressman offers heartfelt defense of corporate loan sharking [Continue reading…]

Commentary

Lack of financial control over Tennessee’s Achievement School District bodes poorly for North Carolina’s similar program

A newly-released report from Tennessee’s Division of State Audit has ominous implications for a newly-created education program in North Carolina.  The report details the gross financial mismanagement of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) – a plan that turned control of low-performing schools to private charter school operators.  North Carolina passed its own version of the ASD program this summer, with Governor McCrory quietly signing the controversial bill three weeks ago. Read more

News

Director of voucher-eligible private school in Raleigh accused of sex with children

vouchers-6-331x219According to ABC 11, the director of a Raleigh-area private school, which is eligible for publicly-funded vouchers from North Carolina, has been charged with having sex with children.

From ABC 11’s report:

The Wake County Sheriff’s Office has charged the 54-year-old director of a Raleigh private school with having sex with children.

According to an arrest warrant, there were two alleged victims, and the crimes happened between 2007 and 2012. Both children were 13.

According to its website, Stevens Prep Academy on Oak Creek Road is solely operated by Dr. Claude Mordecai Stevens.

According to his bio, Stevens was a special education teacher in Wake County Public Schools in the 1980s before founding his private school.

Stevens is charged with eight counts of statutory rape and four counts of indecent liberties with a child.

Bond was set at $500,000 and Stevens was ordered not to have contact with the victims.

At this time, it’s unclear whether the alleged crimes happened at the north Raleigh school or involved Stevens Prep Academy students.

But state records from the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education, which oversees North Carolina’s nearly 750 private schools, show 14 students were enrolled in the Raleigh facility in 2015-2016, which taught grades 6-12.

Stevens is prominently featured on the school’s website, on which he touts the school’s small class sizes and his background in education. According to the site, Stevens has doctorate and master’s degrees in educational counseling,  as well as a bachelor’s degree in pre-law.

State records show the small Wake County school received a small amount of cash—a total of $6,300 over two academic years—from North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, a controversial program that uses public funds to help low-income children attend private schools.

Critics have pointed out the schools may use public dollars despite multiple reports of private schools discriminating against LGBT students and their families. 

Officials in North Carolina have also been criticized for exempting private school teachers, as well as directors like Stevens, from submitting to criminal background checks, despite documented reports of alleged wrongdoing by private school teachers.

Nevertheless, state lawmakers approved a massive expansion of the voucher program in this year’s budget, from $44.8 million in 2016-2017 to $144.8 million by 2027-2028.

This year, while discussing requirements for a statewide background check policy for public school teachers, state lawmakers once again opted against requiring background checks for private school educators.

However, it should be noted that Stevens is not listed in either state or national sex offender registries.

More as it develops.