spellings-400cYesterday in The Nation, Zoe Carpenter laid bare the many reasons people who care about higher education should be concerned about the recent naming of Margaret Spellings as president of the University of North Carolina system.

Those reasons — close ties to the deceptive and imploding for-profit college sector, former leadership of a student loan debt collection company, homophobic comments — may already be old news to state residents, but here’s some elaboration from Carpenter:

At the Department of Education, Spellings tried to bring the focus on performance metrics and accountability that drove No Child Left Behind in higher-education policy.She convened a Commission on the Future of Higher Education, whose final report referred to students as “consumers,” and lauded elements of the for-profit education industry for embracing “an aggressive, outcomes-based approach.” Ironically, it’s the for-profit industry that has failed most egregiously since then to produce positive results for students. Kaplan Higher Education, one of the companies praised in the Spellings report, was forced to refund over a million dollars to hundreds of students in January after a federal investigation into the hiring of unqualified instructors, and another$1.3 million in July.

Spellings went on to work in the troubled for-profit industry after leaving the White House—an experience, she told UNC’s board of governors, that taught her “a lot about how we can serve our students and think of them as customers in providing a product in convenient ways for them.” Beginning in 2012 she served on the board of the Apollo Group, the parent company of for-profit chain University of Phoenix. That “diploma factory” is now under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, in part for its aggressive recruiting of military veterans. Its online program has a graduation rate of just 7.3 percent, and the student loan default rate is up 5 percent from the national average.

Spellings also chaired the board of the Ceannate Corporation, a student loan–collection agency. It’s not surprising that she had connections there: During Spellings’s tenure the education department was accused of acting “as a wholly owned subsidiary” of the student-loan industry. Preying on student borrowers is lucrative business: profit margins for loan collectors average 30 percent. “Despite widespread calls to reform the student loan industry, Spellings and the Ceannate Corporation have simply profited off of it,” two UNC professors wrote in a recent op-ed. “Spellings’ defense of for-profit colleges [following her appointment] is perhaps just as disturbing as the predatory practices these institutions use to fleece students.”

Spellings has also come under fire for homophobia. She used her second day as education secretary to send a letter to the chief executive of PBS, admonishing her for a brief, unaired scene on a show called Postcards From Buster that depicted a same-sex couple. “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode,” she wrote. Spellings asked for the network to return the public funds that had been used to film it. Asked about the comments after her election to the top post at UNC, she said, “I’m not going to comment on those lifestyles.” She defended her actions, arguing that it was “a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars,” not about “any particular view” on “particular groups of people.”

Add to those yesterday’s announcement of a $102 million student loan forgiveness settlement involving Education Management Corporation — yet another connection Spellings had with the for-profit college industry.

Turns out that after leaving the White House Spellings also worked as a consultant to EDMC, and in comments at a forum for higher education leaders, defended the for-profit college world.

“We need to again use better data to make our case … to tell our story in credible ways,” Spellings was quoted by Inside Higher Ed as having told the folks gathered at that forum.

“We’re seen as wild-eyed, often profit-making, the wild west of higher education, and often don’t get credit for what we do.”


In case you missed it yesterday, Taylor Batten of the Charlotte Observer authored a damning article about Gov. McCrory’s sudden reversal of course on Syrian refugees that took place on — what a surprise!– the same day several other Republican governors decided to stoke public fears about immigrants and attack the Obama administration.

As Batten points out, the McCrory administration was quite calm about the matter last Friday in response to a question about the refugees:

“’Prior to being given refugee status, an extensive security screening is conducted on each individual’ by the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, McCrory’s office replied.”

Seventy-two hours later, however, the tune had changed:

“At a press conference in Charlotte on Monday, however, McCrory said the state has little knowledge of what those background checks entail and that they have “vulnerabilities.” Because of that, McCrory said, Syrian refugees are not welcome in this state.

McCrory joins at least eight other GOP governors who on Sunday and Monday said they would not willingly accept refugees until the federal government tightened its vetting to ensure terrorists are not admitted.

‘I am now requesting that the president and the federal government cease sending refugees from Syria to North Carolina until we are thoroughly satisfied with the effectiveness of the federal background checks and security checks on such refugees entering our country,’ McCrory said at a press conference in Charlotte.”

The bottom line: McCrory’s flip flop clearly smacks of partisan political fear mongering. As Batten points out, if the administration has genuine and specific concerns about the federal oversight of refugees, then it ought to speak up and articulate them right away. At yesterday’s press conference, however, McCrory couldn’t do anything other than offer vague criticisms that sounded suspiciously as if they had been designed to appeal to nativists in his conservative base.

The truth of the matter is that people don’t get to enter the United States as “refugees” until they’ve been thoroughly vetted by federal immigration officials. McCrory knows this. And the notion that the the feds should somehow stop accepting genuine refugees and/or set up some kind of system in which state law enforcement officials would monitor these poor souls (as McCrory implied) is as mean-spirited as it is wasteful and just plain silly.

Let’s hope caring and thinking North Carolinians of all political stripes speak up forcefully and often in the days ahead to make clear that their Governor does not speak for them on this core issue of justice and human rights.

Click here to read Batten’s entire article.


Governor Pat McCrory is among more than a dozen governors urging the Obama administration to cease the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States.

Cecillia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said:

“Some politicians have attempted to fabricate a link between the tragedy in Paris and the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States. Making policy based on this fear mongering is wrong for two reasons. It is factually wrong for blaming refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it is legally wrong because it violates our laws and the values on which our country was founded.”

Click below to hear McCrory’s comments regarding the refugees during a Monday press conference in Charlotte.

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A Lake Lure charter school suspended all of its extra-curricular clubs last week after controversy erupted over a new club that supports lesbian, gay and transgender students.

The board of directors for Lake Lure Classical Academy, which serves students from kindergarten through high school in Rutherford County community, voted for the temporary suspension of extra-curricular activities Thursday.

Community members and parents spoke out at a school board meeting in support and against the newly-formed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Club, according to the Daily Courier, a newspaper based in nearby Forest City.

From the Daily Courier’s article:

“I support the students who created the LGBT Club. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Raptor now,” parent Frances Brown said to the board. “My brother was bullied all through high school and I’m so grateful a club like this exits. This is about students feeling less alone and safe to be who they are. Thank you for embracing the difference in students.”

However, other parents expressed their concerns on the nature of the club since LLCA is a K-12 school. One grandmother said she had to explain the meaning of “gay” and “lesbian” to her elementary school student because the club put up a poster.

Another citizen told the board since it is a public school it has the ability to do away with the club. He said he did not have a child at Lake Lure, but if he did he would take them out immediately. He said the only diversity the school needs is the Bible.

Layne Long, a teacher who sponsored the club, said a student approached her about forming the club and was more than happy to have her classroom serve as a meeting place, according to the Daily Courier.

“This is not a religious club, this is a human rights club,” Long said.

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#1 Charter Schools – The North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board is meeting in Raleigh this afternoon and again on Tuesday.

Members have scheduled a policy discussion on charter school funding and evaluating charter school educators. Learn more here.

#2 Living Wage – Wake County Commissioners will discuss amending the County’s Wake CommissionersPersonnel Ordinance to  provide  for  a  minimum  living-wage  standard  for  regular  employees effective December 1, 2015. If approved the  minimum-salary  for  regular  employees would be established at $13.50 an hour, which would yield an annual salary of $28,080.

Why is a living -wage so important? Well, just to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment, the typical worker in North Carolina would need to earn $14.68 per hour.

To date, eight local governments across North Carolina have already adopted living-wage ordinances.

Wake County Commissioners meet at 2:00 p.m. on the 2nd floor of the Wake Co. Justice Center to discuss and vote on the living-wage ordinance.

#3 Fracking – Lee County Commissioners could decide as early as this evening whether to okay a two-year moratorium on fracking.

Chatham, Stokes an Anson Counties have already taken steps to ban fracking in their regions.

Read Lee County’s proposed resolution here.

#4 Race-based policing – A recent front page article in the New York Times once again shined a bright light on a troublesome and longstanding problem in North Carolina – discriminatory policing that targets people of color for unfair treatment.
On Tuesday, NC Policy Watch will presents a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon on race-based policing.

Join us as we hear from Professor Frank Baumgartner of UNC Chapel Hill, Orange and Chatham County Public Defender James Williams and Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock.

Want to attend? We have a few seat remaining.

#5 Prison contracts, open meetings, and health care mergers –  Wednesday brings the highly anticipated meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, where members will hear from Department of Public Safety Sec. Frank Perry and state Budget Director Lee ff-1103Roberts about the private prison contract extended for Governor McCrory’s political donor Graeme Keith, Sr.

Keith reportedly said at a meeting called by McCrory that he expected something in return for his campaign contributions.

Reports in the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer show that Roberts worked hard to make sure Keith kept his prison contract, over the objections of Sec. Perry.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda, members will hear from:
•    Members of the the UNC Board of Governor on Compliance with Open Meetings Law.
•    DHHS Sec. Rick Brajer on the merger process for Managed Care Organizations (LME/MCO)

A complete agenda can be found here.

Want to go?  Wednesday’s Gov. Ops. meeting gets underway at 10:30 a.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building.

#6 Race relations on college campuses – Finally, on the heels of recent student protests in Missouri and New Haven, UNC-Chapel Hill will host a town hall meeting on campus Thursday to engage with students, faculty and staff on the issues that continue to hamper the ability of the campus to be inclusive, inspiring and safe. The event runs from from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Find more information here.