Five things to have on your radar this week

1. Trump’s cabinet picks move toward confirmation – Confirmation hearings begin Tuesday in Washington for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees. First up will be the hearing for Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Trump’s choice to be our next U.S. Attorney General. On Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State nominee, will appear before the Foreign Relations Committee.

Democrats are urging Senate Republicans not to rush the process as some of Trump’s nominees — including Education Sec. nominee Betsy DeVos — have not yet completed the ethics review process.
2. Charter school expansion and segregation – The number of charter schools in our state has more than doubled in the last five year, and this week we could see more schools on the path to opening their doors.

The NC Charter Schools Advisory Board will hold its first meeting of the year Tuesday-Thursday. You’ll find their  agenda here.

Ahead of the meeting, you might want to check out Amy Hawn Nelson’s piece on demographic data that shows charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools. Nelson is the Director of Social Research for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
3. Medicaid expansion – Assuming the remnants of last week’s wintry weather does not postpone it, members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services meet Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Legislators are likely to share a few thoughts on Governor Roy Cooper’s announcement that he will push for Medicaid expansion.

Speaking of expansion, be sure to read Chris Fitzsimon’s Monday numbers column.
4. NC General Assembly returns – After five special sessions in 2016, members of the North Carolina House and Senate return to Raleigh on Wednesday for the beginning of the 2017 “long” session.

Republicans in control of the House and Senate will have to decide how that want to work with Governor Roy Cooper on hot-button issues such as Medicaid expansion and the repeal of HB2.

Meredith College political scientist David McLennan says this session will also be shaped by the recent federal court order to redraw legislative districts by mid-March and hold new elections in 2017:

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You can hear our full radio interview with David McLennan here.
5. Nationwide Mass Mobilization to Protect Immigrants & Refugees – Just one week before Donald Trump’s inauguration, immigrants, families and allies will rally, march, and hold vigils and mass community gatherings to build momentum for sanctuaries of safety and deportation defense networks in cities, schools, churches and states.

Saturday’s mobilization is part of a growing wave of resilience and defiance against Trump’s promises to rip families apart, create a Muslim registry and enact policies like “stop and frisk” rooted in racial profiling and discrimination. Further,  immigrants contribute vastly to our economy, and Trump’s mass deportation plan could lead to additional exploitation of immigrant works and would drive down wages for all workers.

On January 14th, people from coast to coast will stand together and say that we are #HereToStay and will not be moved.

Events are currently planned in over 20 states across the country, including local events in Charlotte and Raleigh.

See the current nationwide event list here.

Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court justices return today for January sitting; education, immigration cases set

U.S. Supreme Court Justices will return to the bench today for the January sitting. As usual, ScotusBlog has a great breakdown of cases that are on the docket.

One major case that education folks will likely be paying attention to is Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Justices will decide whether schools should be required to provide students with disabilities an equal education to other students or just an adequate education.

Chief Justice John Roberts also asked last week for a response in North Carolina’s request to halt a federal Court of Appeals opinion that would require legislators to hold a special election this year after legislative district maps were ruled unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Roberts requested the response to be submitted no later than today. North Carolina has requested a Supreme Court order by Wednesday in its emergency application to halt the special election pending an appeal.

Cases the high court is expected to explore this sitting involve monetary penalties in criminal cases, immigration issues and trademark questions. The following is ScotusBlog’s breakdown of the oral arguments to be heard: Read more

Commentary, News

The transcript of Gov. Cooper’s inaugural address

In case you missed it amidst the excitement of the weekend storm, Gov. Roy Cooper gave an inaugural address worth paying attention to over the weekend. You can watch by clicking here, but sometimes reading such speeches is more illuminating.
Here therefore is the actual transcript:

“Good morning. I hope everyone is safe and at home during this winter weather. I encourage you to stay there and off the highways until the roads are clear. Because of this storm, we have postponed the inauguration. But I wanted to spend a few moments with you to outline my priorities for North Carolina.

In 1776, the early settlers of North Carolina faced a defining moment. They came from all over our state – from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks- and gathered in the little town of Halifax.

There, without a single vote of dissent, they resolved to be the first state to petition the Continental Congress to declare American independence. And just like that, a small village became part of an unlikely story that would unfold over the centuries.

In this state, in our time, it has been the story of North Carolinians’ courage to lead on education, confront recession, and expand civil rights. Even in moments of tension, our grit and determination have always led to greater progress, no matter how challenging the journey may be.

We were the first state in America to open our doors to publicly supported higher education. We had the foresight to create the Research Triangle Park. And through the efforts and sacrifices of all our citizens, we have built a state where anyone would be glad to raise a family.

Our proud history didn’t come out of thin air. It came from us. It happened because we weren’t afraid to dream big and we kept our focus on the future.

That’s why today, my eyes remain fixed firmly on the horizon.

Now is not the time to point fingers or dwell on recent battles. The people of this state are tired of yesterday’s politics. You expect – and deserve – public servants who reject cynicism, who don’t succumb to political paralysis, who negotiate differences in good faith.

I pledge to lead by example. I will never stop fighting for North Carolinians.

I will do everything possible to reach consensus. I know we can find common ground on education when we all agree our teachers deserve a raise. I know we can come together to improve health care when we all agree that getting more families covered isn’t just a moral obligation but a financial responsibility, because we want all folks to pay fewer medical bills and have more money in their pockets.

So don’t let the last few months discourage you. There’s a lot we can accomplish, and I can’t wait to get started. I enter this office humbled by the responsibility you’ve placed in me. Whether or not I won your vote, I’m going to be working for you.

Read more


Of school “choice” and Superintendent “listening tours”: The weekend’s best op-ed column

June Atkinson

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction, June Atkinson

In case you to miss it over the weekend, be sure to check out the Sunday column by Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer, in which he reports on the aftermath of voters’ perplexing and possibly disastrous decision last November in the state school Superintendent’s race. As Barnett explores in an interview with ousted Superintendent June Atkinson, North Carolina may be on the verge of heading down a road it will later regret:

“The pain of her [Atkinson’s] defeat is compounded by the thin qualifications of the victor. Atkinson, 68, has a doctorate in educational leadership, taught for eight years and served 28 years in the Department of Public Instruction before taking charge of the agency. She lost to Republican Mark Johnson, a 33-year-old corporate lawyer and a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board. Johnson’s teaching experience consists of two years in the Teach for America program. He supports more charter schools, vouchers for private schools and the Republican rallying cry of using public education dollars to give parents “choice” in where their children go to school.

With a youthful Republican in the job, the legislature moved quickly to expand the superintendent’s powers at the expense of the State Board of Education. The board, also Republican-controlled, has sued to block the change.

In his first meeting last week with the State Board of Education, Johnson spoke earnestly about creating a sense of urgency about improving public schools. Then he announced he would go on a year-long ‘listening tour’ to figure out what the schools need. That doesn’t sound like an urgent response. But, as it is, the only ones Johnson will be listening to are top lawmakers whose priorities are to browbeat teachers and create public support for privatizing public education. ‘That’s the purpose – to make people lose confidence (in public schools) and then they say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a choice?”‘ Atkinson says.

North Carolina has invested heavily in its public schools over decades. Watching the per-pupil funding shrink to near the bottom of the national rankings under the state’s Republican leadership has been painful for Atkinson. Now to see public education’s leadership upended in the name of nebulous ‘choice’ feels to her like the entire structure of public schools is in danger. ‘It takes decades to build a cathedral, but it takes a short time to destroy the cathedral,” she says. “I guess that’s the way I feel at the moment.’”

And here’s the conclusion:

“The clamor for school choice isn’t really about choice, Atkinson says. ‘Choice is a euphemism,’ she says. ‘It’s saying, “We will educate some children and forget about the other children.”‘

Read more


Math is hard, Part 2: Civitas misreports Environmental Defense Fund’s finances

The abacus over at Civitas must be broken. In a blog post today, Francis De Luca, in trying to impugn NC DEQ Secretary nominee Michael Regan, miscalculated / misreported / fundraising totals at the Environment Defense Fund.

This much is true: Regan worked for EDF for eight years.

This, however, is not true: From 2008-2016, De Luca wrote, the nonprofit took in “over $4.6 million from Tar Heels — yet only used about $1.3 million for charitable purposes.” He sources his information as documents on the NC Secretary of State’s website, but as our teachers told us in third grade, De Luca didn’t show his work.

We called the EDF local office — its headquarters are in New York — and the group’s national compliance officer shed some light on how De Luca erred in the math.

First, it appears that De Luca used national numbers. Follow along at home: The Campaign Final Accountings page lists all of the telemarketing firms EDF’s national office hired. The net amount does appear to be sizeable, except that figure refers to the national office. If you click on the folder next to the name of the fundraising firm, that will take you to another page with a pdf called “Final Accounting.”

Open that document, which we did for every item, and you’ll see the gross telemarketing revenue for the national office and the North Carolina office.

We added all the gross revenue for the North Carolina office from 2009-2016 (2008 documents are not available on the site.) That equals just over $107,000. When you calculate the net proceeds — after the telemarketers were paid and other fundraising expenses covered — that comes to $14,000 and change. A long way away from $4.6 million.

EDF receives contributions from many sources, not just telemarketing. And a review of the group’s 990 tax forms, which it files with the Internal Revenue Service and are also on the SOS site, shows that nationally the group spends about 10 to 15 percent of its total revenue on fundraising. That is not out of line with best practices for nonprofit groups.

In addition to the math error, De Luca implied that Regan was somehow involved in a “fleecing” of North Carolina citizens. “Has Roy Cooper nominated a telephone scammer?” De Luca asks.

The answer: No, not only because there was no scam but because, “he was not in telemarketing,” said Georgette Foster, EDF spokesperson. In fact, from 2008 to 2016, Regan worked as the Southeast Regional Director of EDF, as well as directing the group’s energy efficiency and climate & energy policy.