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This was announced this afternoon by the good people at the ACLU of North Carolina:

Rep. Duane Hall to Advance Student Data Protections as Part of National Focus on Privacy Issues
North Carolina Joins Nationwide, Bipartisan Effort to Empower Americans to #TakeCTRL of Their Privacy

RALEIGH — Today, Representative Duane Hall (Wake County) asked his legislative colleagues in North Carolina to focus on the issue of student data privacy and to support legislation, which Rep. Hall plans to introduce during the 2016 session, that would prohibit school officials from forcing or coercing students or applicants into providing access to their personal social media accounts, except under a limited set of specifically defined circumstances, such as investigating specific allegations of harassment.

“In the twenty first century, social media platforms have become some of the most important and vibrant forums for people to exchange ideas and exercise their right to free speech with a selective audience,” Hall said. “When school officials demand access to an individual’s social accounts, it constitutes a significant violation of personal privacy, and it would have a chilling effect on free speech. That’s why it’s important that school officials be prohibited from forcing or coercing students to provide access to their social media accounts, except under a very narrow set of circumstances.”

The announcement in North Carolina is one of 16 taking place simultaneously throughout of the country — from Hawaii to North Carolina, from Alaska to Alabama, and from New Hampshire to New York to New Mexico — with a diverse, bipartisan coalition of elected officials and citizens coming together to tell the nation they care about their digital privacy and are willing to join together to fight for it. The message from these collective actions by the states is clear: where Congress is unwilling or unable to act to protect Americans’ privacy, or takes actions that are insufficient, the states are more than willing to step up and fill the void. Together, these states have introduced a range of new legislation that includes protections for student privacy, location tracking and personal data.

The multi-state effort is using the Twitter hashtag #TakeCTRL.

The bipartisan actions by the states, which are intended to highlight the strong and diverse nationwide support for legislation that empowers people to take control of their privacy, are mirrored by the results of a recent poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, which found that 90% of Americans believed (73% of them “strongly”) that the next president should make “protecting privacy so we have more control over our personal information” a policy priority.

The 16 very diverse states, plus the District of Columbia, making announcements represent more than 30% of the nation’s states; their bills have the ability to impact nearly 100 million people; and they collectively account for 169 electoral votes.

Commentary

School busThe latest, maddening real world example of how North Carolina’s chronic under-investment in public education is harming our schools and causing destructive penny-pinching can be found right now in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District. As the lead editorial in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal explains, the school system is actually imposing a pay cut on certain bus drivers.

According to the editorial, the school system recently slashed the hourly rate paid to school activity bus drivers by a minimum of almost 8%. Many lost a lot more.

“Most of them were being paid a starting rate of $12.94 per hour, moving up according to a salary schedule for each year worked. But the board of education approved a change to pay them all a flat rate of $12.35 an hour on Oct. 27, effective Nov. 1. The district didn’t have a good mechanism in place to differentiate between activity runs and regular school bus runs for drivers who are eligible to drive both until this year, so the activity bus drivers had continued to receive their regular rates. For some, their payment is now significantly lower.

‘I lost $300 a month,’ Jessie Easler, an activity bus driver who works Monday through Friday, told the Journal. She’s a 40-year bus-driving veteran.”

To add insult to injury, the school system announced the cuts clumsily (“over bus radios” and via communiques to school principals and secretaries) so that many drivers weren’t even aware of it until they saw their monthly paychecks.

This is, in a word, outrageous and a classic example of how North Carolina’s disastrous education cuts of recent years are producing real world hardship. It was bad enough that most drivers weren’t even making a living wage to begin with, but to impose large, unannounced pay cuts on top of that in the middle of the school year is a classic example of how far our schools have plummeted under the state’s penny-wise, pound-foolish conservative leadership. Surely we can better than this.

Commentary

In an op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, retired schoolteacher Ned Gardner of Apex does a good job of giving voice to the reasons that some progressives are unhappy about the state bond package that’s coming up for a statewide vote in March. According to Gardner, it’s not the idea of funding important public structures; its the disingenuous way that the Governor and General Assembly are going about it:

“I will vote ‘no’ on the Connect NC bond issue in March. Do I support the higher education and state parks capital expenditures that the bond would fund? Most definitely. But I reject Gov. Pat McCrory’s “no tax increase” shell-game bond financing. If we support new expenditures for education and parks, we should create a clear revenue stream to pay for it: increase taxes.”

According to Gardner, the fact that the transportation component in the original bond package was removed and replaced by, in effect, a lasting revenue source (i.e. gas tax hike plus the end of the use of highway money for other important state uses) ought to be a lesson. Here’s how Gardner sums up:

“The Highway Fund issue is troublesome. Peter will be robbed to pay Paul. Presumably worthwhile on-going expenditures from the Highway Fund will be discontinued to accommodate the proposed ‘bond’ transportation projects. So to continue those previous on-going expenditures, a source of funding will be needed. I imagine that in the eyes of our current Republican political overlords, the huge state education budget looks like an inviting source for a bit of reallocation.

…The financial obligation of the bond issue if passed will be a given: It must be paid. So the cost will be extracted by the continuing educational trends of stagnant faculty wages, increasing class sizes, a dropping per pupil expenditure and ongoing large tuition hikes in the UNC system (already increased by 42 percent since 2008) and N.C. community colleges (increased by 81 percent since 2009).

If the bond issue passes, I can anticipate McCrory’s self-congratulatory ads in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign – the Champion of Education! My foot. We need to elect politicians who actually support education. And parks. Let’s work on that, and reject this fiscal shame of a bond issue. A grand bipartisan coalition of Democrats, tea party groups, far-right bloggers and your ordinary Republican voter (who views a bond issue with the same relish as a colonoscopy) can do it!

The bond campaign motto is, ‘Vote yes to invest.’ I say, ‘Vote no, but vote for Democrats who will properly fund education and parks – and quit giving tax cuts to the rich.’”

Many other progressives have a different view of the matter, of course. From their perspective, passage of the bonds is a pragmatic way to lessen the impact of the bad situation conservative leaders have produced. It will be fascinating to see which side holds greater sway in March and what it says about the long-term political debate in North Carolina.

Commentary

Dan ForestThere have been lots of excellent critiques of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s recent Soviet-style demands for a rewrite of a report on the not-so-impressive performance of North Carolina’s charter schools. My colleague Chris Fitzsimon authored one of the best last Friday when he rightfully blasted Forest for trying to rewrite history to abet his ideological objective of privatizing and dismantling public education:

“Forest delayed the report, saying it was too negative toward charters and called it the fuel the media uses to criticize what Republicans are doing.

In other words, the facts show that charter schools are less diverse than traditional public schools and Forest is worried about that the public will think when the media reports it.

Maybe the answer is to be more thoughtful about expanding charter schools without enough accountability and Forest wouldn’t have anything to hide.

Ironically, Forest’s refusal to accept the publicly presented report probably gave it more attention than it would have received in the media had he not objected.

And facts are not fuel. They are facts whether Forest likes them or not.

He can disagree with the report if he wants, maybe try to make up his own facts, but the report is the report and charter schools are less diverse than traditional public schools.”

Here, however, is another less publicized, but equally troubling aspect of Forest’s actions: the loud and clear message it sends to honest, hardworking employees in all parts of government that they had better toe the ideological line.

Think about what happened: Some dedicated public employees generated a “just the facts” report on charter schools. Unfortunately for them, the facts weren’t what a prominent and ambitious state politician wanted to hear about. Now, they are being hounded into producing a new report with “additional findings.”

As Charlotte Observer education reporter Ann Doss Helms reported this morning:

“If you want people to notice a data report, try having a public official object to it.

That’s one lesson from last week’s decision by the N.C. Board of Education to send a charter school report back for revisions after Lt. Gov. Dan Forest complained that it wasn’t positive enough….

He and other state officials stood by the numbers. But Levinson said he’ll look for ways to highlight successes by the independently-run charter schools, such as adding a list of awards and accolades they’ve won.”

This is a dreadful example of politically and ideologically motivated interference in the kind of straightforward, non-ideological, non-political fact finding that citizens should demand and have a right to expect from their public servants. And while, such an occurrence is hardly unprecedented, the blatancy of this incident is so egregious that it will clearly have a chilling effect throughout state government going forward.

What’s more, don’t think for a moment that Forest and his ideological allies aren’t fully aware of this reality.

Commentary

West Forsyth High School teacher Stuart Egan has penned another open letter to a prominent state official on the subject of public education in North Carolina. This time, the letter is directed to Lt. Governor (and State Board of Education member) Dan Forest and relates to Forest’s recent comments regarding the North Carolina Charter School Report released by the Department of Public Instruction. Click here to access some of Egan’s previous on-the-money efforts.

“Lt. Gov. Forest,

I read with great interest two news articles just published concerning the recent NC Charter School report prepared by the Department of Public Instruction. Both Ann Doss Helms’s article in the Charlotte Observer (“The sausage factory…”) and Lynn Bonner’s piece in Raleigh’s News and Observer (“Charter schools in NC less diverse…”) state that you requested the report be revised because it did not have, as you say, “a lot of positive things to say.”

You claim in Helms’s article that the report could be “the fuel that the media uses for the next year to criticize whatever we’re doing.” However, what really seems to be the issue is that you simply did not like that report shows what is already known (and even verified by an April 2015 study by Helen Ladd, Charles Clodfelter, and John Holbein of Duke University). That fact is that many of the charter schools you have enabled are perpetuating segregation and are not accomplishing what you advertised they would do.

Yet, instead of accepting the report for its contents and moving to remedy what it reveals, you requested that it be edited and amended because you did not like what it said. You demanded that the SBOE not honor these findings of academic research based on hard data and the logical conclusions that come from them.

That’s not the leadership we North Carolinians need from our Lt. Governor and a ranking member of the State Board of Education; it’s simply placing personalities before principles.

If I used your illogical reasoning, I should also be able to “revise” a lot of issues that I deem are “too negative.” I could even extend that line of thought to my personal life. I could demand my doctor to revise my health screenings to show that I have the body of a triathlete. I could have my transcripts be rewritten to show that I am a summa cum laude graduate of a top tier school. I could even send back those Powerball tickets I bought this past weekend to reflect the winning numbers. But, alas, I cannot change the truth.

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