Commentary, News

Session limits1. Don’t limit democracy by limiting sessions
It is not a surprise that proposals to limit the length of legislative sessions are making the rounds in Raleigh these days. A lot of people are still reeling from the contentious and grueling eight-and-half-month long session that ended September 30 and don’t want to go through that again.

Rep. Gary Pendleton wants to put a bipartisan commission together to build support for a constitutional amendment limiting legislative sessions to 90 days in odd numbered years when lawmakers pass a biennial budget and 45 days in even years when budget adjustments are made.  [Continue Reading…]

spellings-400c2. Changes ahead for UNC system with Margaret Spellings as new president
Things will be different in 2016 for the state’s public higher education system, now that a new president for the University of North Carolina system has been named and the beleaguered chair of its governing board is gone.

But what changes are coming are far from known, with plenty of uncertainty for the 17-campus system about what priorities the governing board and former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will have when she starts in March.

Spellings, who spent much of her career working for former President George W. Bush, will become the head of the UNC system with little background in higher education itself. But, she’s also spent decades in Texas and Washington immersed in both public education policy and Republican politics.  [Continue Reading…]

School vouchers3. School vouchers: We need accountability before further expansion

The subject of school vouchers remains a controversial and divisive matter in North Carolina. To many opponents, they pose an existential threat to the future of public education. To many proponents, they are a potential cure for all that is broken or imperfect in K-12 schools.
Whatever one’s position on vouchers, however, one idea ought to unify all sides – that the voucher system ought to be driven by data and sound policy principles rather than ideology and intuition.

Unfortunately, the new 2016 state budget recently enacted by the legislature more than doubles North Carolina’s funding for the voucher program from $11 million to $27 million over the next two years in spite of a complete lack of evidence of how the program worked in its first year of operation.  [Continue Reading…]

Trans pacific4. A little well-founded paranoia about a loss of U.S. sovereignty

There are a lot of good reasons to be skeptical about the claims of those who issue regular rants about “world government” and supposedly diabolical plots to subvert U.S. sovereignty. If you ever venture out into the political blogosphere or the world of social media (or just check your “junk mail” file), you know how these claims tend to go.

Usually, the allegation is that liberal elites led by our power mad, socialist President are on the verge of ceding all powers of the United States government to the United Nations. Sometimes the reference is to something called “Agenda 21.” At others, the claim is that a move is afoot to merge all of North America into one large new country that will be flooded with dark-skinned immigrants bent on overrunning Anglo Saxon culture.

The rants are, in a word, mad and deserving of all the derision that sane people can pour on them.  [Continue Reading…]

Virtual charter schools5. Another virtually ignored accountability problem in the education privatization crusade

The crusade to privatize public education in North Carolina has become a hallmark of the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.
There’s the sketchy school voucher scheme that diverts public money to almost completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies that even some prominent Republicans say shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds.

There’s the explosion of for-profit charter school companies that run what are supposed to be public schools that serve students and communities not out of state corporations and their shareholders.

And there’s the least discussed of the privatization tactics, two virtual charter schools that opened in the state this fall operated by two different for-profit companies, one of which has a scandal-plagued record in other states.  [Continue Reading…]

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

It’s a big day for the University of North Carolina system, and the state, with the official selection of the next president of the 17-campus system.

Margaret Spellings, who served as U.S. Education Secretary under President George W. Bush, is widely anticipated to be this afternoon’s choice.

She doesn’t have a background in higher education, but does have plenty of experience in navigating political waters.

Want to know more about how we got in this place, and how folks are feeling about this?

Here are some reads from the past year from various outlets to offer some context.

How did it all start? Outgoing UNC president Tom Ross was unexpectedly ousted from his job last January, for reasons surmised to be political but never really fully explained. He’ll stay on to this January, when the new president will take over.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

Ross, a Democrat widely respected in his job leading the state’s university system, had been in the job since 2011, when he was chosen by a UNC Board of Governors made up of appointees from what was a state legislature dominated by Democrats.

Political winds shifted significantly in the state since then, with a Republican takeover that had many in the legislature urging a lot more belt-tightening and more focus on boosting the state’s economy than liberal arts.

Emails later released as part of a public records request (click here to read an N.C. Policy Watch article) showed that many of the board members were caught by surprise by Ross’ dismissal, and didn’t want to see him go.

Turns out that a lot of conservative politicians were happy to see Ross go, as the News & Observer explained in this article leaning on more emails released under public records law.

At the center of Ross’ termination has been John Fennebresque, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors and a Charlotte attorney

known for his brusque style. Here’s an excellent profile of Fennebresque by the Charlotte Observer’s Pam Kelley.

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque

The search itself has been hampered by criticism of being too secretive, shutting out faculty and students, as well as members of the board and ignoring wishes of lawmakers.

The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill has broken several stories about this as relations on the board have imploded in recent weeks. Click here and here to read some of her work.

Faculty, who had been pushing from the beginning to meet with the presidential candidates in some capacity, issued a blistering statement yesterday, saying that the new president is going to have a tough time earning the trust of those working for her because of the secretive nature of the search. Not only that, but the professor group also said the UNC Board of Governors has repeatedly ignored advice from faculty, and made a series of decisions leaving the university system and state worse off.

Finally, just who is Margaret Spellings? The Chronicle of Higher Education had this article looking a lot deeper about how those who have worked with and around her feel about what she’ll bring to UNC.

In addition to her career in Texas and Washington, she served on the board of the Apollo Group, the parent company for the for-profit University of Phoenix and criticized a PBS children’s show in 2005 for featuring lesbian characters.

I’ll be at today’s meeting, tweeting about the meeting as well as a press conference with the new president-elect afterwards. Follow me here, @SarahOvaska.


Lots has been happening in regards to the search for the next president of the University of North Carolina system, with bickering and acrimony on full display.

To sum it up simply, it’s a bit of a mess.

A growing number of UNC Board of Governors members are publicly expressing their discontent with chair John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney, and calling for him to step down from the leadership role.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday's UNC Board of Governors meeting.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday’s UNC Board of Governors meeting.

Then, House and Senate Republican lawmakers, who hand-picked all 32 members of the governing board, are now complaining the board is thwarting their desires by ignoring a bill (which hasn’t been signed and isn’t yet law) requiring the top three candidates for UNC job to go before the full board instead of just a single candidate.

And Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is chiming in on the growing public spectacle as well, saying he doesn’t like the new bill’s reach into the UNC presidential search and won’t decide if he’ll sign it until Oct. 30, the same day it would become law with or without his signature.

Oct. 30 just happens to the next scheduled meeting for the UNC Board of Governors, where they presumably could take a vote to choose the next president.

Meanwhile, the name of the top candidate has also been leaked, former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, despite great emphasis that the search would remain confidential up until the end.

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The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors will meet Friday for an emergency meeting to discuss the search for a new president of the 17-campus campus.

UNCsystemThe meeting, scheduled for 1 p.m. on the SAS campus in Cary, is technically open to the public, but the brief agenda indicates a briefing by a presidential search committee and much of the discussion will happen behind closed doors.

It could mean the full board is ready to select their new president, or a chance to discuss the final candidate or candidates.

The 11-member presidential search committee has met nine times in the last month, all in closed session and presumably to either interview final candidates or discuss candidates.

The UNC Board of Governors is pressed to find a replacement for its current president Tom Ross after the board moved to get rid of Ross last January for reasons that have not been fully explained, other than a general desire for a new direction. Ross, a former Davidson College president and Superior Court judge, has been at the helm of the state’s public university system since 2011, when he was selected by a governing board then dominated by appointees from a legislature controlled by Democrats. Since Ross’ hire, the legislature has switched to Republican control, and all 32 members currently owe the appointments to that Republican majority.

Friday’s emergency meeting is a significant move – whether or not a final choice will be announced coming out of Friday’s meeting, it’s the first time the full board has met to discuss the search for a new UNC president.

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Leo DaughtryThere was a time in North Carolina in which Smithfield Republican Leo Daughtry was widely seen as one of the General Assembly’s true, hard right conservatives. First in the state Senate and later in the House, where he served a Majority Leader under Speaker Harold Brubaker, Daughtry was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who battled with progressives on everything from budget and tax policy to social issues to the role of government itself.

Today, however, the day after Daughtry announced that the current session will be his last in Raleigh, it’s difficult not to see him as a “moderate” and one of the most reasonable members of the Republican caucus.

What’s changed, of course, isn’t Daughtry. Rather, it’s the nature of conservatism itself in modern North Carolina that’s different. Where once conservatives were about bringing a conservative approach to governing, today the movement is increasingly about a radical overhaul of society itself. According to North Carolina’s most powerful politicians and their most important supporters in 2015, government is no longer something to be managed conservatively; it is at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, the enemy of “freedom.”

This contrast between conservatives like Daughtry and radicals like the folks driving the agenda now was highlighted during the waning days of the 2015 session when anti-public education conservatives tried to ram through another dramatic increase in school voucher funding.  This move provoked Daughtry to stand up and successfully oppose the move.

“I went to visit this school [receiving school vouchers, in his district]. It’s in a back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half teachers,” said Rep. Daughtry. “And I think you need to go slow with Opportunity Scholarships. From what I saw…the school there that I visited didn’t seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to.”

In other words, Daughtry called out the move to expand vouchers before there’s any evidence that they work for what it is — an ideologically-driven push by the anti-government right and religious conservatives to do away with what they derisively refer to as “government schools.” Thanks goodness he did so.

What Daughtry’s departure will mean for lawmaking in future General Assemblies is hard to say at this point. It’s conceivable that another responsible conservative who actually believes in government could take his place. Let’s hope so. Unfortunately, given the ongoing radical drift of the conservative movement in North Carolina, that seems far from a sure thing.