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N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

One day after N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson responded to aggressive questioning by at least one Senate Republican about allegations of misusing funds, state education officials explained themselves in a letter to Senate President Phil Berger, Policy Watch has learned.

In the letter, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey and Atkinson stated that they used state funds budgeted for literacy programs exactly as they were ordered, extending increased literacy programs to approximately 487,000 students in the state.

WRAL reported Monday that Berger accused DPI leaders of agreeing during a “secret meeting” to use literacy funds to head off personnel losses ordered by legislators in 2012’s Excellent Public Schools Act.

The state’s official response included a summary of  $2.5 million in position cuts at DPI as a result of state budgeting.

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News
N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

One day after the state Senate leader accused North Carolina’s top education administrators of misusing funds budgeted for reading programs, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson responded to an aggressive line of questioning about the controversy.

Atkinson was discussing the federal government’s update of No Child Left Behind in the legislature’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee Tuesday when Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake County Republican, began grilling Atkinson over the allegations.

WRAL reported Monday that Senate President Phil Berger, R-Guilford, Rockingham, indicated in a letter that $3.8 million in funding intended for literacy programs had been diverted during “secret meetings” in order to mitigate budget cuts at the department. Although he did not offer proof, Berger accused DPI leaders and the State Board of Education of diverting the money during a closed session, which would violate the state’s open meetings law.

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Commentary
Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

It’s disappointing but not surprising that political opponents of President Obama reacted to his announcement yesterday that he wants to expand background checks to cover more gun purchases with pathetic and misleading soundbites.

Obama’s plan is a common sense idea that everyone from the NRA to House Speaker Paul Ryan used to support, not to mention 85 percent of Americans and 79 percent of Republicans.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s response was typical, calling Obama’s executive action on guns “an unconstitutional gun-grab.”

Gun grab seemed to be the soundbite the Right decided would be the most effective and dishonest way to describe a proposal that takes nobody’s gun away from them but merely makes it harder for some people to buy a gun who should not be able to own one.

The only thing more frustrating was that Berger and NC GOP Chief Dallas Woodhouse, who also employed the gun grab phrase, were not asked by any reporters what they meant. How exactly does making more people undergo background checks when they buy a weapon grab anybody’s gun?

It doesn’t make sense. But that’s the point of course. Anything Obama proposes is horrible in the Berger/Woodhouse world view and any proposal to enforce federal gun regulations must be demogogued to stoke the Republican base.

Too bad most of the media outlets let them get away with it.

Commentary
Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

One would have thought it tough to top the shameless pandering that Gov. Pat McCrory has engaged in in recent days over the issue of the rights of transgender people. As is explained in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, McCrory plumbed new depths this week with his embarrassing effort to limit the rights of a Virginia boy trying to live as who he is.

The Governor even went so far as to issue a statement in which he essentially said that transgender people do not exist, but are merely people of one gender masquerading as people of the other.

Now, however, comes word that it may be possible to outdo McCrory. Yesterday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger issued a statement attacking Attorney General Roy Cooper for not joining McCrory’s pro-discrimination effort. Berger even issued the following through-the-looking-glass tweet:

“Shame on AG for Putting Politics Above Student Safety”

You got that?! Berger is attacking Cooper for playing politics. This is like Vladimir Putin accusing the people of Crimea of aggression against Russia.

The bottom line: If not joining a lawsuit designed to deny basic human rights to a mild mannered 16 year old boy is “playing politics,” North Carolina could use a whole lot more a such “play” and a whole lot less of whatever it is that Berger is shoveling.

Commentary

One of this weekend’s “must read” editorials appeared in the Sunday edition of the Winston-Salem Journal under the headline “Low-performing schools: Local system right to stand up to legislature.”

The subject was last week’s over-the-top interrogation at a General Assembly oversight committee during which Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and his lieutenants lined up to bash and harass some hardworking local school officials from Winston-Salem. The subject was Berger’s ill-conceived and destructive school grading system which, as Senator Bob Rucho admitted in a Freudian moment, is “designed to to show that the (public school) system has failed.”

Here’s the Journal:

“Earlier this year, the legislature changed the definition of ‘low-performing schools’ in a way that greatly expanded their number. The legislature then called for special reports on such schools, and threatened school principals whose schools were defined as ‘low performing” for more than two years. As a result, the number of schools in Forsyth County — and throughout the state — that meet the definition have increased significantly, undermining schools that were showing progress and threatening them with dire consequences.

Our school board pushed back with two resolutions, stating that the system would apply the same standards to all its schools and that the system would not take action against any of the principals at the schools in question, calling the requirement to do so ‘arbitrary and capricious.’

So the legislative leaders, who have never shown much love for public education, called our educators on the carpet.

While there, [Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Superintendent Beverly] Emory and [school board Chairwoman Dana] Jones tried to discuss the issues, but the legislature was more interested in making sure that our school system would comply with their dictates….

Unfortunately, the senators weren’t about to listen. As the editorial noted:

“Emory said at one point: ‘Do we intend to comply? Absolutely. Are there differences in opinion here? Yes.’

Ultimately, our system will have to follow the legislature’s dictates or risk even more funding cuts as long as the current crowd is in power.

But it’s beyond frustrating that these legislators don’t take our local officials’ well-thought-out concerns seriously. We know that our local officials are dedicated to better educational outcomes for all their students.

This current slate of legislators has repeatedly shown that it has nothing but disdain for public education. It has continually cut resources for public schools. Its treatment of North Carolina teachers has sent scores either to other states or out of the profession altogether. It has insisted on transferring tax money from public schools to charter and private schools with a scarcity of oversight.”