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ff3072013We’re just a couple of weeks into the 2014 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, but the annual legislative silly season has already commenced. Not familiar with silly season? That’s the time of year in which legislative leaders force their members to work all kinds of silly, late night hours in order to limit media coverage and handicap/wear down those who might want to criticize or contest their agenda (i.e. the minority party).

Usually, silly season doesn’t start until there have been several months (or, at least, several weeks) of actual, semi-normal  legislative process, but this year, in keeping with the current majority’s increasingly pathological aversion to sunlight and transparency, it’s starting just days after the session itself commenced. The Senate is kicking silly season off today with a wholly unnecessary Friday afternoon session, followed by an even more unnecessary post-midnight session early tomorrow morning, during which it will ram though its destructive 2015 budget proposal.

And lest you get the mistaken impression that lawmakers will actually be working longer hours during silly season, rest assured that this will almost certainly not be the case. Read More

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This morning’s editorial in the Charlotte Observer gets yesterday’s state Senate proposal on teacher pay and the “choice” it would offer teachers on the matter just about right:

“The plan, announced by Senate leader Phil Berger, would boost teacher pay by an average of 11 percent – the largest increase in N.C. history, Berger says. It’s significantly more than Gov. Pat McCrory proposed this month in his teacher pay plan, and it would lift North Carolina all the way from 46th to 27th in the nation in teacher pay.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?…

Then there’s the plan’s caveat: If teachers want to receive the substantial pay increase Republicans are offering, they must give up the ‘career status’ – or tenure – that N.C. law guarantees. Republicans already tried to eliminate tenure last year, but a Superior Court judge ruled this month that it is unconstitutional to take that career status away from teachers who already have earned it.

Now Republicans are trying to make teachers give tenure up “voluntarily” by dangling the pay increase in front of them. We’re not sure how the two – tenure and pay – are otherwise connected. Tenure offers teachers two primary protections – a hearing process when a teacher is being dismissed or demoted for any of 15 reasons that include poor performance and neglect of duty, plus a similar hearing process when a teacher is dismissed because of budget or staffing issues.

Both protections make it more time consuming and costly to fire teachers, but neither is costly enough to be paired with teacher pay, as Senate Republicans are doing. If they want to argue that teachers don’t deserve protection from layoffs that most of the rest of us don’t get, as Berger suggested Wednesday, that’s a legitimate and separate debate to have. But to finally give teachers the raise they’ve earned, only to make them give up the tenure they’ve also earned, is unfair.

Lawmakers should take up tenure later and concentrate on the intended task at hand – raising the pay of our public school teachers. As Senate Republicans and the governor are showing, it’s something that’s within reach, if they want it to be.”

You can read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/05/28/4938240/forward-back-on-teacher-pay.html#.U4cMTXZB_4t#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/05/28/4938240/forward-back-on-teacher-pay.html#.U4cMTXZB_4t#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/05/28/4938240/forward-back-on-teacher-pay.html#.U4cMTXZB_4t#storylink=cpy
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It was North Carolina Thom Tillis who infamously described his political plan for North Carolina as an effort to “divide and conquer” those who opposed the conservative move to repeal much of the progress of the 2oth Century, but this morning it sounds like it will be Tillis’ frequent political nemesis, Senate leader Phil Berger, who will be pushing the “divide and conquer” strategy in the days to come.

According to news reports, the Senate will roll out a new proposed budget today that will offer public school teachers sizable raises in exchange for giving up their career status (i.e. their right not to be fired without at least some good reason). And while details are still emerging, it seems a certainty that such a potentially costly plan will be funded with new and painful cuts to other important public structures and services (e.g. health care for the poor, higher education and the justice and public safety system).

In other words, it appears the Senate will propose a “divide and conquer” budget today — one that divides and pits teachers against each other and that divides and pits public education against other vital public functions.

Meanwhile, over in the House, Speaker Tillis is probably consulting with his legal team over his options to sue from copyright infringement.

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Judge Howard Manning

Judge Howard Manning

Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

The relationship between Judge Howard Manning and North Carolina’s public education system is complicated. For years the veteran Wake County Superior Court judge has presided over the implementation of the the Leandro court ruling that requires that every student in the state be given the opportunity to obtain a “sound basic education.”

At times and to his great credit, Manning has railed at state leaders for not funding education programs adequately and just generally not doing what the state state constitution requires. At other times, however, he seems to buy in to the cockamamie notion so frequently espoused by the current leadership of the General Assembly that North Carolina can get where it needs to go simply by demanding better methods, higher standards and  harder work from teachers and school administrators.

Both of these aspects of Manning’s oversight of the case are on display in this article in today’s Raleigh News & Observer which details a new report he has released on the subject. Read More

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This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right in its characterization of the push by state legislative leaders to plow ahead with their school voucher scheme despite the certainty of lengthy litigation over the issue and the existence of a court injunction against it:

“It really is time to stop calling those who run the N.C. General Assembly conservatives. They are not conservative. They are reckless.

There’s a long list of actions that demonstrates their disregard for what defines the truly conservative. They hand out extravagant amounts to the wealthy in tax cuts and leave the state strapped for basic services. They turn down billions of dollars in federal support for the jobless and the health needs of the working poor. They ignore the principles of sound investment by cutting spending on public schools and higher education. They trample constitutional ideals regarding voting rights and civil rights. They shirk their obligations to be careful stewards of the environment.

The list could go on, but the case is concisely illustrated in the latest turmoil over school vouchers.” Read More