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Be sure to check out this morning’s edition of Chris Fitzsimon’s “Monday numbers” column today in which he examines the politically-motivated rush to judgment by conservative lawmakers on the matter of recent “voter fraud” allegations. And in case you missed it, the Charlotte Observer had a good editorial on the subject over the weekend.

As both posts note, the breathless claims of Phil Berger and Thom Tillis are as off-base as the monster voter suppression law the two rammed through last year. This is from the editorial:

“’We have to ensure this is what happened, and it wasn’t an error on someone’s part,’” [State Board of Election Director Kim] Strach said.

She’s right – and after that, the state needs to determine when the possible fraud occurred and how it might be stopped. Sounds obvious, but that’s not how Republicans approached the issue of voter fraud Read More

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Student testingReporter Lindsay Wagner has a fascinating story this afternoon over on the main Policy Watch website entitled: “Students, teachers grapple with Read to Achieve law.” It’s a behind-the-classroom-door look at the unnecessary pain being inflicted on North Carolina third graders and their teachers by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s signature education initiative. This is from the article which features a Raleigh third grade teacher named Carla Tavares:

“While not required by the law, many school districts were reluctant to hinge the possibility of a third grader moving on to the fourth grade on his or her performance on a single test [a possibility under the new law], especially considering that North Carolina just adopted more rigorous standards and more difficult assessments based on those standards—meaning that even more students are likely to fail End of Grade tests than in years past.

So districts like Charlotte-Mecklenberg and Wake decided to begin administering portfolio assessments in the spring semester to all third graders who hadn’t already scored proficient in reading on their BOGs [Beginning of Grade tests].

With portfolio assessments, students must demonstrate mastery of the state’s 12 reading standards by successfully passing three tests of reading comprehension for each standard. That means students must pass 36 reading tests that take 30 minutes each to complete during the spring semester, in addition to other formative and summative assessments that already take place during the school year.

‘At least two of these kids are actually reading on grade level,’ said Tavares, who is administering portfolio assessments to about half of the kids in her class – the other half have already demonstrated proficiency. ‘But they’re not good test takers. They’re stressed out. They’re distracted. They’re exhausted.’

‘Some of my students are so tired of these exams, they aren’t even reading the passages anymore. They’re just circling answers and immediately handing the tests back to me,’ she said.”

Read the rest of Wagner’s article by clicking here.

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Phil BergerMaybe it’s just life in our new and hyper-gerrymandered era in which a huge proportion of legislative seats are election-proof, but the age-old political aphorism that “all politics is local” does not appear to apply to some politicians. Take for instance, the man who is arguably North Carolina’s most powerful politician, State Senator Phil Berger.

A little over 48 hours ago, there was giant environmental disaster in the Senator’s hometown of Eden in Rockingham County when a pipe burst and 82,000 tons of coal ash (enough to fill 32 Olympic-size swimming pools) was released into the Dan River. The spill is making national headlines and Catawba Riverkeeper is tweeting pictures here.

In most parts of the world, you’d think that such disaster might send local elected officials into some sort of full-time emergency damage-mitigation mode. By all indications, however, that’s not the case in Eden. Read More

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Two top Republican leaders announced the formation Monday of a joint legislative committee designed to scrutinize the effects of the federal Affordable Care Act in North Carolina.

The committee’s focus will be on negative aspects of the federal health care law, with a press release from State Senate President Phil Berger and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis announcing it will examine  “disruptions in the insurance market place, dropped coverage for families and higher premiums without improved access to providers.”

Phil Berger

Phil Berger

Thom Tillis

Thom Tillis

“This committee will delve deeply into the problems Obamacare has caused to the health insurance marketplace and to our economy as businesses and individuals absorb the costs,” Berger and Tillis were quoted as saying in a written statement.

Tillis is also a U.S. Senate candidate facing a crowded Republican primary this spring.

North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature opted last year not to expand Medicaid. That decision made an estimated 500,000 low-income North Carolinians ineligible for the government-run health care system and also unable to receive subsidies that those with higher incomes can get to buy health insurance on the private marketplace.

The first meeting date as well as the committee members will be announced in coming weeks.

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‘Tis the season for every media outlet (include yours truly) to make end-of-the-year lists. No surprise here, but North Carolina popped up on several national lists tracking politics and policy.

Having that same journalistic drive to create an end-of-the-year list, I collected several lists floating around the Internet that involve North Carolina politics and policy. Take a look, and offer up any other lists of interest in the comments section. Read More