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In case you haven’t yet read them yet, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the statements issued yesterday by UNC Law School Dean Jack Boger and Professor Gene Nichol in response to the the recommendation of a special committee of the UNC Board of Governors to close the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Here is an excerpt from Boger’s statement:

Jack Boger“The BOG special committee rests its recommendation on no genuine reason beyond a barely concealed desire to stifle the outspokenness of the center’s director, Professor Gene Nichol, who continues to talk about the state’s appalling poverty with unsparing candor. The committee’s original charge was to cut funds to centers that spent too much and to redirect their state aid toward other projects. On that basis, targeting the Poverty Center makes no sense at all. The center hasn’t taken state tax dollars since 2009, and its modest staff — a few earnest post-JD law graduates and an army of dedicated student volunteers — are housed in three small rooms nestled in an off-campus building and paid through private sources.

In prior decades, the University of North Carolina won the hearts and the gratitude of the state’s people by combating the scourges of peonage and child labor, of woefully inadequate medical care and appallingly bad public education. These earlier faculty-led initiatives drew fierce opposition from those who managed to benefit from others’ poverty and oppression. Yet the University pressed ahead, fulfilling what Dr. Frank Graham once celebrated as ‘a tradition of our people': that in Chapel Hill they would find ‘a place where there is always a breath of freedom in the air . . . and where finally truth shining like a star bids us advance and we will not turn aside.”

The Special BOG committee would constrict that breath of freedom. It would order the Poverty Center to turn aside from investigating conditions of human misery in our state that cry out for greater attention, not less.’

And this is from Nichol’s inspiring response:

Gene Nichol“Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, eighteen percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country’s fastest rising poverty rates. A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we’re 9th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro is America’s second hungriest city. Asheville’s ninth. Charlotte has the nation’s worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this commonwealth. Even if our leaders never discuss it…. Read More
Commentary
NCGA food drive

House Speaker Tim Moore – Photo: Twitter.com

As Chris Fitzsimon aptly noted last Thanksgiving, there are few things more maddening in the world of state politics than the spectacle of lawmakers piously calling for donations to help the poor even as they enact and defend new policies to do precisely the opposite.

Yet, here we are again today, watching as state legislative leaders “team up” with the state’s Retail Merchants Association to hold a “food drive” at the General Assembly just months after having concluded a legislative session that slashed unemployment insurance, eliminated the state Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, cut child care subsidies to thousands and denied affordable heath insurance to hundreds of thousands.

As Chris wrote last November:

“You’ve probably seen the request from a politician, asking you to donate generously to your local rescue mission, food pantry, emergency shelter or medical clinic. And you should. They do incredible work to help children and families who are struggling to survive.

But there’s a disconnect somehow in the holiday message and the rhetoric we hear from many political leaders and right-wing pundits the rest of the time. Low-income families and unemployed workers don’t fare so well in their press releases and talking points then.

Instead they are portrayed as lazy, people who are living off the government, who aren’t looking hard enough to find a job.

They are ‘takers’ we are told, the 47 percent that Mitt Romney so famously derided in the 2012 presidential campaign.

They need to help themselves, pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Those are the clichés and the stereotypes we hear about the poor and the unemployed in Raleigh and Washington, that helping people who are struggling only breeds dependence and makes them less likely to do what they need to do to lift themselves out of poverty.

And it goes beyond legitimate questions about the effectiveness of specific anti-poverty programs. It’s somehow become acceptable in the current political debate to blame people for their struggles, to question their character.”

The hard and plain truth: Even under the best of circumstances, private charitable efforts like food drives will always remain a small part of the solution to the problems of hunger and poverty in our state. Meanwhile, state political leaders continue to blame people in need and undermine the public structures that actually have the capacity to make a large and permanent difference.

Commentary

Moral MarchWith the ninth annual Moral March on Raleigh/HK on J set for this Saturday, this morning’s Weekly Briefing attempts to remind readers of the enormous similarities between the civil rights movement of the 20th Century and today’s movement for justice in North Carolina. If you’re wavering on whether to attend, the piece may provide an extra boost of enthusiasm.

The same is true for the essay below from a very inspiring Guilford County public school teacher.

Why I’ll be marching this Saturday
By Todd Warren

As a North Carolina public school teacher, I know where I’ll be this Valentine’s Day: Marching on a cold February morning with other public education allies at this year’s Mass Moral March in downtown Raleigh. Hundreds of educators will be there, wearing red and marching with Raise Up for 15, the fast-food workers organizing for $15 per hour. We’ll be there marching to the NC State Capitol, demanding full funding for public education, and saying unequivocally, “Poverty Is An Education Issue.”

If it wasn’t already clear how closely academic achievement is tied to household income, the new state school report cards clearly demonstrate this connection. Data recently released by the NC Department of Public Instruction shows that of the 146 schools that received F’s, all were schools with over a 50 percent poverty rate. Of the 561 schools that received D’s, over 97 percent had a more than 50 percent poverty rate. A recent report from the Southern Education Foundation shows that 53 percent of our students in NC are in low income families.

The strong correlation between poverty and academic achievement has been noted for decades. Nutrition, stress, lack of health-care and housing stability all play a role in brain development and student learning. This is not disputed, yet as educators, we largely ignore poverty and instead focus on how to better teach our students. No amount of revised lesson plans or new curriculum will remove the impact of poverty on student learning. Taking a stand against low wage poverty is a stand for education.

I want to be clear: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the academic abilities of poor children. In fact, when you remove the stresses created by poverty, academic achievement goes up. There is something wrong with a society and economic system that allows so many of our children to live in poverty. Read More

Commentary

School testsYesterday, North Carolina took the latest in an series of steps cooked up by conservative advocates and ideologues to demoralize and depopulate our public education system (what they call “government schools”) — the release of the  much ballyhooed A-F grades for individual schools. As we’ve quickly learned — surprise!! — schools with lots of poor kids tend to fare poorly on standardized tests. Who could have guessed?

Notably absent from the review, of course, is the long list of private and religious schools eligible for public funds which teach that humans and dinosaurs once shared the planet, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

Thankfully, a lot of what one needs to know about the A-F idea — aside from the obvious fact that it is sheer folly to try and sum up the collective actions of hundreds (or even thousands) of students, teachers and administrators in a single letter grade — is detailed in this new report from the good folks at the National Education Policy Center: “Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade.”

After explaining why it’s impossible and counter-productive to try and assign a single letter grade to an entire school — especially one based on standardized tests of a population over which the school has no control and that completely ignores important parts of the school’s mission like developing citizens — the authors go on to recommend, among other things:

  • Eliminating the single grade, which cannot be composed without adding together unlike elements and promoting confusion and misunderstanding.
  • Developing a report card format that uses multiple school indicators that more adequately reflect a school performance profile.
  • Enlisting the services of assessment and evaluation experts in designing school accountability systems.

Click here to read the entire report. Let’s hope state lawmakers do. And let’s also hope that the new grades set in motion a chain of occurrences not intended by their conservative designers — namely, that North Carolina gets serious about attacking the two main causes of our educational system problems: poverty and segregation.

News

Of the nearly 30 percent of North Carolina’s schools receiving letter grades of D or F from the state, almost all of them are designated as high poverty schools with at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

poverty_grades

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats. Read More