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It should be quite a session when the House Judiciary I Committee gathers this morning at 8:30 in the state Legislative Building. Among the four bills on the agenda for the one-hour meeting:

  • A proposal (sponsored by Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer — the sponsor of last week’s anti-abortion legislation) that would further relax the state’s already minimal gun laws to repeal handgun background checks, force private businesses to allow guns in parking lots, allow concealed carry permits for misdemeanants, and allow guns at the State Fair (click here for more info), and
  • A proposal to speed up executions in the state.

Meanwhile, just to add a little icing to the cake, the committee is also scheduled to take up a bill that would facilitate the hiring of private companies to provide police services in counties and municipalities.

Got it? More guns, more executions and more for-proft police. In other words, the nation’s gradual transformation into a banana republic on steroids continues apace.

Commentary

voucher-chartMillions of private dollars have made their way to North Carolina in an effort to encourage lawmakers to push a school privatization agenda.

Those funds have resulted in the removal of the cap on charter schools and a new voucher program that takes money away from the public school system in order to fund unregulated and unaccountable private education in the name of school choice.

To connect the dots between the national players in school privatization efforts and local lawmakers that have pushed for the expansion of charters and vouchers, the Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) published an essay and infographic Friday that details how Reps. Stam, Yarborough, Jones and others have benefited from the privatizers’ offerings and the resulting legislation they are seeking to enact.

According to ISS (as well as information I’ve previously reported), Parents for Educational Freedom in NC (PEFNC), headed by Darrell Allison, is the key facilitator behind the school privatization movement. Between PEFNC and political action committees (PACs) closely aligned with Allison, nearly $1.5 million has been funneled through these organizations to local lawmakers, originating  from the Walton Family Foundation and the American Federation for Children — both organizations well known for promoting school privatization initiatives.

Click here to read the full report by ISS.

 

Commentary

Dan ForestYou’ve got to hand it to Lt. Governor Dan Forest. The Lite Guv is clearly the most conservative statewide elected official in North Carolina in decades — especially when it comes to social issues, where in his less-well-guarded moments, he can make Pat Robertson sound like a secular progressive.

And yet, despite this, Forest is also a very slick and ambitious politician. Maybe, it’s being the son of a longtime member of Congress, but whatever the explanation, Forest can be very skilled at cloaking his extremist views with mainstream-sounding language.

A classic example is his “I support teachers” specialty license plate idea that he is plugging this week. What could sound more wholesome and make for better P.R. than “supporting” teachers?

The only problem, of course, is that the whole idea of “supporting” teachers by raising private donations at $50 a throw so that a foundation can mete them out to teachers in dribs and drabs is an absurd idea. Not only will it amount to a drop in the bucket, it undermines the very idea of how public schools ought to be funded and assessed — i.e. by the taxpayers and the professionals they employ.

But, of course, this shouldn’t come as any real surprise. As one of the most ardent champions of school privatization via vouchers (Forest’s own kids have been home schooled) and regressive tax policies that have undermined funding for what folks on the Right like to call “government schools,” Forest has been pushing the kind of slickly packaged, far right agenda that would warm the hearts of the Koch brothers for many years.

Let’s hope North Carolinians quickly see through this cynical effort to burnish/soften the image of an ambitious politician who could, if he really supported public school teachers, find several more effective ways to do so.

Commentary

School-vouchersIf it strikes you as odd and troubling that North Carolina has started bestowing “failing” grades on public schools even as it writes checks to unaccountable private schools which teach that humans and dinosaurs coexisted on the planet at the same time, you’re not alone. The idea of school vouchers remains enormously controversial in our state and rightfully so.

For better or worse, however, at this point, the only opinions that really matter on the issue are those of the seven members of the state Supreme Court. In less than two weeks, the justices will hear arguments in the case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s voucher scheme and, presumably, issue a final judgment sometime in the coming months.

If you’d like to understand where things really stand and what may happen, please join us next Tuesday February 10 as an expert panel addresses: “The constitutional challenge to school vouchers: Where do things stand? What happens next?”

Click here to register.

The luncheon will feature

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Commentary

Berger_Jr.-and-Sr.There’s a degree of irony in the “surrender of charter” letter submitted recently by the charter school started by former Rockingham County D.A., failed congressional candidate, new Administrative Law Judge and son of State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Phil Berger, Jr.

In the letter, the school’s current chairman, David Whicker, complains that “the lack of availability and/or provisioning of fiscal resources and assistance from the NC Board of Education and/or Office of Charter Schools, other than training courses, seemed only to multiply the challenges we already faced.”

In other words, it’s the same story heard so often in the murky world of school privatization: A group of folks who railed against “government schools” and who demand “choice” and the right to be unshackled from all those burdensome rules (like having to serve anyone who comes in the door — whatever their level of preparedness — and  providing free transportation and free meals to a large proportion of their students) finds out that running a successful school without a lot of bureaucratic support ain’t as easy as it looks.

Like demanding children, these folks want complete freedom to do as they please and the right to have Mom and Dad bail them out when they discover that the grown up world isn’t as easy to negotiate as they thought.

The sad thing about all this, of course, is that it’s actual children — the ones whose parents get sold a bill of goods by charter operators who are actually in over their heads — who end up suffering. Them, plus the traditional schools, of course, who will, as always, have to take in the kids left out in the cold.

Happily, in this case, Berger Jr.’s charter never really got up and running and the damage will apparently be minimal. Unfortunately, this has frequently not been the case — both here in North Carolina and around the country — for the scores of charters that have crashed and burned in the middle of school years.

The takeaway: The “genius of the market” is great when things are going good, but not so hot when things turn sour. And therein lies one of the biggest problems with charters and school privatization.