Commentary, News

Session limits1. Don’t limit democracy by limiting sessions
It is not a surprise that proposals to limit the length of legislative sessions are making the rounds in Raleigh these days. A lot of people are still reeling from the contentious and grueling eight-and-half-month long session that ended September 30 and don’t want to go through that again.

Rep. Gary Pendleton wants to put a bipartisan commission together to build support for a constitutional amendment limiting legislative sessions to 90 days in odd numbered years when lawmakers pass a biennial budget and 45 days in even years when budget adjustments are made.  [Continue Reading…]

spellings-400c2. Changes ahead for UNC system with Margaret Spellings as new president
Things will be different in 2016 for the state’s public higher education system, now that a new president for the University of North Carolina system has been named and the beleaguered chair of its governing board is gone.

But what changes are coming are far from known, with plenty of uncertainty for the 17-campus system about what priorities the governing board and former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will have when she starts in March.

Spellings, who spent much of her career working for former President George W. Bush, will become the head of the UNC system with little background in higher education itself. But, she’s also spent decades in Texas and Washington immersed in both public education policy and Republican politics.  [Continue Reading…]

School vouchers3. School vouchers: We need accountability before further expansion

The subject of school vouchers remains a controversial and divisive matter in North Carolina. To many opponents, they pose an existential threat to the future of public education. To many proponents, they are a potential cure for all that is broken or imperfect in K-12 schools.
Whatever one’s position on vouchers, however, one idea ought to unify all sides – that the voucher system ought to be driven by data and sound policy principles rather than ideology and intuition.

Unfortunately, the new 2016 state budget recently enacted by the legislature more than doubles North Carolina’s funding for the voucher program from $11 million to $27 million over the next two years in spite of a complete lack of evidence of how the program worked in its first year of operation.  [Continue Reading…]

Trans pacific4. A little well-founded paranoia about a loss of U.S. sovereignty

There are a lot of good reasons to be skeptical about the claims of those who issue regular rants about “world government” and supposedly diabolical plots to subvert U.S. sovereignty. If you ever venture out into the political blogosphere or the world of social media (or just check your “junk mail” file), you know how these claims tend to go.

Usually, the allegation is that liberal elites led by our power mad, socialist President are on the verge of ceding all powers of the United States government to the United Nations. Sometimes the reference is to something called “Agenda 21.” At others, the claim is that a move is afoot to merge all of North America into one large new country that will be flooded with dark-skinned immigrants bent on overrunning Anglo Saxon culture.

The rants are, in a word, mad and deserving of all the derision that sane people can pour on them.  [Continue Reading…]

Virtual charter schools5. Another virtually ignored accountability problem in the education privatization crusade

The crusade to privatize public education in North Carolina has become a hallmark of the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.
There’s the sketchy school voucher scheme that diverts public money to almost completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies that even some prominent Republicans say shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds.

There’s the explosion of for-profit charter school companies that run what are supposed to be public schools that serve students and communities not out of state corporations and their shareholders.

And there’s the least discussed of the privatization tactics, two virtual charter schools that opened in the state this fall operated by two different for-profit companies, one of which has a scandal-plagued record in other states.  [Continue Reading…]


Leo DaughtryThere was a time in North Carolina in which Smithfield Republican Leo Daughtry was widely seen as one of the General Assembly’s true, hard right conservatives. First in the state Senate and later in the House, where he served a Majority Leader under Speaker Harold Brubaker, Daughtry was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who battled with progressives on everything from budget and tax policy to social issues to the role of government itself.

Today, however, the day after Daughtry announced that the current session will be his last in Raleigh, it’s difficult not to see him as a “moderate” and one of the most reasonable members of the Republican caucus.

What’s changed, of course, isn’t Daughtry. Rather, it’s the nature of conservatism itself in modern North Carolina that’s different. Where once conservatives were about bringing a conservative approach to governing, today the movement is increasingly about a radical overhaul of society itself. According to North Carolina’s most powerful politicians and their most important supporters in 2015, government is no longer something to be managed conservatively; it is at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, the enemy of “freedom.”

This contrast between conservatives like Daughtry and radicals like the folks driving the agenda now was highlighted during the waning days of the 2015 session when anti-public education conservatives tried to ram through another dramatic increase in school voucher funding.  This move provoked Daughtry to stand up and successfully oppose the move.

“I went to visit this school [receiving school vouchers, in his district]. It’s in a back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half teachers,” said Rep. Daughtry. “And I think you need to go slow with Opportunity Scholarships. From what I saw…the school there that I visited didn’t seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to.”

In other words, Daughtry called out the move to expand vouchers before there’s any evidence that they work for what it is — an ideologically-driven push by the anti-government right and religious conservatives to do away with what they derisively refer to as “government schools.” Thanks goodness he did so.

What Daughtry’s departure will mean for lawmaking in future General Assemblies is hard to say at this point. It’s conceivable that another responsible conservative who actually believes in government could take his place. Let’s hope so. Unfortunately, given the ongoing radical drift of the conservative movement in North Carolina, that seems far from a sure thing.


Republican House lawmakers successfully banded together Tuesday morning in an effort to block a proposal put forward by school voucher champion Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam that would have set up the state’s new school voucher program for expansion.

Stam gutted and amended S456 to require the state to award more Opportunity Scholarships (also known as school vouchers) to kindergartners and first graders—a move that would increase waiting lists for the $4,200 scholarships that allow families to use tax dollars for tuition at private schools, many of which are religious and none of which are subject to rigorous oversight and accountability standards.

Stam told fellow lawmakers that the program has had “way more applicants for K-1 than they can handle under the existing limitation that it be no more than 35 percent” and indicated that without the change in law, the program might not be able to spend all funds this year. The change would allow more students to get vouchers in the short term, and, with longer waiting lists, demonstrate increased demand that would serve as justification for the program’s expansion in the long run.

Rep. Bryan Holloway (R-Stokes) kicked off opposition to Stam’s proposal, saying he’s not yet seen results indicating whether or not the school voucher program works in favor the low-income students it purports to help.

“Why not just move forward, come back next year, see these kids’ test scores?” said Rep. Holloway. “Look at the data. Look at the schools these kids pick. Let’s look at the data before we do this.”

Rep. Linda Johnson echoed Holloway’s sentiments, saying “we continue to put money [into school vouchers], but we don’t have any results yet.”

The Opportunity Scholarship program is moving into its second year of existence. During its inaugural 2014-15 year, the program moved forward while the state Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of sending public dollars to private, religious schools that are subject to very little oversight by the state. The state Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the program did not violate the state’s constitution, allowing it to continue.

Lawmakers voted to expand the voucher program considerably over the next two years, upping it from $11 million to $17.5 million next year and $24 million the following year.

Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Smithfield) told the committee a private school in his district that accepted school vouchers didn’t seem fit for accepting tax dollars.

“I went to visit this school [receiving school vouchers, in his district]. It’s in a back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half teachers,” said Rep. Daughtry. “And I think you need to go slow with Opportunity Scholarships. From what I saw…the school there that I visited didn’t seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to.”

Stam’s proposal was narrowly defeated in the House appropriations committee, 24-26, after a careful count of the ayes and noes.


Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan, whose open letter critiquing a legislative plan to turn struggling public schools over to for-profit charter school operators got a great deal of deserved attention last month, has penned another “must read.” This one is a detailed and lengthy response to a recent essay by State Rep. Jon Hardister of Guilford County in which Hardister attempted to argue that the state’s conservative political leadership has not been waging “a war on public education.”

After debunking several of Hardister’s claims about education spending (which, as Egan notes, continues to fall when one accounts for enrollment growth), Egan offers the following list of recent state actions vis a vis public schools:

  • The financing of failed charter schools that have no oversight.
  • The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively remove money for public education and reallocate it to private schools.
  • The underfunding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.
  • The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.
  • The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning.
  • The removal of graduate pay salary increases for those new teachers who have a Master’s degree or higher.
  • The administration of too many tests (EOCTs, MSLs, CCs, NC Finals, etc.), many of which are scored well after grades are due.
  • The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).
  • The appointment of non-educators to leadership roles in writing new curricula.
  • The engagement with profit-motivated companies and no-bid contracts with entities like Pearson that dictate not only what teachers are allowed to teach but also how students are assessed.

All in all, Egan’s essay is a powerful, if sobering, read. Click here to read it in its entirety.


Voucher-mailer-front and backThe push to get folks to sign up for North Carolina’s controversial school voucher program — now ruled constitutional by the state’s highest court — is back on with new mailers and a video encouraging parents to get a private school education for their child at the taxpayer’s expense as lawmakers consider expanding the program nearly two-fold for the upcoming year.

“NC Supreme Court rules YES! for OPPORTUNITY!” headlines a mailer sent out by school voucher proponent Parents for Educational Freedom NC (PEFNC), an organization dedicated to pushing school privatization efforts and bankrolled largely by the Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart).

Directing parents to a website with their own name in the URL, families can use the mailers to look up whether or not they are eligible to receive $4,200 taxpayer-funded vouchers to use for private school tuition. The website includes a video of former NBA All Star and Tar Heel basketball player Antawn Jamison endorsing the program.

In a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled last month to uphold the Opportunity Scholarship program, in spite of the fact that private schools have virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

The move reversed a 2014 ruling finding the program to be unconstitutional. “The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood wrote at the time.

Those private schools, the majority of which are religious but can also include home schools that have just one student, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.

Now, parents are free to use state funds to send their children to private schools — and the school voucher program is likely to expand.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million in taxpayer dollars to be used for the Opportunity Scholarships beginning in 2014. The House’s 2015-17 budget proposal passed earlier this summer proposes expanding the school voucher program from $10 million to $17.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Senate’s proposal does the same as the House, but with recurring funds instead and for both years of the biennium.

With House and Senate lawmakers still hammering away behind closed doors at a 2015-17 final budget, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the program could be expanded even further — stay tuned.