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.

Commentary, News

School-vouchers1. State’s highest court upholds school voucher program despite lack of accountability and standards

In a 4-3 decision that defies principles of accountability to taxpayers and students alike, the elected Republican justices of the state Supreme Court today upheld a school voucher program that allows taxpayer dollars to fund tuition for private schools having virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.” [Continue reading…]

Tillman_edu2. Senate bill proposes ending DPI control of charter school oversight

Administration and oversight for public charter schools has been handled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for years — but Senator Jerry Tillman, a longtime supporter of charter schools, wants to change that.

“DPI was never in love…with charter schools,” Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph) said in a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday as he introduced to fellow lawmakers a gutted version of House Bill 334, which would transfer the Office of Charter Schools out of the Department of Public Instruction, placing it under the State Board of Education. [Continue reading…]

ff-723153. Still no urgency in Raleigh with budget almost a month late 

At first glance, it seemed like just another disturbing week at the General Assembly.

A Senate committee approved a plan to give homebuilders a tax break that will cost local governments millions of dollars a year, another Senate committee passed a bill to weaken the state’s already anemic gun laws, and another panel considered a proposal to block state environmental officials from developing plans to cut carbon emissions in response to forthcoming rules from the EPA.

That’s all sadly business as usual these days in the legislative halls. And it didn’t stop there. [Continue reading…]

budget-pie4. State government shutdown ahead? Budget office gets ready for possibility

A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.

The July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.[Continue reading…]

wb-721B5. A $60 million rip-off
The state Treasurer combats a stunning money grab by the insurance industry

If there’s a single most maddening and nonsensical argument regularly advanced by the far right, so-called “free market” think tanks funded by the Art Popes and Koch Brothers of the world, it’s probably this: the ideology-over-common sense contention that the “genius of the market” makes most consumer protection laws unnecessary.

Whether it’s airplane pilot rest, meat inspections or 400% “payday” loans, it’s generally the position of the market fundamentalists that “the market” and “consumer choice” will pretty much take care of everything. Put bluntly, once a cut rate airliner or two goes down (or a few hundred folks contract salmonella or Mad Cow Disease) consumers will wise up and take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading…]


School-vouchersIf you still harbor any doubts about what the American far right has in mind when it comes to the future of public education, there’s a helpful reminder in Texas right now where ideologues are seriously advancing a new proposal to commence the process of doing away with it. As public schools champion Diane Ravitch points out his morning on her blog, the latest voucher proposal under consideration in the Lone Star state appears to be a truly a frightening mess.

Ravitch points readers to a recent and critical op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Republican politico Chris Ladd (a fellow who, rather remarkably, writes under the moniker “GOP Lifer”) in which he describes the proposal that would both allow vouchers and a new and parallel funding scheme whereby some taxpayers could simply earmark their taxes to fund private schools. Here’s Ladd:

“These two bills would not merely privatize schools. They would privatize the school funding system as well, creating an entire parallel world free from the liberal horrors of a real education infrastructure. Taxpayers could simply exit the existing public school funding system in favor of their own private school funding entities which they control entirely…. Read More


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.