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The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Worried about environmental damage, Pleasant Garden residents gear up to fight a proposed granite mine

Gerald Hall stood in his farm field, where the collards nearly reached his knees. On about three and a half acres between them, Hall and one of his brothers grow myriad greens, like Swiss chard and kale, and in the summer, warm-weather crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, all headed to restaurant and local groceries, including Deep Roots co-op in nearby Greensboro.

Hall, known around these parts as the Egg Man, also raises laying hens, whose eggs he packages by hand and then sells wholesale or by the dozen from a small shed a few steps from his house.

“I used to work in paving,” Hall said of his former job as asphalt manager for the City of Greensboro. “In the summer, we’d work all night. And the trucks would be hauling rock and asphalt all night long.”

Just when Hall thought he had left behind the stench of asphalt for the fresh country air, now he and his neighbors are battling a proposed granite quarry, that, if built, would abut his family’s 80-year-old farm in Pleasant Garden. Just 100 feet from Hall’s property, the trucks would fill their beds with rock that earlier had been blasted from an open pit in the earth, then haul it away — at times, all night long. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: An epic hearing over a proposed granite mine leads to a pivotal vote by Guilford County Commissioners

2. Legislators begin “heavy lift” of examining funding structure of North Carolina schools

Craig Horn knows many education advocates want the school finance task force he co-chairs to weigh whether North Carolina spends enough on its public schools.

But the Union County Republican, an influential K-12 budget writer, wasted little time in reaffirming Wednesday that he considers the state’s spending levels to be an altogether separate discussion.

“Some people have taken us to task for this,” Horn said. “But adequacy is a different issue. This is an issue of what funds we have, and how they’re distributed. Because, regardless of how much money we have, if we’re not distributing it properly and for the benefit of students, then we’re wasting money.”

Horn’s comments came with legislators convening the first meeting of a pivotal joint chamber panel that, over the next year or more, is expected to overhaul North Carolina’s labyrinthine school funding system. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: With Robeson elementary mulling closure, N.C.’s Innovative School District left with no schools to take over?

3. Deception and bad faith at UNC
The Board of Governors is not just pushing the Right’s agenda, it’s intentionally withholding information from the public

[Note: This story has been updated — see below.] That there is a war underway for the heart and soul of higher education in North Carolina comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the state policy debate. For years now, North Carolina’s conservative think tanks and politicians have, along with the people who fund them, been waging a relentless effort to seize control of what they, rather bizarrely when you think about it for a minute, view as a bastion of the radical left.

Whether they’re firing able and honorable public servants like Tom Ross, railing against non-traditional instructors and curricula, attacking rules designed to promote equality for women, racial minorities and LGBTQ people, touting a supposed commitment to “free speech” in order to silence protesters who would challenge voices of hate and exclusion, defunding shoestring efforts at law schools designed to enforce civil rights laws and combat poverty, or just simply slashing funding and jacking up tuition and fees, conservative ideologues have, as the saying goes, “an agenda.” [Read more…]

4. UNC speech policy takes final steps to passage

The UNC Board of Governors’ Committee on Governance passed a controversial university speech policy Thursday in a standing-room-only meeting.

A controversial university speech policy took a crucial step toward becoming a reality Thursday, passing the UNC Board of Governors’ committee on governance unanimously.

The committee on governance met in Chapel Hill Thursday, part of the the first of two full-day meetings for the full board. The policy will need to be reviewed and passed by the board at its next meeting.

“I feel like we have a consensus free speech policy that will be a benefit to the university,” said Governance Committee Chairman Steve Long.

The committee did spend weeks reaching out to students, faculty and staff at the university – and the latest draft policy does reflect some concessions to their concerns. But students, faculty and staff members said Thursday they do not think there is a need for the policy. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: UNC Board of Governors discuss hiring own employees

5. Why are legislative leaders so afraid of fairer elections?

The latest news from the federal courts about the unconstitutional racially gerrymandered General Assembly districts and the response to it from legislative leaders makes one thing clearer than ever.

The folks in charge of the House and Senate are terribly afraid of what will happen if our elections are fairer, if every district is not gerrymandered by race and partisan considerations to all but guarantee that their supermajorities will remain in place, and if the voters have a slightly better chance at electing who they want instead of having their representatives chosen for them.

That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the bitter reaction from legislative leaders to their latest setback in the courts—that they are scared—as a three judge panel brushed aside lawmakers’ objections and hired an outside expert to redraw several districts lawmakers drew after their original maps were struck down as unconstitutional because of the role race played in their development. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:

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