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The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. In some North Carolina counties, traditional schools are being squeezed by charters

School buses prepare for another school year

There has been much written about the impact charter school growth has had on some of North Carolina’s larger, urban school districts.

But the impact might be greater on some of the state’s smaller, rural school districts where the loss of students, and the funding that follows them, are felt more profoundly.

Take Granville County Public Schools (GCS), a district of about 7,600 on the Virginia border.

This month the school board approved a plan to close an elementary school and to consolidate two middle schools, the result of lagging enrollment. [Read more…]

2. When will Republicans’ patience with President Trump run out?


Republicans, we need to talk.

Not about the shutdown. I get the ceasefire, I get that the air traffic slowdowns may have finally spooked the president and D.C. Republicans, even if only for a temporary respite.

This is about the bigger picture, not about short-term, beltway battles and shutdowns that may or may not be on the minds of Americans when they go to the polls in 2020 – although I don’t imagine the passage of time will sweeten the memory for Americans who worked weeks without paychecks.

This is about the future of the GOP platform, that grand-old-promise to shrink government, reduce inefficiencies, cut taxes, and preserve the American dream. [Read more…]

3. “The spill was an instant disaster”: Reflections on the five-year anniversary of the Dan River coal ash breach

Until that winter’s day, the 4-foot section of corrugated metal pipe, 48 inches in diameter, had done its job. It swallowed storm water, said to be uncontaminated, that drained from Duke Energy property, chugged the water through its gullet that ran beneath an unlined coal ash basin, and then spewed it into the Dan River near Eden.

But on Feb. 2, 2014, the pipe could take no more.

For more than 50 years, Duke Energy had dumped millions of tons of coal ash into an open, unlined pit at its power plant on the Dan River. On that calm, cloudy Sunday afternoon, as pre-gamers chilled beers and fried chicken wings for their Super Bowl parties, the pipe collapsed. Hazardous material from the basin rushed through the breach, which released at least 39,000 tons of ash and up to 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.

At 2 o’clock, a security guard making the rounds had noticed the water level in the 27-acre ash pond had dropped.

At 6:30 p.m., thousands of North Carolinians watched the Seattle Seahawks, led by former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson, win the coin toss to start Super Bowl 48 against the Denver Broncos. Two minutes later, as the Seahawks kicked off, Duke Energy officials were investigating the pipe breach and preparing an EM43 report, used to document emergencies in North Carolina. [Read more…]

4. The state of gerrymandering reform: Weekend conference spells out where things stand

The first redistricting reform bill in North Carolina was introduced more than 50 years ago, and there have been countless proposals since. None, however, have made it past the state House chamber.

Bridging the gap between Republicans and Democrats, particularly when it comes to partisan gerrymandering, has never been an easy task, but with great uncertainty brewing about the two major parties’ prospects in upcoming elections, this could be the year for change, advocates say.

Reform requires a high level of uncertainty for both major political parties and a high level of government transparency. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

5. THE issue of the 2019 session

The 2019 session of the North Carolina General Assembly gets underway in earnest this week in Raleigh and, as always, dozens of important issues will compete for lawmakers’ attention.

There’s the increasingly energetic and promising effort to end partisan gerrymandering, the desperate need to adequately fund our public schools and bring accountability to vouchers and charters, the mushrooming environmental crisis that continues to unfold in myriad guises, the chaos that has gripped the UNC system, and, of course, our desperately out-of-whack tax system that increasingly favors the rich and large corporations at the expense of essential public services and structures that make a middle class society possible. Many other issues that will at some point lead to passionate debate are still gestating in the minds of lawmakers, lobbyists and bill drafters.

If those who truly care about the present and future wellbeing of 10 million North Carolinians were forced, however, to pick a single issue that will ultimately go the furthest toward determining the success or failure of this year’s legislative session, one clearly stands out: Medicaid and its long and desperately overdue expansion under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. [Read more…]

6. With Folt leaving, UNC awaits Silent Sam report

Last week, the UNC Board of Governors voted to release an “after-action report” on last year’s toppling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument.

Nearly a week later, the report has yet to be released.

The report, prepared by the Parker Poe law firm, was supposed to be publicly available last Friday. It is still being vetted by the system’s lawyers, according to UNC System spokesman Jason Tyson.

The vote to release the report came in the wake of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt’s abrupt resignation earlier this month. Both Folt and former UNC System President Margaret Spellings resigned after tensions with the Board of Governors. Members of the board publicly criticized both Folt and Spellings for their handling of the lead-up to the statue’s toppling and aftermath. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

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