Education

Nine days and counting down! Educators get ready for major march on the General Assembly

If you missed it over the weekend, be sure to listen to our extended interview with N.C. Association of Educators President Mark Jewell as we discusses the May 1st teachers rally planned for Raleigh.

More than twenty school districts including some of the state’s largest – Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg – will be closed that day because of the number of teachers who plan on attending this day of action.

Teachers say this year #ItsPersonal.

So, what are they demanding? Click below and listen to our full interview with Jewell and Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield:

Commentary, Defending Democracy, Education, election fraud, News

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. DEQ orders Duke Energy to excavate remaining coal ash impoundments

Duke Energy must excavate its final nine coal ash impoundments at six plants, state environmental regulators announced today, overruling the utility’s concerns that the method would be too expensive and environmentally risky.

“DEQ rigorously reviewed the proposals, and the science points us clearly to excavation as the only way to protect public health and the environment,” said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan in a prepared statement.

“Today’s action sends another clear message that protecting public health and natural resources is a top priority of the Cooper administration.”

Duke had proposed to either cap the material in place — in leaking, unlined landfills — or to develop a “hybrid” of excavation and cap-in-place. At public meetings across the state, residents demanded that DEQ force the utility to fully excavate all of the material and place it in a lined landfill.[Read more…]

Bonus read: The big Duke coal ash clean-up: Where things stand and what to expect next

2. A $400 win for teachers could cost North Carolina school districts $40 million

Superintendent Mark Johnson can’t seem to win for losing.

Johnson was part of big press conference Wednesday at the state Legislative Building during which he and State Sen. Andy Wells, (R-Catawba) partnered to announce their proposal of a new program to give the state’s 94,000 licensed teachers $400 a year each to buy classrooms supplies.

The announcement could have been a celebratory occasion.

But there was one missing element: Lisa Godwin.

Godwin, the 2017 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, was listed as a press conference participant but decided not to attend because of concern about how the program would be funded.[Read more…]

Bonus read: Superintendent Mark Johnson takes issue with critics who say SB 580 robs ‘Peter to pay Paul’

3. Four initial takeaways from the Robin Hayes corruption case

This has been another remarkable week in North Carolina. Once again, a dark cloud of corruption has descended upon and enveloped the state’s politics as federal prosecutors unsealed an extraordinary grand jury indictment of one of the state’s best known politicians and a trio of well-heeled businessmen.

Among other things, the indictment accuses Robin Hayes – a scion of the Cannon textile dynasty, as well as a former congressman, state representative, Republican gubernatorial nominee and, until this week, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party* – of participating in a brazen scheme to bribe the state’s Republican Insurance Commissioner with illegal campaign contributions. Also indicted were the state’s largest individual political donor – Durham businessman Greg Lindberg – and two of his employees, John Palermo and John Gray.

What’s more, there could be more indictments on the way. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who cooperated with federal officials and apparently wore a wire that captured some of the most incriminating statements described in the indictment, told the Charlotte Observer yesterday that “There could be more indictments to come. We don’t know what may happen. And with a case this complex and complicated, it may take months and months and months or years to get everything sorted out.” [Read more…]

4. After sweeping order, an end to coal ash in NC? All bets are off.

North Carolina’s coal ash problem didn’t begin in February 2014, when a corrugated pipe at a Rockingham County Duke Energy facility vomited 39,000 tons of coal ash and about 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.

The documented dangers of the coal byproduct predated even a one billion gallon spill in Kingston, Tennessee, six years prior, a spill large enough to fill thousands of Olympic swimming pools.

And North Carolina’s coal ash problem didn’t end hours later, when the billion-dollar, energy juggernaut assured North Carolina officials, incorrectly, that the river – about 70 miles of which was coated in a blue-gray, toxic plume – was no drinking water supply.[Read more…]

5. NC lawmakers push Medicaid work requirements as patients, advocates and courts push back

Emily Henderson was kicked off of Medicaid last year when she went from making $8 per hour at her job to $10 per hour. The raise put her over the income limit. Her son, who is diabetic, remains covered, but she has to choose more often than not between paying to take care of her own health without insurance coverage and paying her bills.

Her story of losing coverage is one that could become a reality for many more people if Republican lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly pass a bill to implement work reporting requirements for “able-bodied” adults who receive Medicaid health benefits.

The current income limits are “already making it difficult,” Henderson said. “They’re handcuffing people to poverty to maintain healthcare,” she continued.[Read more…]

6. House Speaker needs to take action regarding lawmaker accused of domestic violence

By many of the usual political metrics, State Rep. Cody Henson ought to be an up and comer.

Henson, a young (he was graduated from high school in 2010) Republican from western North Carolina is an ex-Marine with a winning smile. His biography on the website VoteSmart.org reports that he was an infantry machine gun team leader in the Marine Corps Reserve who then found work as a call center supervisor with a global marketing company. He is described as a member of Midway Baptist Church whose favorite quote (“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”) is attributed to Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, the list of contributors to his campaigns reads like a “who’s who” of the modern North Carolina political establishment:[Read more…]

7. Facing ACLU deadline, N.C. officials balk on transferring transgender inmate from men’s prison


Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a transgender woman seeking transfer out of a men’s prison in Lillington, spent much of last month in solitary confinement.

But last week, as the deadline to avoid a lawsuit from the ACLU approached, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety transferred Zayre-Brown from the Harnett County Correctional Institution. Not to a women’s prison, as she and the ACLU had requested, but to the smaller Warren Correctional Institution for men in Warren County, near the Virginia border.

“At Warren, Zayre-Brown is housed in a single cell as opposed to an open dormitory, which has been deemed the most appropriate placement at this time,” said DPS spokesman John Bull in a statement Monday. “Prisons has been and will continue diligently conducting research on legal precedent and best practices across the country with an eventual goal of moving Zayre-Brown to a female facility.”[Read more…]

8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

 

Click here for a larger image

 

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, Legislature

The Week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1.Latest school testing proposals are emblematic of NC’s failed public ed policies

There’s an old adage – often attributed to Albert Einstein and/or Mark Twain – that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Neither Einstein nor Twain ever had occasion to review the effectiveness of North Carolina’s K-12 education policy, but it seems likely that if the two great men could be transported forward in time to the modern era to render such an assessment, each would nod, smile wistfully, and say “I told you so.”

The latest compelling indicator of this sobering reality: the recent spate of proposals from state lawmakers to overhaul both the state’s K-12 testing regimen and the system of letter “performance” grades handed out to individual schools.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last week, Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a teacher from Wilkes County, has introduced a bill that would do away with numerous tests that are inflicted on North Carolina students and teachers each year. [Read more…]

2. Supreme Court weighs its role in limiting partisan gerrymandering

U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared willing Tuesday to rein in partisan gerrymandering — desperate even, for attorneys to give them some sort of manageable numeric standard by which they could determine how much politics is too much when it comes to redistricting.

It wasn’t that simple, though, and after considering three challenges to congressional maps — two to the 2016 GOP-drawn map in North Carolina and one to a Democratic-drawn map in Maryland — at least two conservative justices seemed unconvinced to expend any more judicial energy on the issue.

Justice Samuel Alito, a George W. Bush appointee, and Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Donald Trump appointee, both seemed hung up on the lack of a numeric solution to the problem and fixated on alternatives to court intervention.[Read more…]

Bonus read: NC Republicans double down on partisan gerrymandering

3. On Medicaid expansion, John Kasich is unchained in North Carolina


John Kasich insisted several times this week that he’s a free man.

Free from politics? Free from partisanship? Free from Trump? Certainly not free of ambition – the former Ohio governor all but acknowledged last week that he hasn’t ruled out another run for president.

Yet whatever’s unchained Kasich, be it canny political strategy or a moneymaking book deal or Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder, we’re the better for it in North Carolina, at least for today.

Kasich’s savvy skewering of North Carolina Republicans during Tuesday’s N.C. Rural Center event was one part stump speech — rife with jabs at his supposedly vanquished political rivals in Ohio — and one part scolding, lambasting the GOP’s untenable and unconscionable Medicaid blockade in Raleigh. [Read more…]

4. State Superintendent Mark Johnson doesn’t support May 1 teacher protest march

State Superintendent Mark Johnson didn’t attend last year’s teacher protest march and rally for higher pay and more school funding.

And he isn’t likely to make it to the second march planned for May 1.

Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, said in a statement Thursday that he can’t support a protest that “forces schools to close.”

“The protest organizers should choose a non-school day,” Johnson said. “The legislature will be in session in Raleigh for at least another three months, a time period that spans dozens of days students are not scheduled to be in school, including spring break and summer break.” [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

5. Senate committee deals another blow to controversial environmental nonprofit

The Resource Institute, a politically connected nonprofit that received a controversial and unprecedented $5 million appropriation for hurricane recovery in last year’s budget, could lose part of its windfall, according to a bill that passed out of the Senate Rules Committee today.

Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, last week had amended Senate Bill 95, which contains various appropriations, to redirect $1.6 million of RI’s original funding to North Topsail Beach to help with beach renourishment and hurricane recovery.

North Topsail Beach “already has plans in place,” Brown told his fellow lawmakers on the Rules Committee.

While that is true, Brown’s statement downplayed the disgruntlement of North Topsail town officials over the Resource Institute appropriation, which led them to petition Brown to redirect the money.  [Read more…]

Bonus read:
And the wind cried Harry: Sen. Brown introduces anti-wind energy bill — again

6. NC lawmakers introduce package of LGBTQ-friendly bills

On Thursday, Democratic state lawmakers filed three bills designed to protect LGBTQ North Carolinians from discrimination, outlaw harmful “conversion” therapy that targets them and fully repeal HB2 — the infamous law that cast an international spotlight on the state as a battleground for transgender rights.

“As a transgender woman I know that the bills filed today will have a very real impact on the lives and legal equality of LGBTQ North Carolinians,” said Allison Scott, director of policy for the Campaign for Southern Equality.

“So many attacks on the LGBTQ community are linked, rooted in the desire to wave us away,” Scott said. “The company that fires someone because of who they are, the business that refuses to sell something to a same-sex couple, the so-called ‘conversion’ therapist who tries to force someone to change a core part of themselves.

The North Carolina lawmakers who try to tell me that I can’t use the women’s restroom.”[Read more…]

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

News

Federal court strikes down N.C. abortion law

A federal judge has struck down a North Carolina law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in the case of medical emergency.

The ACLU of North Carolina,which was part of the suit, explains that Monday’s ruling solely applies to abortions pre-viability:

The court’s decision will take effect in 60 days. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen, Jr. writes that “State law cannot impose an outright ban that prevents a ‘woman [from] choos[ing] to have an abortion before viability.’” Judge Osteen also references “the Supreme Court’s clear pronouncements on the pre-viability right to choose to have an abortion” as established over 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, Judge Osteen noted that his ruling “accords universally with those of other federal courts that have considered the constitutionality of twenty-week bans and similar week- or event-specific abortion bans.”

“Today’s decision is a victory for the women and doctors of North Carolina,” said Genevieve Scott, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This ban is unconstitutional and ignores the unique circumstances, challenges, and potential complications pregnant women face. Politicians taking medical options off the table for women at any stage of pregnancy is irrational and dangerous.”

“Important medical decisions throughout different points of a woman’s pregnancy, including whether to have an abortion, must be left to the woman and her doctor – not politicians,” said ACLU of North Carolina Senior Staff Attorney Irena Como. “North Carolina’s ban was written by politicians to intimidate doctors and interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions. We’re glad the court blocked this harmful and restrictive measure while affirming that people have a constitutional right to make their own decisions about their pregnancy.”

“All decisions about pregnancy, including abortion, are deeply personal and should be decided between a woman and her doctor, without medically-unnecessary interference from politicians,” said Jenny Black, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “This ruling affirms that right and send a clear message to politicians that women deserve our care, not our judgment.”

Read the full ruling out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina here.