An important announcement from the North Carolina Justice Center, States Newsroom and NC Policy Watch

Media Release

North Carolina Justice Center –
States Newsroom –

February 23, 2023

For more information:

Chris Fitzsimon
[email protected]

Andrea Dreier
[email protected]

Rob Schofield
[email protected]

N.C. nonprofits announce transfer of Raleigh-based news outlet

NC Policy Watch, a pioneering nonprofit newsroom that has helped spur a resurgence in news coverage of state government in North Carolina and around the country, will soon have a new home.

On March 1, ownership of the project will be transferred from the Raleigh-based North Carolina Justice Center, the state’s leading anti-poverty advocacy organization from which it has operated as an editorially independent project since 2007, to Chapel Hill-based States Newsroom. States Newsroom is a fast-growing journalism nonprofit that operates state policy-focused newsrooms in 32 states.

The move comes after years of collaboration and several months of discussion and planning between the two organizations. In announcing the transfer, States Newsroom Director and Publisher Chris Fitzsimon, the founding director of NC Policy Watch in 2004, said the move was the next obvious and logical step in NC Policy Watch’s evolution.

“Fifteen years ago, when NC Policy Watch joined the NC Justice Center, it was a small initiative devoted to providing progressive commentary and analysis about state policy and politics,” Fitzsimon said. “Today, it’s a valued partner in our growing national network. It only makes sense for it to be formally affiliated with the larger organization,” he continued.

Reggie Shuford, executive director of the NC Justice Center, echoed Fitzsimon’s assessment. “The NC Justice Center board and staff are enormously proud of having helped birth such an important part of the state’s journalism ecosystem at a time in which so many news organizations are struggling mightily,” Shuford said. “And while we’ll miss the presence of the Policy Watch team, we also think that States Newsroom is the best fit for it to fulfill its mission today. Our advocates look forward to continuing to contribute regularly to the Policy Watch opinion pages in the years to come.”

Policy Watch editor and director Rob Schofield expressed appreciation to both organizations and pride in his news team’s accomplishments during its tenure at the NC Justice Center. “Our team of veteran, award-winning journalists has a record of high-impact journalism over the last decade-plus that stacks up against any newsroom in the state, and the NC Justice Center has been a supportive place in which to do that work,” Schofield said. “Becoming a fully integrated part of States Newsroom will give us the tools and platform to continue that growth and increase our impact .”

NC Policy Watch employs a team of seven journalists who produce news stories and commentaries for a large and growing online and radio audience that numbers in the tens of thousands each week. For more information, visit

Weekend reads: Republicans loosen state gun laws, Medicaid expansion wins House approval, and homelessness and the First Amendment on trial

In this issue:

1. Hours after Michigan shooting, North Carolina Republicans advance bills to loosen state gun laws

GOP lawmakers have passed similar legislation expanding gun access in past legislative sessions. This time, they might have the votes to override the governor’s veto.

Hours after three students at Michigan State University were killed by a man who ultimately turned his gun on himself, North Carolina Republicans unveiled several bills Tuesday aimed at making it easier for people to acquire and wield firearms.

“These are commonsense gun legislation bills,” Sen. Danny Britt, Jr. (R-Hoke, Robeson, Scotland), said during a press conference. [Read more]


2. NC legislators find yet another vulnerable group to get tough on: homeless families (Commentary)

Homelessness. It takes many forms in modern North Carolina – some familiar, some less so.

For several thousand families, it means double-bunking or “couch surfing” with friends or relatives for an extended period. For a tragic number, it means living in a vehicle or even camping out in tents, shanties, parking garages and downtown doorways, under highway overpasses, or on park benches.

Some people are able to access shelters made available by churches and nonprofits. In Raleigh this winter, thanks to the city’s maddening lack of any coherent plan, a trio of modest-sized religious congregations have struggled mightily to shelter scores of homeless people through what’s known as a “white flag” system, whereby a limited number of cots are made available after a certain hour on the nights the temperature falls below 35 degrees.

And then there’s another option of which most well-off Americans are probably only vaguely aware: lower-rung hotels and motels. [Read more]

3. NC House gives bipartisan approval to its Medicaid expansion

The state House gave preliminary approval to a proposal expanding Medicaid, would offer about 600,000 low-income adults in North Carolina the chance to sign up for health insurance.

The 96-23 vote marks the first time the full state House has acted a bill expanding Medicaid. The bill will move to the Senate after another House vote that is largely a formality.  Challenges remain and hard negotiations between the House and Senate are likely ahead.

Wednesday’s debate on House Bill 76 was brief. The state has been talking about Medicaid expansion for years. [Read more]

**BONUS READ: Democrats question revised proposal for NC House veto override votes

4. After rejection by State Board of Education, charter school operator questions whether conflicts of interest were at play

Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy of Wake County’s application to open in 2024 was unanimously rejected by the State Board of Education this month despite a glowing recommendation from the Charter School Advisory Board.

The charter board had rejected an earlier version of the application but cited a new, stronger application and an impressive assemblage of people to serve on the school’s Board of Directors for its change of heart.

The Board of Education didn’t explain its reason for denying the application, but Amy White, who chairs the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, signaled last month that she would not support it over concerns about founding director Kashi Bazemore’s leadership at a charter school, also known as Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy, in Bertie County.

It’s unusual for the two boards to take such starkly differing stances about a charter school application. Generally, the state board follows CSAB’s recommendations.

[Read more]

**BONUS READ: North Carolina names finalists for Principal of the Year

5. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces $2 billion for small water systems to address PFAS contamination, $62 million for NC

The water tower is the tallest structure in Maysville, a landmark to nudge visitors from US Highway 17 to Main Street, the heart of this small Jones County town. More than 70,000 gallons of water flowed each day from the tower, when four years ago, Lee Ferguson sampled the drinking water.

“We were caught off guard,” Ferguson, a Duke University scientist, said Monday at a roundtable discussion with local, state and federal officials in Maysville. “We didn’t expect to see it here.”

Maysville’s drinking water, sourced from the Castle Hayne aquifer, contained exorbitant levels of toxic PFAS: 13 types totaling 334 parts per trillion.

Also known as perfluorinated and polyfluoro-alkyl compounds, PFAS have been linked to serious health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and fetal malformations. [Read more]

6. Homelessness and the First Amendment on trial in Asheville

City draws fire for its treatment of unhoused population and arrest of journalists attempting to cover police sweep of city park  

It was Christmas night, so Veronica Coit hadn’t expected to stay at Aston Park for long. They had come to bring their colleague, Matilda Bliss, a plate from dinner: turkey, sweet potato- and green bean-casseroles, collard greens and a slice of pie.

Coit, whose pronouns are they and them, figured they’d be back home with their family shortly, maybe ending the Christmas night of 2021 the same way as the one before: watching doll-making and rug-cleaning videos on YouTube.

Coit’s plans changed once they saw how many police officers were there.

[Read more]

7. Arsenic, benzene among contaminants found in soil, groundwater at former Weaver Fertilizer plant site

Contaminated soil and groundwater have been found at the former Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, where a devastating fire forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents a little over a year ago.

Several soil samples contained high levels of arsenic; groundwater had elevated concentrations of several chemicals, including nitrite, nitrate, and benzene — the latter of which is a known carcinogen.

The initial findings were part of a draft Remedial Investigation Work Plan submitted by independent contractors to the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The firm, Montrose Engineering, used ground-penetrating radar, soil borings and monitoring wells as part of its investigation.

Contractors noted that the extent of the groundwater contamination — both across and beneath the property — is still unknown and needs further sampling and study.

[Read more]

**BONUS READ: After investigation, state health, environmental officials say no radiation detected at former missile plant in Burlington

8. Yet another poll confirms that NC lawmakers defy public opinion with attacks on abortion rights (Commentary)

At some point in the foreseeable future, the American anti-abortion movement is going to founder on the rocks of public opinion. Unless the nation’s democratic institutions simply cease to function — and admittedly, that’s probably not beyond the realm of possibility in a country in which a sizable minority has fallen for the lies of a serial grifter and would-be autocrat — the law will eventually reflect what most people believe about this most private of personal healthcare matters.

And what they believe, by consistently large margins, is that laws that restrict the right of the pregnant person to decide for themselves about whether to seek abortion care are wrong.

This fact was on display in 2022 when voters in several states — including deeply “red” states like Kansas and Kentucky — rejected efforts to remove this right. And it was demonstrated once again this week in North Carolina in the latest Meredith College Poll results. [Read more]

The future of voter ID, new marriage protections for same-sex and interracial couples, and a rather testy legislative hearing: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

===10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

BREAKING: NC Supreme Court issues much anticipated rulings on education funding, environmental protection

[These are developing stories. Policy Watch will be posting regular updates.]

After nearly three decades of litigation, Leandro case finally comes to a head as justices order lawmakers to fund court-approved education improvement plan

By Greg Childress

In a dramatic ruling issued just days before midterm elections, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling and ordered the transfer of millions of dollars to pay for a school improvement plan designed to provide the state’s school children with the sound basic education guaranteed under the state constitution

The court’s Democratic majority agreed to send the case back to the trial court to recalculate how much money should be transferred from state coffers to pay for the second and third years of what is commonly known as the comprehensive remedial plan.

“Once those calculations have been made, we instruct the trial court to order those State officials to transfer those funds to the specified State agencies,” Supreme Court Justice Robin E. Hudson wrote in the majority opinion.

The eight-year comprehensive remedial plan calls for more than $5.6 billion in public education spending by 2028. Spending on the second and third years of the plan was $1.75 billion before lawmakers approved the recent state budget that partially funded the plan.

State budget officials have estimated that nearly $800 million in the comprehensive plan is unfunded for year two and three.

Superior Court Judge David Lee ordered the state to transfer the $1.75 million last November to fund two years of the school improvement plan developed by education consultant WestEd. However, a state Court of Appeals panel ruled that Lee didn’t have the authority to require the state to spend the money on the plan.

Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson replace lee as the trial judge in March. Robinson ruled that the state must spend $785 million to fully fund the first two years of the comprehensive remedial plan. But Robinson said state officials should not be forced to hand over the money for the plan.

Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement that the state has a constitutional duty to ensure every child has access to a sound basic education.

“As the NC Supreme Court has affirmed today, we must do more for our students all across North Carolina,” Cooper said.

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives also applauded the ruling.

“For years, our state has not lived up to the constitutional requirement to fund a sound, basic education for our children. The Court found that after decades of inaction, now is the time for North Carolina to uphold our obligation to provide that education. It is unfortunate that the Courts have had to compel the Legislature to do what we should have done a long time ago.”

The state Supreme Court is made up of four Democrats and three Republicans. The political makeup of the Court could change after the Nov. 8 election. The Court’s 4-3 decision was made along party lines with Democrats in the majority and Republicans dissenting.

N.C. Justice Center Director Rick Glazier called the ruling the most important civil rights decision issued by the state Supreme Court in decades. Glazier said the decision will benefit generations of school children.

“Finally, after decades of prolonged litigation, the fundamental constitutional right of the children of North Carolina to receive a sound basic education and the vital resources necessary to give that right meaning is given life, enshrined and ensured,” Glazier said.

[Note: Policy Watch is a project of the Justice Center.]

The state’s Republican leadership has long held that the court does not have the authority to order the legislature to pay for the comprehensive plan.

“The people of North Carolina through their elected legislators, not an unelected county-level trial judge, decide how to spend tax dollars,” Senate leader Phil Berger said last December. “Rather than accepting responsibility for lagging achievement and outright failure, the Leandro parties insist that the pathway to student improvement is always the simple application of more money.”

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Phil Berger Jr., the Senate leader’s son, called the decision an “astonishing step” that “permits the judiciary to ordain itself as super-legislators.”

This action is contrary to our system of government, destructive of separation of powers, and the very definition of tyranny as understood by our Founding Fathers,” Berger wrote.

Berger was joined by Chief Justice Paul Newby and Justice Tamara Barringer in the dissenting opinion.

The Leandro case began nearly three decades ago when school districts in five low-wealth counties sued the state, claiming that children were not receiving the same level of educational opportunities as students in wealthier counties. School districts in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, and Vance counties joined Halifax County in the lawsuit.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

Click here to read the ruling and the dissent.


(Chart: Court records)

Justices rule chemical giants cannot escape liability for PFAS pollution in southeastern NC

By Lisa Sorg

The North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s finding that “New DuPont” and Corteva are liable for potential legal damages in North Carolina related to PFAS contamination, according to a ruling published today.

The state’s highest court also agreed with a Business Court that evidence shows the original parent company, Old DuPont, spun off the two companies, along with Chemours, a complex corporate reorganization done to dodge liability “and to defraud its creditors.”

Ryan Park, a lawyer with the NC Attorney General’s office, had argued the state’s case, asking the Supreme Court to affirm the previous ruling.

Old DuPont operated its Fayetteville Works plants for decades, knowingly discharging and emitting toxic PFAS – perfluorinated compounds – including GenX, into the drinking water and the air.

As Policy Watch previously reported, the historical DuPont corporation — known in court records as “Old DuPont” — has parked roughly $20 billion in two “paper companies” — New DuPont and Corteva, which have no employees, offices or equipment,  to shield those assets from legal liability. The new companies are headquartered in Delaware.

The state of North Carolina has already sued Chemours and Old DuPont, demanding that they pay “all past and future costs to assess, remediate, restore and remedy environmental harms” as a result of operations at the Fayetteville Works plant.

If the assets of Corteva and New DuPont can be tapped into, the payouts could be larger.

(Chart: Court records)

New DuPont and Corteva had argued that they shouldn’t be held responsible for Old DuPont’s actions in North Carolina because they are not the result of a corporate merger.

The Supreme Court disagreed. While the Due Process Clause protects companies from the threat of litigation in “arbitrary jurisdictions, it is not a tool to be weaponized … by enabling defendants to evade accountability …”

In other words, if companies responsible for damages could merely re-organize in a different state – and forgo a merger — they could effectively shield themselves from legal consequences.

The Business Court previously found that both Corteva and New DuPont expressly assumed Old DuPont’s PFAS-related liabilities in an April 2019 Separation Agreement and the June 2019 Letter Agreement.

Nonetheless, lawyers for the Corteva and New DuPont claimed – incredulously – that they had no idea they could face lawsuits in North Carolina. The Supreme Court did not buy their argument.

“When companies undergo complicated transactions like that between Old DuPont, Corteva and New DuPont, they conduct extensive due diligence,” the justices wrote, “and the new parties either are aware of, or should be aware of, the liabilities they might acquire.”

NC Policy Watch collects multiple NC Press Association awards for news and commentary

Lisa Sorg

Joe Killian

Greg Childress

Rob Schofield

The North Carolina Press Association handed out its annual editorial and advertising awards last night at a banquet in Raleigh and, as has been the case for the last several years, NC Policy Watch earned recognition in multiple categories, including:

Environmental Investigative Reporter Lisa Sorg was recognized as the first place winner in the online investigative reporting category for her already widely acclaimed special reports on a decaying former missile factory in Burlington that has been polluting a nearby lower-income neighborhood.

Click here to read the “Clear and present danger” series (which was also recognized by the National Press Foundation with its prestigious Thomas L. Stokes Award for reporting excellence on energy and the environment) and here and here to explore Sorg’s other reporting.

Investigative reporter Joe Killian was recognized for the second consecutive year as a recipient of the Duke University/Green-Rossiter Award for Distinguished Newspaper Work in Higher Education Reporting for his ongoing coverage of political pressure in higher education.

Click here to read Joe’s coverage of higher education issues and here and here to explore Killian’s other reporting.

Education reporter Greg Childress was recognized with a second place award amongst online reporters for his dogged ongoing coverage of numerous stories roiling the K-12 education world.

Click here and here to explore them.

Director/editor Rob Schofield was recognized with a second place award for online commentary.

Click here and here to check out some of his work.