Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

Old textbooks sit next to a tablet in teacher Charles Elliot's language arts classroom. Photo by Ricky Leung / NC Policy Watch.1. Experts to Gov. Cooper’s education commission: NC school funding is near nation’s lowest

North Carolina’s public school system is one of the lowest funded in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, a K-12 researcher told members of a key state school panel Tuesday.

It was just one of many data points hammered home, as school experts and administrators warned a key K-12 task force convened by Gov. Roy Cooper of troubling funding patterns, teacher shortages and yawning local spending gaps in North Carolina.

Karen Hawley Miles is president and executive director of Massachusetts-based Education Resource Strategies, a national nonprofit that advises states on school finances.

Miles’ report, which analyzed both state and national public school spending trends, pointed to numerous shortfalls in the state’s school finance structure, including that North Carolina has the fifth lowest average teacher salary in the nation when adjusted for cost-of-living, and that the state’s teachers earn only about 67 percent of the pay given to “similarly-educated, non-teachers.” [Read more…]

2.Signs of hope amidst the horror
Cracks are forming in the NRA’s death grip on American politics

At some point, it’s going to happen.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, shifting attitudes in the American body politic will reach a tipping point and the death grip that the gun lobby has on our government will begin to ease and, perhaps, even collapse. It’s not likely to happen right away or be pretty or pleasant – thousands more children, women and men will have to die unnecessarily and prematurely – but, it’s definitely going to happen.

The signs of this gradual change have been visible for some time and are garnering renewed attention in the aftermath of last week’s latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Here are five that stand out: [Read more…]

3. Dreamers’ lives hang in the balance as Supreme Court reviews Trump’s attempt to end DACA

Any protection the courts offer Dreamers is temporary, but all eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether it will take on the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

There have been numerous lawsuits filed since the Sept. 5, 2017 announcement that the government would end DACA, but the federal government made a rare move in mid-January by petitioning the highest court to weigh in on its decision before a review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The request was made after Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction requiring the federal government to maintain DACA nationwide except in few cases.[Read more...]

4. As GenX concerns grow, House lawmakers grapple with how to win Senate support

The good news is that the levels of GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water is testing consistently below the state’s provisional health goal. The bad news is that GenX has been detected in the sediment of the Cape Fear River and in rain water at a UNC Wilmington weather station 70 miles from Chemours, a known source of the chemical.

The good news is House members are enchanted with their version of House Bill 189, which would provide funding for the NC Department of Environmental Quality to address GenX and emerging contaminants. The bad news is, as Rep. Bob Steinburg, a Republican representing the Outer Banks, said, “the Senate spurned us.”

And so vacillated the emotional temperature of the House River Quality Committee yesterday, which met for more than four hours on a sprawl of topics, ranging from an EPA presentation on mass spectrometers, to a DEQ report on enforcement against Chemours, to an impassioned discussion of House Bill 189. [Read more…]

5. A tollway’s toll: Human, environmental impact of I-540 expansion loom large in southern Wake County

Carol Hinske rocked in her porch swing, allowing the sun to toast her skin on an oddly hot winter afternoon. “It feels good on my bones,” she said, smiling, her eyes closed.

Hinske, who is 73, has lived in Blue Skies Mobile Home Park off Rhodes Road near Apex for nearly half of her adult life. She has nurtured gardenias and azaleas, coddled hyacinths and daffodils, as well as raised a crepe myrtle tree from “when it was just a baby.”

But now Hinske is preparing — mentally, anyway — to uproot herself, her cat, Bandit, and her mobile home to make way for a toll road.

If built according to the current plan, the Complete 540 project will connect to the existing toll road at Highways 55 and 540, then traverse 28 miles through southern Wake County before joining I-440 and US 64 near Knightdale. [Read more…]

*** Upcoming Crucial Conversation on Wednesday:  The Hyde Amendment at age 41: The path forward in the fight for reproductive freedom for low-income women.

The Hyde Amendment was first introduced by an anti-abortion congressman in 1976 as a way to explicitly bar low-income people from accessing abortion care, and it’s been a provision tacked onto the federal budget ever since. For 41 years, legal and safe abortion has been the only type of health care stigmatized and politically targeted in this way. Register today.

Commentary, News

Policy Watch takes home seven NC Press Assn. awards; Sorg wins prestigious freedom of information honor

The reporting and commentary team at NC Policy Watch was recognized with seven separate awards last night at the annual North Carolina Press Association banquet. Topping the list was Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg who was singled as the 2017 recipient of the prestigious Henry Lee Weathers Freedom of Information Award.

Sorg, who has been recognized on multiple occasions throughout her career for journalism excellence and who is one of the nation’s preeminent environmental reporters, was recognized for her “efforts and exceptional work in advancing and upholding the cause of Freedom of Information.” In a fashion that is typical of her commitment to excellence in reporting, Sorg missed last night’s award ceremony in order to report on a public hearing regarding the planned expansion of the I-540 tollway in southern Wake County. You can read the story that she filed early this morning on that issue by clicking here.

In addition to the Weathers award, Sorg also won recognition for stories she wrote on the GenX water pollution crisis and the controversial chemical manufacturer SePro, which sought to sell one of its products to the state to kill algae in Jordan Lake. The former won second place in news enterprise reporting and the latter garnered second place for investigative reporting. Both competed in the online publications category.

Other Policy Watch award winners last night:

  • A second place for Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter Melissa Boughton in the general news reporting category for online publications for her in-depth look at state lawmakers’ attempt to shrink the state Court of Appeals,
  • A third place for Investigative reporter Joe Killian in the investigative reporting category for online publications for his examination of the opioid crisis,
  • A third place for New Media Director Nelle Dunlap in the appearance and design category for online publications for her work on the NC Policy Watch and Progressive Pulse websites, and
  • A third place for Policy Watch founder and recently departed longtime director Chris Fitzsimon in the editorial category for online publications for his commentary on the North Carolina General Assembly.
Commentary

Debunking the mad idea of arming teachers

Not that any sane person can’t figure this out intuitively, but in case you wanted a little more information on the subject, here are a couple of essays to check out this morning regarding the Prevaricator-in-Chief’s loony tunes idea of arming school teachers.

In “Arming teachers to stop school shootings is a dangerous myth,” Luke Barnes at Think Progress provides a helpful summary of some actual research on the subject that is instructive. Here’s an excerpt:

“But research shows both Trump and the NRA are wrong. Armed personnel within schools would have very little chance of stopping a school shooter. What’s more, it’s been consistently proven that more guns in schools increases the risk of a deadly accident.

‘There are some myths behind the armed teacher idea in the U.S. The first is that good guys with guns can easily stop mass shootings and there have been numerous studies to show that’s not true,’ said Eugenio Weigend, associate director for gun violence prevention at the Center for American Progress….’The FBI conducted a study of 163 instances of mass shootings and found that only one was stopped by an armed individual versus 21 that were stopped by unarmed people.’

…Then there’s the issue of the extensive training school personnel would require in order to have any chance of neutralizing a school shooter. As Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out Wednesday night, the type of training teachers or other school personnel would require to prepare for school shootings is incredibly difficult and similar to that undertaken by police SWAT teams — clearing buildings packed with students, making split-second decisions to avoid accidentally shooting either an innocent victim or another armed responder.”

With schools like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, which had more than 3,000 students, the idea of one or even a half-dozen armed personnel being able to quickly find and neutralize an active shooter in the ensuing chaos seems ludicrous. That’s if they even decide to enter in the first place. According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ armed school resource officer did not go inside the school to confront the killer when the shooting happened. He has since resigned.”

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has an interesting essay entitled “Gun Rights, ‘Positive Good’ and the Evolution of Mutually Assured Massacre,” in which he thoroughly explains and debunks the “positive good” theory behind this terrible idea. After explaining the NRA’s basic argument — that having more guns everywhere makes everyone safer — and explaining its origins in the writings an off-kilter economist named John Lott, Marshall says this:

“In the abstract, where no humans actually exist, there’s actually a compelling logic to this. If I know you’re armed, I’ll be on my best behavior. You will too because you know I’m armed. Of course, in practice, almost everything is wrong with this logic. Read more

Commentary, News

Public hearing re: offshore drilling on the NC coast scheduled for next Monday in Raleigh

In case you missed it — and it wouldn’t be surprising if you did — the Trump administration has scheduled a single public hearing in North Carolina on its plan to open up the state’s coastline to seismic testing and, ultimately, oil and gas drilling. The event will take place next Monday, February 26 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Raleigh at the North Raleigh Hilton Hotel.

The following is excerpted from an editorial that ran earlier this week in the Wilmington Star News: entitled “Large turnout needed at offshore-drilling hearing in Raleigh”:

“The federal government’s only public hearing in North Carolina on plans to open our waters to oil and gas drilling and seismic testing is this Monday at a hotel in Raleigh – 130 miles or so from the nearest threatened beach.

That’s not too surprising. The Trump boat is tilted so far in favor of oil, coal and other fossil fuels, it’s a wonder it hasn’t capsized. (We guess we should count ourselves lucky the hearing is not being held in Asheville.)

President Trump has filled his offices with old oil-and-gas hands: Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon/Mobil; Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who tried his best to block President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and now runs the EPA; and Ryan Zinke, a former board member for an oil pipeline company who’s now the Interior secretary.

We’ve seen how Mr. Trump has all but moved to outlaw solar energy, slapping a 30 percent tariff on solar power parts and slashing funds for solar energy research. Clearly these folks don’t want a bunch of tree-huggers and snowflakes standing in the way of Smoky Progress.

They’re joined, of course, by 7th District Rep. David Rouzer, who’s said again and again that he thinks offshore oil wells would be the best thing in North Carolina since Krispy Kreme. (Rouzer, the distinguished representative of the state’s biggest coastal region, lives near Raleigh, so we don’t expect him to know about Britt’s doughnuts.)….

We want to repeat our position: We are realistic about our need for oil and natural gas, and, therefore, are not opposed in principle to offshore drilling. We also are realistic about drilling’s potential threat to our vital tourism and fisheries industries. At a time when oil is relatively cheap and plentiful (compared to the $5 a gallon gasoline of the Bush years) and the United States is becoming a net oil exporter, we believe possible benefits of drilling are currently outweighed by inherent risks. We believe there are many residents in our area who share those views. We wish our representative in Washington did, too….

(You also can submit comments online through March 9 at tinyurl.com/yawoltb8).

And then we should consider this: If we can’t get public officials who’ll stand up for our sounds and beaches and our unique coastal economy, maybe it’s time we get some new ones. You can make your voice heard on that issue, too, in November.”

Commentary

Join us next Wednesday for a discussion of reproductive freedom

Join us next Wednesday, February 28 for a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon –

The Hyde Amendment at age 41: The path forward in the fight for reproductive freedom for low-income women

Click here to register.

The Hyde Amendment was first introduced by an anti-abortion congressman in 1976 as a way to explicitly bar low-income people from accessing abortion care, and it’s been a provision tacked onto the federal budget ever since. For 41 years, legal and safe abortion has been the only type of health care stigmatized and politically targeted in this way.

And for 41 years, the tentacles of the Hyde Amendment have grown. In North Carolina in 2018, no federal, state, county or local government employees can obtain coverage for abortion care through their employee benefits; and North Carolina residents who access their health care through the military, Indian Health Services or the United State Peace Corps volunteer program cannot have an abortion covered through that insurance. State lawmakers have even forced private health insurers that offer plans on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace to drop abortion coverage.

With the procedure typically starting around $500, plus potential travel, child care and lost work costs, many low-income patients seeking an abortion are forced to scramble to come up with the money needed to access this common, safe and legal medical procedure.

So, where do things stand and what is the path forward in the battle to restore and guarantee reproductive freedom for all?

Join us as we tackle these and other urgent and timely questions with representatives of three of our state’s leading advocacy groups for reproductive freedom:

Omisade Burney-Scott of Sister Song, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Sister Song’s mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.

Marles Earle of the Carolina Abortion Fund, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides financial assistance to North Carolinians who choose to have an abortion but cannot afford the full cost.

Tara Romano of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, a statewide advocacy organization that works to ensure all North Carolinians can make the reproductive health care decisions they need, including preventing pregnancy, carrying a pregnancy to term safely, and terminating a pregnancy.

When: Wednesday, February 28th, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration requiredClick here to register.

Cost: $15, admission includes a box lunch. Scholarships available.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com