Commentary, News

BREAKING: Cooper vetoes two more lame duck session bills

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed two more bills passed during the General Assembly’s lame duck session that sought to package highly controversial law changes with other noncontroversial and even essential legislation.

The first, which was explained earlier this week by Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton, would dramatically increase the secrecy of state Board of Elections investigations. The second, as was explained yesterday by education policy expert Kris Nordstrom, includes counter-productive changes to state education law — including facilitating the establishment of so-called municipal charter schools.

This is from the Governor’s press release:

Today, Governor Cooper vetoed House Bill 1029, Bipartisan State Board Changes.

Gov. Cooper shared the following veto message:

“North Carolinians demand that elections should be conducted in an honest, fair, and accurate manner. The responsibility of investigators and prosecutors to find and eliminate wrongdoing in our elections is essential to maintaining integrity in our most sacred democratic process. This bill makes it harder to root out corruption in elections and campaign finance. While it does finally return the Board of Elections to a constitutional structure, Part IV shields politicians and others who violate campaign finance laws. These new provisions operate to obscure the truth rather than shine a light on it. The rushed introduction and passage of this bill allowed lawmakers little time to weigh the downsides of Part IV and, upon reflection, study, and hearing from election law experts, the downside can be devastating to the cause of fighting election fraud.

“Therefore, I veto the bill.”

Gov. Cooper also vetoed Senate Bill 469, Technical Corrections, and shared the following veto message:

“Ending stormwater and water quality protections threaten the safety of our communities. Additionally, municipal charter schools set a dangerous precedent that could lead to taxpayer funded re-segregation.

“Therefore, I veto the bill.”

 

Commentary, Education

NC Policy Watch welcomes new education reporter

In case you missed it, a new byline is starting to crop up on the NC Policy Watch websites. It gives me great pleasure to announce that veteran journalist Greg Childress recently joined our team as the PW education reporter.

If that name sounds familiar, it should. Greg comes to Policy Watch after nearly 30 years at The Herald-Sun of Durham, where he spent his last five years covering the Durham Public Schools, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools. Greg also covered city and county governments in Durham and Orange counties, higher education and spent 10 years as an associate editorial page editor.

At Policy Watch, Greg will put his long list of contacts and three decades of  journalism experience to work doing what his predecessors in the position — Lindsay Wagner and Billy Ball — have been doing for the last several years: chronicling the ongoing policy battles over the future of public education and breaking important stories that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. We’re thrilled to have Greg on board and urge advocates, teachers, administrators, parents, students and elected officials to follow his stories and reach out to him. You can contact Greg at greg@ncpolicywatch.com or 919-861-2066 and follow him on Twitter at gchild6645.

Commentary, Education

Charlotte teacher pens open letter to Betsy DeVos on guns

Charlotte schoolteacher and education advocate Justin Parmenter has published a new open letter to U. S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about gun violence and DeVos’s latest wacky proposal to arm school personnel.

Dear Secretary DeVos,

Last month my 7th grade students and I huddled on the floor of my classroom during yet another lockdown. As the minutes ticked slowly past, I made eye contact with each student, one by one. I could see on their faces the absolute trust that I would guide them through whatever challenges we faced.

In the wake of the horrific gun deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL last Valentine’s Day, the White House convened a school safety commission with you at the helm.  The Federal Commission on School Safety’s task was a really important one:  to find ways to keep us safer in our schools.

While your commission deliberated, the public did too.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • Teachers said they don’t want to carry guns.
  • Parents said they don’t want teachers to carry guns.
  • Teens said they don’t want teachers to carry guns.

Notice a trend?

We did have some alternative suggestions, which we offered at every possible opportunity.  We asked for stricter firearms laws, including raising the age limit for gun purchases.  We wanted access to the assault weapons so frequently used in our nation’s mass shootings to be restricted.  We wanted increased resources for the chronically underfunded mental health supports that our students need to be socially and emotionally healthy.

This week your commission released its final report.

Among other things, your recommendation is that school systems consider training and arming personnel, including teachers, as ‘an effective tool in stopping acts of school violence.’   Read more

Commentary

Hidden policies in General Assembly “technical corrections” bill should be rejected

Legislative leaders have used December’s lame duck session as a last-gasp effort to pass a number of regressive policy measures that will move the state backwards. General Assembly leaders are in a rush to pass these bills before they lose their veto-proof majorities on January 1. Bills related to implementing the new voter ID requirement and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement have understandably generated the most press coverage. But legislators are also trying to sneak through several changes to education policy that should be rejected.

SB 469, inaccurately titled as a “Technical Corrections” bill, creates several substantive changes to the state’s education policies. Notably, the bill would grease the rails for school segregation by making it easier for wealthy suburban communities to create “municipal charter schools” that would exacerbate gross inequities within North Carolina’s school system. Additionally, the bill would needlessly funnel $8,000 a year to certain families of private school students. Both are moves in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately, the bill is bundled with a few good education policy changes that should be passed, making the Governor’s veto decision more difficult. Specifically, the bill would allow Carver Heights Elementary in Wayne County to avoid being placed in the unproven, undemocratic, and unpopular Innovative School District program. Another section would protect pay for principals whose schools have lost enrollment due to Hurricane Florence.

Both of these are good ideas, embraced by leaders of both parties, that could easily be addressed this month in a clean bill or passed when the new General Assembly is seated in January. Lawmakers broadly support allowing Wayne County school leaders to continue its reform efforts at Carver Heights. Similarly, nobody thinks principals should face pay cuts due to a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence.

If Governor Cooper were to veto SB 469, he’d have strong bipartisan support for the measures related to Carver Heights and principal pay (as well as the number of other truly technical corrections included in the bill). The delay created by a veto might extend a period of policy uncertainty, but the issues would be addressed in due time – a small price to pay to prevent the further segregation of our public schools and the straining of public school budgets for school voucher programs.

Below are additional details on the deleterious changes proposed by SB 469. If the bill becomes law, legislators should focus on repealing these sections in the 2019 legislative session. Read more

Commentary, News

Is this the best public policy news from 2018?

Admittedly, the competition in the national and state “good policy news” contests have been pretty weak over the last 12 months, but here is one very good bit of news that deserves to be celebrated: the death penalty in North Carolina continues to fade away before our eyes.

The following is from the good people over at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation:

New death sentences in North Carolina reached historic lows in 2018
With executions still on hold, N.C.’s large death row is last remnant of a fading death penalty

Durham, NC — In 2018, for the second year in a row, juries imposed no new death sentences in North Carolina. This marks the third year of the past four without any death sentences, and the first time in the state’s modern history that juries have rejected the death penalty for two consecutive years.

There were just three capital trials in North Carolina this year, one each in Wake, Lee, and Scotland counties. All three juries chose life without parole instead of death sentences.

The state has not executed anyone since 2006.

“The death penalty in North Carolina has become a relic,” said Gretchen Engel, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and a defense attorney for death row prisoners. “Very few district attorneys seek death anymore and, when they do, juries reject it. The people of our state are speaking very clearly. We no longer need the death penalty to keep North Carolina safe.”

National trends away from the death penalty also continued in 2018. Washington became the 20th state to abolish capital punishment. A Gallup poll showed that, for the first time, a majority of Americans believe the death penalty is applied unfairly. Only eight states executed people, and numbers of death sentences and executions remained near all-time lows. At the same time, estimates showed that the U.S. murder rate was on track for its biggest decline in five years, providing more evidence that there is no connection between crime deterrence and the death penalty.

As the tide turns, Wake County remains an outlier in continuing to seek death sentences. Read more