Republican lawmakers take on diversity training, decry “indoctrination” at UNC-Chapel Hill

Republican state lawmakers are taking issue with equity, diversity and inclusion programs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In a letter this week to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, N.C. House Majority Whip Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) cited a piece in Carolina Review, the campus conservative publication, about the UNC Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life mandating a training with the group Social Responsibility Speaks.

“Some of the contents of this ‘training’ include the claim that we are on stolen land in North Carolina;” Hardister wrote. “The claim that grocery stores are oppressive because not everyone can reach the top shelf; that airlines are oppressive because not everyone can fit into an average size seat; that our society ‘disempowers, or sometimes harms’ people who are left-handed; that ‘whiteness’ and “white privilege’ pervade our society; and that ‘whiteness’ and ‘white privilege’ can be juxtaposed with other tenets of oppression.”

Hardister went on to say that some of the students claimed they felt “guilty” or “convicted” after the training.

“This is shameful,” Hardister said. “It is reckless and irresponsible to promote the theory that a person (in this case a college student) should feel guilty simply because their skin is a certain color.”

The university should not require “toxic, politically-motivated theories that result in social discord” Hardister wrote, but should instead be “a warm, welcoming environment that offers a diversity of perspectives to all students, rather than mandating divisive, ideological programs.”

As chair of the N.C. House Education – Universities committee, Hardister asked Guskiewicz to justify the training and for information on its cost and how it was paid for. He also asked Guskiewicz whether he will take steps to prevent programs like it in the future and whether his administration has “a plan to address concerns related to politically-motivated indoctrination on campus both in the classroom and in university-sanctioned organizations.”

“Are you concerned about people losing confidence in our education system due to incidents like this?” Hardister asked.

Hardister’s letter was co-signed by more than 50 House members and 15 state Senators. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) were not among the signatories.

The letter, copied to the UNC Board of Governors, UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and UNC System President Peter Hans, is indicative of the current conservative movement against diversity training and objections to ways in which the nation’s racial history is discussed at public schools and universities.

A coordinated conservative campaign

Republicans across the country have seized on this theme this political season, encouraged by conservative political activists who have been open in their desire to make such targets “the perfect villain” in political campaigns. Read more

Federal overhaul equals easing of student debt for public servants

Encouraging news from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this month means many public servants, which includes nurses, teachers, nonprofit employees, government workers, and others, will find it easier to have their student debt forgiven after 10 years of payments.  

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program was meant to encourage college graduates to spend a good portion of their careers in public service work, which often pays less than private employment, by promising them their student debt remaining after 10 years of payments would be forgiven. But a poorly run and difficult to navigate process meant hundreds of thousands of Americans applied and believed they had met the requirements, but only about 2% were getting their loans forgiven.  

The changes to PSLF are temporary, and systemic problems must still be addressed at the state and federal level. The NCGA should continue to move House Bill 707, which will offer protections to borrowers not covered by the overhaul. But public servants with student debt can assess their eligibility and begin the process of applying for forgiveness here:  

The Department of Education’s PSLF Help Tool.  

The changes are summarized here and include a waiver that will count payments toward credit for the program regardless of the type of loan the student borrower carries. This waiver is in effect until October 31, 2022, so borrowers must apply within the next year.  

Qualifying payments will also be broadened to include payments that were previously not counted because they were off by a small amount or late a few days. Active-duty military will see their months spent serving our country count toward PSLF certification even if their loans were in deferment or forbearance, and will be given automatic credit for PSLF by virtue of their enlistment. The Department of Education will also review denials, correct errors, and improve outreach.  

So many public servants took on careers that paid them less but filled our society’s vital needs. They made sacrifices and poured their talents and energies into work that benefits us all. Their difficulty getting credit after good faith efforts to fulfill the requirements of PSLF have been sad and unjust. We appreciate these temporary improvements and look forward to more progress toward a healthy higher education system through state and federal policy reforms. 

Rochelle Sparko is Director of North Carolina Policy at the Center for Responsible Lending.

For more on student loan debt in North Carolina and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, click below to listen to Policy Watch’s recent podcast with Sparko.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt vows to fight for same ‘principles’ as new Virginia governor

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt shared a celebratory tweet Wednesday congratulating Republican Glenn Youngkin on his victory in the Virginia governor’s race.

The superintendent tweeted that “Parents’ voices were heard loud and clear last night in VA!” and she pledged to “continue to fight for these basic principles in NC.”

Youngkin, a political newcomer, defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor, in a tightly contested race in which education became a key issue.

Youngkin has committed to building at least 20 charter schools across Virginia to offer parents more choice. And he has vowed to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT), an obscure academic discipline that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy. Most K-12 educators say CRT is not taught in public schools.

Catherine Truitt

Truitt, nevertheless, has also pledged to fight against CRT in North Carolina’s K-12 schools.

“As your superintendent, I will continue to do everything I can to stop CRT and eradicate it from classrooms,” Truitt said during a June “meet and greet” with Orange County Republicans. “Republicans in NC are united on this.”

McAuliffe received a lot of criticism for saying parents should not tell schools what to teach during a debate before Tuesday’s election.

Truitt’s tweet included a survey question from an NBC News exit poll showing that 94% of Youngkin’s supporters believe parents should have “a lot/some say” in curriculum.  Meanwhile, 74% of McAuliffe supporters agreed that parents should have “a lot/some say” in curriculum.

NC Department of Public Instruction’s key Leandro strategist to retire

Bev Emory

Bev Emory, the executive director of Leandro Support at the NC Department of Public instruction (NCDPI), will retire Dec. 31.

Emory, the NCDPI staffer responsible for implementing the recommendations in the WestEd report, shared the news Wednesday during the State Board of Education’s (SBE) Bi-Annual Planning and Work Session.

She told State Superintendent Catherine Truitt about her decision to retire a few months ago.

“This has really been a joyful ride,” Emory said during an impromptu speech. “I told Superintendent [Catherine] Truitt when I talked to her a few months ago is that the last thing I want to be is that person everybody is saying, ‘Oh, God she needs to go.’ ”

NCDPI spokeswoman Blair Rhoades said a formal announcement about “transition plans” will be made at the SBE’s December 1-2 meeting.

WestEd is an independent consultant hired by Superior Court Judge David Lee to develop recommendations to improve North Carolina’s public schools. Lee is overseeing the state’s landmark school funding case – Leandro v. State of North Carolina – brought by five school districts in low-wealth counties that argued their districts did not have enough money to provide children a quality education.

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.

WestEd’s recommendations include staffing each classroom with a competent, well-trained teacher; staffing each school with a competent, well-trained principal and identifying the resources necessary to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education, among others.

Emory’s public announcement about her December departure comes just days before Judge Lee is expected to issue a court order to compel lawmakers to comply with the Leandro ruling by funding a plan that calls for $1.7 billion in new school spending over the next two years.  The plan would cost $5.6 billion over the next seven years and would pay for teacher raises, provide additional funding to low-wealth school districts and expand the NC Pre-K program.

SBE Chairman Eric Davis said Emory has touched millions of students during her career.

“There’re families, there’re teachers, there’re educators who have a better life today because they were touched by Bev Emory,” Davis said.

Emory resigned as superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in 2019 to become director of district and regional support at NCDPI. She was hired by former state superintendent Mark Johnson, who had served on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.

Emory also served as superintendent of Pitt County Schools from 2006-13.

State commission provided blueprint to close achievement gap 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, the NC Commission on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps issued a report with 11 recommendations to improve minority students’ academic achievement.

On Tuesday, the State Board of Education (SBE) acknowledged that many of the report’s goals have not been met even as it posthumously honored Robert Bridges, the longtime North Carolina educator who chaired the ground-breaking Commission.

Robert Bridges

Bridges was the first Black superintendent of the Wake County school system. He died in September. The SBE presented Bridges’ family a gift to show its appreciation for his efforts to ensure a “sound and basic education” for North Carolina’s school children.

SBE member Olivia Oxendine served on the Commission. She told the board that the recommendations in the “Bridges Report” are  still relevant. Oxendine noted that the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) touches upon some of them in the work it’s currently doing to close the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers.

“But if you take a look at the cover of that report, we have a way to go,” Oxendine said. “You see the vision. The vision is actually on the cover of the report. You see the trajectory and we haven’t quite gotten there, but can we? We certainly can.”

Olivia Oxendine

Oxendine was referring to the December 2001 report’s cover, which features an aspirational growth trajectory chart that shows minority students closing the achievement gap.

Tuesday’s discussion took place during the first day of the SBE’s two-day bi-annual planning and work session.

The commission was created in 2000 to advise the SBE, the state Superintendent, and local school districts on strategies to raise student achievement and to close the achievement gap that existed, and still exists, between minority students and their white counterparts.

“A rising tide will lift all boats but their physical relationship to each other will not change without some additional intervention,” the commission said in the report. “We must create new traditions in this case and go beyond the routine . . . and in some cases, beyond our comforts if we are to succeed in this endeavor.”

The commission recommended that steps be taken to “reduce, then eliminate” the disproportionate number of minority students assigned to special education programs; provide more opportunities for minority students to take advanced courses; improve communication between parents and schools and ensure classrooms have well-trained teachers who are adequately supported.

“Most policymakers, parents, educators, and researchers now generally agree that nothing is more closely tied to student achievement and underachievement than the preparation, support, and quality of classroom teachers,” the Commission said. “It follows then, that nothing is more critical to our efforts to close the achievement gap than making certain that every student, especially those who have been traditionally underserved by public schools, has access to competent, caring, qualified teachers in schools organized for success.”

Click this link to seen the full report.

A similar recommendation was made in 2019 by WestEd, an independent consultant hired by Superior Court Judge David Lee to develop recommendations to improve North Carolina’s public schools. Lee is overseeing the state’s landmark Leandro school funding lawsuit.

Here’s what WestEd said about the importance of well-trained teachers: Read more