Education, News

State Board of Education’s Bill Cobey will not seek another term as chairman

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey (right).

Bill Cobey, the longtime North Carolina Republican who’s clashed of late with members of his own party in the N.C. General Assembly and Superintendent Mark Johnson, will not seek another term as board chair when his term ends in September.

“I’ve done it for five and a half  years,” Cobey told Policy Watch Friday. “I think that’s plenty long enough.”

Asked whether he intends to remain on the board for the duration of his term, which ends next March, Cobey declined to comment.

The former chair of the state Republican party and, at one time, a GOP hopeful for governor, Cobey has a long history in North Carolina politics and leadership. He served one term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, sat as athletic director for UNC-Chapel Hill, and directed former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s campaign in North Carolina.

But in recent years, Cobey—who was appointed to the State Board of Education by former Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013—has often been at odds with the public education decisions of the Republican-controlled legislature and the state superintendent.

Johnson and members of the board battled in court this year over sweeping new powers given to the GOP superintendent by the legislature last year, with both sides, bizarrely, claiming victory in a state Supreme Court decision in June. The decision seemed to confirm Johnson’s new powers.

Cobey says the state board is now prepping new rules that “define our relationship with the superintendent,” even as Johnson’s office took swipes at the board chair in a terse statement last month.

The shakeup in board leadership will come at a tumultuous time for the board, which has long led the state’s K-12 system with the superintendent.

The board’s former vice chair, A.L. “Buddy” Collins stepped down in March to focus on his campaign for a local county commission seat in Forsyth County.

Board member Eric Davis, who has also clashed with Johnson and state legislators, became vice chair in Collins’ stead. It’s unclear who will step into Cobey’s role as chairman after his departure.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers rankled some when they voted down two of Gov. Roy Cooper’s long-pending nominations for expired state board seats last month.

Legislators re-confirmed current board member Reginald Kenan, but voted down confirmation for J.B. Buxton, a former education adviser for ex-Gov. Mike Easley, and Sandra Byrd, a retired UNC-Asheville associate professor and provost. Lawmakers provided no reasoning in denying a seat for Buxton.

The legislature has allowed the Democratic governor’s state board nominations to bog down for months, while two members, Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt, continue to serve in seats that expired in March 2017.

Cobey said he’s tried to stay out of the confirmation controversy.

“I understand the disappointment of those appointees,” Cobey said. “However, we have two experienced, well-qualified current board members in Wayne McDevitt and Tricia Willoughby. As long as they are willing to serve, the education of public school students is well served.”

Commentary, Environment, News, Voting

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Powerful new hog trial testimony puts Smithfield back on the defensive
By Lisa Sorg

As a former police officer and firefighter, Wesley Sewell has encountered odors so putrid that they would make most people retch. He’s even ranked the smells. No. 1 “is when I had to remove burning bodies from a plane crash,” Sewell told a jury in a federal hog nuisance trial yesterday. No. 2 “is when I had to remove a person from their home who had been dead a week on the toilet. Hog feces is number three, or at least in the top five.”

Sewell is not a plaintiff, but was subpoenaed as a witness in the most recent lawsuit against the world’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown. [Read more…]

2. Fearing suppression, voting rights advocates make case for early voting sites in letters to county boards
By Melissa Boughton

Early voting in North Carolina is a big deal with a big turnout, but advocates are bracing for a negative impact this year after some last minute legislative wheeling and dealing.

To help minimize the damage, the ACLU of North Carolina and Democracy NC teamed up to inform county boards of elections of the effects of Senate Bill 325 and House Bill 335 and to make recommendations for consideration as they adopt early voting plans. [Read more...]

3. Just say ‘no’: The easiest way to push back against NC’s rogue General Assembly is to vote against all six proposed constitutional amendments
By Rob Schofield

Like Congress and most modern American state legislatures, the North Carolina General Assembly is not a popular or respected body. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling asked voters their opinion of the General Assembly earlier this year and the results were fairly dismal. It found that less than one-in-five North Carolina voters (19%) approved of the job the legislature was doing, while more than half (51%) disapproved. [Read more]

4. Plea deal offers glimpse into rampant bail industry fraud
By Joe Killian

When Sarah Jessenia Lopez plead guilty in May to attempted notary fraud related to bail bonding, it was not earth shattering. After all, fraud and criminality in North Carolina’s for-profit bail industry has been rampant for years.

The North Carolina Department of Insurance regulates the bail industry. Between 2009 and 2016, its criminal investigators made more than 1,500 arrests related to insurance and bail bonding fraud alone. There have been more than 750 criminal convictions with more than 250 cases currently pending in court. But a close examination of Lopez’s plea deal reveals details that could reverberate throughout the already troubled industry and contribute to the final dismantling of one of the state’s largest and most powerful bail surety companies. [Read more]

5. N.C. General Assembly has failed to act, but the time to stop Chemours’ pollution is now
By Billy Ball

“How long before we say enough is enough?” state lawmaker Ted Davis Jr. asked his colleagues in the N.C. House in February. “How much more is Chemours going to get away with before something is done?”

Chances are the Wilmington Republican, whose constituents are right to be worried about the Delaware-based chemical company’s discharges into the Cape Fear River, is asking the same questions today as pressure mounts on Chemours practically everywhere outside of the North Carolina General Assembly. [Read more]

6. Cartoonist John Cole: It’s getting deep… [Read more…]

Commentary, News

Horror stories emerging about life in former Wal-Mart-turned-ICE facility

The list of horrible acts being committed in the name of the American people by the Trump administration continues to grow. For a classic and stomach-turning example, check out reporter Alan Pyke’s story on Think Progress entitled “‘This is it for you. You’re fu**ed.’: Inside ICE’s abuse of migrant kids at a frigid old Walmart — Nicknamed the “hielera” or icebox, Casa Padre is a hellscape of cruel guards, sickening food, and psychological torture. Here are some excerpts:

“Children are sleeping on floors and being cussed out by guards, subsisting on meager rations of beans, crackers, and tortillas that leave them feeling ill, and passing the nights sleeping on floors under bright lights in a converted Walmart in south Texas.

The new reports of harsh physical conditions, humiliating psychological abuse, and basic deprivation at the so-called ‘Casa Padre’ facility in Brownsville, Texas, come almost a month after President Donald Trump took symbolic steps to quash public outcry over his family separation policy aimed at punishing and deterring migrants.

The children and parents who swore out hundreds of affidavits to attorneys appealing the United States government’s treatment of migrants have mostly fled violence in Central America. The conditions in which they find themselves today in the world’s richest and most powerful country shock the conscience — and almost certainly violate the conditions of the legal settlement that’s bound American officials in treatment of minors in immigration detention for decades, lawyers say.

In many cases, the only bathroom the children are allowed to use is located inside their holding pen.

There is a security camera in the room which points to the bathroom’ in the cell where a 17-year-old from Guatemala named Noe is being kept with a dozen other boys, he said.”

The story goes on to describe many dreadful aspects of life in the facility, including terrible food, outrageous discipline practices and a culture of abuse. Here’s the sobering conclusion:

“The horror stories were unearthed by attorneys seeking a judge’s help to enforce the longstanding consent decree that governs U.S. treatment of child detainees and families of migrants that include minor children. Only about one in 10 interviewees reported being treated particularly well, or offered any praise for the adequacy of the food, blankets, or other conditions, attorney Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law said in the filing that accompanied the shocking testimonials.

‘[A]bout 90%… provide testimony that is shocking and atrocious,’ Schey wrote. ‘It amounts to a picture not just of forcibly separating thousands of children from their parents, but on a much broader level of a program of forced hunger, forced thirst, forced sleep deprivation, coupled with routine insults, threats, and physical assault, that leave class member children crying, trembling, hungry, thirsty, sleepless, sick, and terrified.’

‘Mental health experts agree that many class members will never fully recover from the terror and humiliation they experienced in Defendants’ custody.’

Though Schey is bound by legal standards to use the word ‘Defendants’ there, the rest of us don’t have to be so oblique. The people doing this to the 900-plus children at Casa Padre and more than 1,000 others at other facilities — while also failing to reunite families as they were ordered to do by a federal court — are officials of the United States government that represents all 300-plus million people who are citizens of this country.”

 

 

News

Analysis: Youth voter registration up since Parkland school shooting

Youth voter registration has surged since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, according to a new analysis by data firm TargetSmart – including a 5.5 percent bump in North Carolina.

The company’s analysis of 39 states found the share of youth registrations in the N.C. increased from 38.7 to 44.2 percent since the February shooting.

In a release promoting the analysis, TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier attributed the increase to the well publicized movement to organize youth for the November election.

“A new generation of political leaders emerged in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy,” Bonier said in the release Thursday. “We witnessed their ability to organize in North Carolina and across the country as massive crowds took to the streets for the March for Our Lives, and now we’re seeing a quantifiable impact from that organizing. It remains to be seen how many of these younger registrants will cast a ballot in November, but they are poised to have a louder voice than ever in these critical midterm elections.”

The release also highlighted the findings of a poll from the Harvard University Institute of Politics, conducted after the Parkland shooting. It found  64 percent of 18-29 year-olds favor stricter gun control laws whether or not they plan to vote in November. Nearly two-thirds of those under 30 who say they plan to vote said they support stricter laws.

Education, News

Exploring “education deserts” — How proximity to universities impacts Americans

If you have the time, check out an absolutely fascinating, interactive report on “education deserts” this week from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The report delves into areas of the country where potential students find themselves at least an hour’s drive from the nearest institution of higher education, drawing connections to poverty and inequality.

The analysis found that more than 11.2 million Americans, or about 3.5 percent of the adult population, live at least an hour’s drive away from a public university. Their maps highlight portions of eastern and western North Carolina for their gaps too.

While such studies are relatively new, they may highlight some of the persistent obstacles to economic advancement in poorer parts of the country.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

For most college students, place matters. And closer is often better. In 2016, almost 40 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen reported that their colleges were less than 50 miles from their homes, a proportion that has held since the 1980s. Studying close to home, family, and community can be even more vital for the roughly one in four undergraduate students who are considered nontraditional — those who are older, have child-care duties, work full time, or attend college part time.

But what happens when there’s no college nearby? That’s still the case in substantial pockets of the country. Areas where it’s difficult for placebound students to get to a college — commonly known as education deserts — have drawn more attention in recent years, but there’s still much to be learned about their breadth and their impact.

We wanted to learn more. If colleges and policy makers fail to consider the impact of education deserts, they will fail to engage a large pool of potential students. That may reinforce the inequality that higher education hopes to solve.

The first step in eliminating education deserts is finding them. Existing research into education deserts is so limited that there isn’t a broadly accepted definition of what constitutes one. So The Chronicle ran its own analysis. We started by identifying almost 1,500 two- and four-year public colleges. (For our analysis, we excluded institutions with an acceptance rate lower than 30 percent: These colleges wouldn’t be considered viable options by many local students.)

Like the authors of several recent studies, we then defined the areas each college serves. To do so, we calculated driving distance: If students who live or work off campus could drive to it within 60 minutes, we considered them in range.

We then looked to census block groups, geographical units for which the U.S. Census publishes useful demographic data. Block groups beyond any college’s driving radius were considered education deserts.

So how many adult Americans live in education deserts? The Chronicle’s analysis found that 11.2-million adults, or 3.5 percent of the adult population, live more than a 60-minute drive from a public college.

Areas of the country that qualify as education deserts under our definition are largely rural and predominantly in the West. Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana, in that order, have the greatest percentage of adults living more than 60 minutes from a college.