Georgia appeals court denies GOP state election chief’s bid to ban early voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving

There will be early voting sites open in several Georgia counties on Saturday Nov. 26 for the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker. In two court rulings, the secretary of state’s office was unsuccessful in its attempt to prevent voters from voting on Saturday since it falls within a day of a state holiday. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Georgia’s Court of Appeals has rejected Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s attempt to keep Georgians from voting in the U.S. Senate runoff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving,

On Monday evening the appeals court blocked the state’s emergency motion to nullify a Fulton County judge’s order giving Georgia counties the option to open early voting sites on Saturday, Nov. 26, which falls two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday previously named in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, filed the appeal on behalf of the secretary of state claiming that state law prohibits advanced voting on Saturdays that fall within a day after a state holiday.

The secretary of state’s spokesman said after Monday’s appeals court ruling Saturday voting can go forward without further challenge.

“The court has worked its will,” spokesman Mike Hassinger said in a statement. “We believe this is something the General Assembly should clarify to avoid confusion in the future. I hope that Georgia election workers will be able to enjoy a somewhat restful day despite this decision.”

After Monday’s ruling, voters in a few of the state’s most heavily populated counties will be able to vote in the runoff election between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker. Read more

Report: Confidence in public education has decreased since pandemic

Polling indicates confidence in public education has declined since the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in schools.

Nearly 50% of voters say their confidence in public education has waned since the pandemic sent public education into a tailspin, according to a national survey of voters and parents released Monday by the Hunt Institute.

The Hunt survey also shows that only a quarter of parents believe school district officials, state education leaders and school board members have handled COVID-related challenges well.

The findings are part of a report titled “Across the Aisle: Bridging the Education Divide, What Voters and Parents Want in Education.”  The report was co-authored by Hunt Institute President and CEO Javaid Siddiqi and former West Virginia governor Bob Wise.

Javaid Siddiqi

Siddiqi and Wise report that the growing dissatisfaction with public schools was most acute among Republican and independent voters. The declining perceptions of public schools have coincided with the growth of school choice options and preferences, the two report.

Forty-four percent of parents surveyed said they enrolled their child in a charter, magnet, private or religious school because they thought the quality of education was better.

In a statement, Sidiqi said the report gives policymakers insight into the issues voters and parents care about when it comes to schools.

“This initiative was created to provide policymakers with accurate, unbiased insights into the minds of their constituents, so we can move past speculation into reality and action,” Siddiqi said.

The report is a follow-up to last year’s 2021 Emerging Priorities for Education Leaders Report which sought to understand the educational challenges and issues that most concerned the public’s mind. This year’s report explores whether priorities have changed.

Here are key takeaways from the new report:

  • Recent hot-button issues such as book banning and curriculum censorship are largely unpopular. About 7 in 10 voters (68 percent) and 6 in 10 parents (60 percent) believe book banning and curriculum censorship is a problem. In addition, compared to other issues provided in the survey, it is among the lowest ranked priorities for policymakers to address.
  • School safety in particular is a high priority issue in the eyes of voters and parents. Three in four voters (75 percent) believe that guns and other physical violence in schools is a problem, and a similar number (73 percent) believe bullying, including cyber bullying, is a problem.
  • Voters look to additional mental health supports as a necessary part of recovery efforts. Over half of voters (51 percent) strongly favored investing in student’s individual needs, including their social and emotional learning needs. Additionally, 85 percent of voters believe that additional counseling or social, emotional, and mental health supports would help students move forward from the pandemic’s impacts.
  • One year later, learning loss remains a high priority issue for parents and voters. Seventy percent of voters believe that learning loss is currently a problem, and 40 percent believe that it is a very big problem. Early literacy in particular is a key issue among the public with 70 percent of voters identifying students reading at grade level as very important.

Bob Wise

Wise said the way forward is through the strategic use of billions in federal COVID-relief dollars to make major investments in public education.

The deadline for states to use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars is less than two years away. The U.S. Department of Education established the program in response to the pandemic.     ­

“People understand or are coming to understand that there are federal dollars for education, and they want to do both,” Wise said. “They want to return to a new normal and use COVID relief dollars to get their children safely back in school. At the same time, they understand that this may be the only major source of investment that we have for a long time, so they want to make both short- and long-term investments.”

Why you’ll keep getting election predictions even after inaccurate “red wave” forecasts

Frank Bruni, Olivia Nuzzi, Karen Tumulty at Duke's Sanford School

Frani Bruni, Olivia Nuzzi, Karen Tumulty at Duke’s Sanford School

Election polling and inaccurate predictions of a “red wave” in this year’s elections were scrutinized at a forum Saturday hosted by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Karen Tumulty, a Washington Post columnist, and Olivia Nuzzi, New York magazine Washington correspondent, took on journalists’ group-think and the risks of misinterpreting polls at the forum moderated by Frank Bruni, a professor of the practice of journalism and public policy at the Sanford school and a New York Times contributing opinion writer.

Leading up to the midterm elections, news outlets reported a possible red wave, or even a  red tsunami.  After Election Day, they had to report why that didn’t happen.

“There was all this handwringing before election day about ‘were the polls going to get it wrong, was the media going to screw up again?’” Bruni said. It looks like the polls were correct in reporting the range of outcomes, he said, but the media focused only on the red wave.

“We always forget polls have margins of error,” Tumulty responded. Legacy news outlets are polling less often. On the other side of that decline has been the emergence of smaller polling operations, many with partisan leanings.

Reporters layered onto polls that showed close races the conventional wisdom about the President’s party doing poorly in the first midterm, and how the economy and other issues would be a drag on Democrats.

“We were looking at very tight margins in a lot of places but imposing what I think reasonably was a narrative on top of them because that’s the way it has always been,” Tumulty said.

Group-think in the media is a “huge problem,” Nuzzi said. “It’s just so difficult to question the premise of the conversation that you’re having. You’re talking about subjects that are immensely complicated, that are developing really quickly, you’re trying to find a shorthand, naturally, for how to discuss these complicated things.”

National media’s inaccurate “red wave” predications were fall-out from the inaccurate 2016 polling, the journalists said.

“We were so scared to screwing up again by underestimating the right and people are still so terrified of looking like idiots… that there’s this tendency to just over-correct for 2016,” Nuzzi said.

Bruni said people in the media will continue to make predictions because “it gets clicks,” that is, people read those articles online.

When news organizations publish articles based on polls, they’re usually among the most popular on their sites, he said.

“I think people love telling us we’re wrong on the tail end,” he said.  “But I think in the short term, as wrong as we’ve been, they want a vision of the future and even if ours is found to be wrong, they’ll take it over nothing.”

Important, ground-breaking reporting also draws readers, Tumulty said. She mentioned her paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, and its police shootings database.

“Sometimes, the clicks follow the good stuff, too,” she said.

Congress knows how to slash child poverty. It just needs to do it.

The enhanced child tax credit could help bring hundreds of thousands out of poverty. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It needs to reinstate the enhanced version of the Child Tax Credit, which expired in January

If you could prevent millions of children from falling back into poverty, would you? Most of us, I imagine, would answer “yes” without hesitation.

But not Congress. For nearly a year, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have dithered as the policy directly responsible for a dramatic decline in poverty last year lapsed. It’s time for Congress to bring back the enhanced Child Tax Credit.

New poverty figures by the U.S. Census Bureau has left no doubt that we can end poverty if we choose to do it. In 2020, the rate of childhood poverty stood at 9.7%. By 2021, it had dropped to just 5.2% — a whopping 46% decline. It was the largest year-to-year decrease ever recorded. In the blink of an eye, 2.1 million children in our nation no longer lived below the poverty line.

The reason for the massive decline in childhood poverty is clear. It is the result of improvements to the Child Tax Credit included in the last federal pandemic relief package that Congress passed in March 2021.

Congress strengthened the Child Tax Credit in several ways. First, it upped the amount of cash families get from the credit. Lawmakers also reworked the credit so that the lowest-income families could receive the full benefit, just like middle-class families can. Finally, Congress made it so that the benefits of the Child Tax Credit arrived in monthly installments, rather in a lump sum after families filed their tax returns, thus helping them better cope with their monthly bills.

These improvements to the Child Tax Credit proved a powerful tonic for the financial ills plaguing families struggling to get by on low wages. Most of the money went to pay for essentials like food, utilities, and rent. The tax credit also helped families cover expenses related to their children’s education, such as school books and supplies, tuition and after-school programs. These uses were particularly evident in the case of Black, Latino, and other families of color.

The one hitch with the plan was that the improvements to the Child Tax Credit were temporary. The changes expired in January of this year. Read more

NC continues to gain jobs, but is losing state employees over pay that isn’t keeping up with inflation

State labor market data released Friday shows that the economic recovery jumpstarted by federal aid continued through October in North Carolina. North Carolina has added jobs every month over the past year, and the state now has more than 200,000 additional jobs than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

On average over the past six months, we’ve gained nearly 18,000 net jobs per month. The most recent hiring data, from September, also shows that hiring has remained robust even as economic headwinds are causing some concern. North Carolina had 216,000 hires in September, only slightly below the same time last year when we had 233,000 hires.

Amid this relatively sunny topline news is a dark cloud created by our state legislature: a failure to ensure that public servants’ pay keeps up with inflation, which means that North Carolina has continued losing state employees that provide the key services our communities need.

Public employee raises over the past two years have fallen far short of inflation so that when we look at real incomes, many state employees effectively lost over 2.5 weeks of pay when current salaries are compared to last year’s. As a result, North Carolina has lost thousands of state employees since last October. We’re not seeing the same losses in the private sector, local government, or federal government, which have all added jobs over the past year. This indicates that this problem stems directly from the policy choices made in Raleigh not to adequately raise employee pay, and instead to divert over $4.1 billion into reserves.

While inflation is gradually coming down, low pay is making is hard to fill vital positions across the state. North Carolina started the school year with over 11,000 vacancies in our public schools. At the Department of Environmental Quality — the agency tasked with protecting air quality and ensuring our drinking water is safe, among other things — more than 1 in 5 positions are vacant. High vacancy and turnover rates at the Department of Health and Human Services mean longer waitlists and fewer people served for crucial services like psychiatric care, even as need has increased.

It’s crucial to address these shortages not only to meet ongoing needs in our state, but also to make sure that North Carolina is ready to steward a wide variety of federal funds that will be made available to our state in the coming years through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs and Inflation Reduction Acts.

Logan Rockefeller Harris is a Senior Policy Analyst with the NC Budget & Tax Center. Patrick McHugh is the BTC’s Research Manager and contributed to this post.