Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian wins prestigious Green-Rossiter Award for higher ed coverage

Joe Killian

A growing number of readers across the country have become aware in recent weeks of NC Policy Watch investigative reporter Joe Killian and his outstanding coverage of higher education issues — this thanks primarily to his nonpareil reporting on the controversy surrounding the appointment of acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones to fill the UNC journalism school’s Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism.

As a lot of other people were already aware, however, Killan’s reporting on higher education long predates recent events. From the debates over the ever-evolving political and personnel battles that have roiled the UNC Board of Governors in recent years, to the ‘Silent Sam’ Confederate statue controversy, to the debates over reopening campuses in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Killian has been the state’s most persistent, prolific and important reporter on the higher education beat — all while managing to generate a bevy of important stories in several other important fields.

Happily, Joe received some important and long overdue recognition for his work in this area in recent days when the North Carolina Press Association awarded him the prestigious Green-Rossiter Award, which is sponsored each year by Duke University for outstanding coverage of higher education issues in the state.

This is from Killian’s “First Place’ citation:

Joe Killian is to be commended for his thorough coverage of issues affecting the UNC system. And these were issues of consequence. For instance, would UNC students adhere to COVID rules announced by its chancellor? Killian foreshadowed the outcome well before UNC closed down its campus. He also zeroed in on the politics behind some higher-ed decisions. Killian’s reporting provided a great service to the people of North Carolina by shining a light on matters that required some digging.

Congratulations Joe!

In defeat for Berger and Moore, federal lawsuit on N.C. voter ID law will proceed without their intervention

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

In a defeat for North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday against the lawmakers’ effort to intervene in a lawsuit testing North Carolina’s 2018 Voter ID law. Most Court of Appeals cases are handled by three-judge panels, but in this case, the court acted en banc with all 15 judges participating after a rehearing. The vote was 9-6.

The suit, filed by NC NAACP, challenged the constitutionality of the Republican-backed voter ID law (SB 824) enacted by legislators in the last month of lame duck period of the Republican supermajority in December 2018, following an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

The law requires most voters to produce an unexpired photo ID when casting their ballot or cast a provisional ballot instead.

The plaintiffs argued that the law would have a disparate impact on communities of color, and would amount to “effective denial of the franchise and dilution of minority voting strength”– a violation of the Voting Rights Act. In response, Moore and Berger asked the court for permission to litigate on the state’s behalf, noting Attorney General Josh Stein’s opposition to the law.

In 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs denied two consecutive requests by state House and Senate leaders to directly intervene in the case. She concluded that Moore and Berger failed to show that the Attorney General’s office has demonstrated a “strong showing of inadequacy.” In the ruling, Biggs cited unnecessary delays that could be caused by the intervention. She did allow Moore and Berger to file amicus briefs expressing their views on the law. Biggs also granted the plaintiff’s motion to enjoin the law from being enacted.

In August 2020, however, a three-judge Fourth Circuit panel found that Biggs erred in denying the legislative leaders’ petition to intervene and in December, another three-judge panel also vacated her ruling that blocked the enforcement of the voter ID law, saying that voting rights groups are not likely going to succeed in showing the law’s discriminatory intent in the claim regarding the merits of the law. The judges also highlighted the bipartisanship and voter support of the bill.

The Monday decision only affects the intervention claim and reaffirmed Biggs’ ruling. Writing for the majority, Judge Pamela Harris stated that Berger and Moore “have a right to intervene under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure only if a federal court first finds that the Attorney General is inadequately representing that same interest, in dereliction of his statutory duties – a finding that would be ‘extraordinary.’ After reviewing the district court’s careful evaluation of the Attorney General’s litigation conduct, we are convinced that the court did not abuse its discretion in declining to make that extraordinary finding here.”

In a dissenting opinion joined by four other judges, Judge Marvin Quattlebaum wrote: “With no intent to disparage the Attorney General, I see no reason he is either the “most natural” agent to defend S.B. 824 — a law that he has publicly opposed— or is more familiar with the matters of public concern that led to its passage in the first place as opposed to the Leaders.”

The trial on the merits was delayed pending on the procedural decision on intervention. A separate lawsuit challenging the law was heard by a three-judge panel in state court in April. A judgment has not been issued.

Biden’s public lands pick wins backing by environmental advocates ahead of hearing

Speaking of indoctrination, a State Board of Education member wants new social studies standards to teach students that America is great

[Editor’s note: This post appeared originally on Parmenter’s website, “Notes from the Chalkboard.”

Indoctrination has been a hot topic in North Carolina education policy discussions lately.

Last month the NC House of Representatives passed a bill entitled “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency” which would require teachers to post their lesson plans and details about all instructional materials online for public review.

In defense of their support for the new legislation, which passed almost entirely along partisan lines, some Republican legislators cited the need to prevent indoctrination of North Carolina students.

Iredell County Representative Jeffrey McNeely said, “Hopefully we’re just gonna teach the kids. We’re not gonna try to indoctrinate ’em or teach ’em in a certain way to make ’em believe something other than the facts.”

At its meeting last Thursday, the North Carolina State Board of Education reviewed glossaries and unpacking documents related to new state social studies standards which will be implemented in school year 2021-22. (Unpacking documents are overarching documents intended to help teachers understand how the standards should be taught).

During the discussion, board member Amy White expressed her view that the standards unpacking documents needed to ensure North Carolina teachers are teaching their students that America is a great nation.

Audio is fairly poor quality, so I’ve included a transcript below it.

One final question. Several months ago in our discussion about standards, I made a comment from the table about the foundation of our social studies curriculum being anchored in the thought and the premise that America is a great nation. And is there any place for inclusion in that foundation as a preamble to all of these documents together that we are educating our students about our history both positive and negative but that through our challenges through sacrifices through our triumphs that America is a nation today that we should be proud of and blessed to live in?

In an effort to help our students better understand about their role as future leaders in this nation. And I really think that a document or a statement underlining that fact that our teachers teaching in the public schools should be making every effort to help our students understand our history as it impacts the socioeconomics, diversity, economic development and future development of this country. It’s important that we undergird that with the idea that we live in a tremendously prosperous land.

The board agreed to take Ms. White’s suggestion under consideration and bring it back for additional discussion at next month’s meeting.

Whether or not you see America as a great nation depends on how you and your ancestors have experienced life in the United States.

But the larger point here is that social studies classes should not be a place where students come to learn that their country is great. It should be a place where they can learn the truth about their own history and the history of others and then develop their own views based on the facts.

I trust that Representative McNeely will be reaching out to Ms. White in order to express his disapproval.

Stock wealth boomed during pandemic for wealthiest 1%

For people who derive most of their wealth from stock equity, it has been a very good financial year. In turn, massive stock market gains in the middle of a global pandemic have widened inequality along both wealth and racial lines.

Although the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on job loss and wage fluctuation have been felt personally by many North Carolinians, the pandemic’s effect on company stock ownership may be less obvious to the average resident. This is largely because those in the top 1 percent of the wealth index own more than half of all corporate equity and mutual fund shares in the United States, whereas the bottom 50 percent own less than 1 percent. Despite this, changes in share value during 2020 have had a significant impact on economic inequality.

Stock and mutual fund wealth fell off by roughly 23 percent during the first quarter of 2020 when the stock market was first feeling the effects of COVID-19. However, by the end of 2020, equity ownership had not only returned to pre-pandemic levels, it had also surpassed them by over 17 percent. In the last fiscal quarter before the pandemic (Q4:2019), the top 1 percent held $15.10 trillion in stock and mutual funds, which had ballooned to nearly $17.8 trillion by the end of 2020. Last year, the richest 1 percent in the U.S. acquired $2.7 trillion in stock and mutual fund wealth while the poorest half of Americans saw less than $0.03 trillion in this kind of equity wealth growth. A typical household in the top 1 percent amassed around 4,500 times more new wealth in stock and mutual fund growth during 2020 than the average household in the bottom 50 percent.

Barriers to access to stock ownership mean COVID-19 also widened the racial disparity in equity wealth. Black people own only 1 percent of corporate equity and mutual fund shares, while an overwhelming 89 percent of shares are owned by white people. As a result, the growth of the stock market over the last year has exacerbated the pre-existing economic inequality between Black and white workers, further concentrating wealth in a small number of rich bank accounts.

Emma Cohn is an intern at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.