Education

NCAE issues statement opposing controversial ICE bill

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) issued a statement Monday strongly opposing House Bill 370, which would require local sheriff’s to cooperate with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and assist federal authorities in deportation hearings.

If the bill becomes law, the NCAE said it could have a chilling effect on school children and their families.

“This bill would make children from the immigrant community more fearful of attending school, and needlessly inject more anxiety and stress into their lives,” the NCAE said.

The education advocacy group also said HB 370 has the potential to further damage relationships between local law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities.

“Those living in mixed-status families who are victims of crime, have witnessed crimes, or otherwise would wish to access law enforcement services, will be less willing to interact with law enforcement agencies that are sworn to protect and serve them,” the NCAE said. “We can scarcely afford to sow greater mistrust and fear in our communities, and we adamantly oppose any bill that seeks to do so.”

HB 370 has been stalled in the Senate since early April. It was referred to the committee on rules, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

NC Budget and Tax Center

NC Senate debates new corporate tax cuts; Data, graphs show why the approach isn’t working

With the Senate Finance Committee slated to approve another round of business tax cuts that will overwhelmingly benefit large, high net worth corporations, we’re sure to be treated to another round of economic myth-making. Proponents consistently promise cutting taxes will supercharge North Carolina’s economy but, years into the experiment, there’s still no evidence to support their bold predictions.

North Carolina’s economic track record over the last several years has been remarkably unremarkable, particularly when compared to our neighbors in the southeast. Job growth has roughly followed the national trend, and has actually been slower than some nearby state where taxes have remained steady over the last several years. Total non-farm employment in North Carolina has expanded by 10.9% since January of 2014 when the first round of tax cuts took effect, which falls shy of the 12.8% growth for Georgia, 12.6% expansion for South Carolina, and the regional average of 11.4% for the South Atlantic.

The story is even less encouraging when one looks beyond overall job growth and focuses on two industries that have been particularly vital to North Carolina’s economic prospects.

First, “professional and business services” has emerged as one of the most important sources of good-paying jobs, particularly in areas like the Research Triangle Park and Charlotte. While the sector has grown substantially in the last few years, North Carolina’s 14.7% growth since January 2014 has been well off the pace set by Georgia (17.4%) and South Carolina (18.0%).

Second, and even more distressingly for a state with a proud legacy of making things, manufacturing job growth in North Carolina since January 2014 has been roughly one half of what it has been in the two states to our immediate south. Given how reliant much of North Carolina is on manufacturing jobs, this lack of robust growth is particularly worrisome for many communities where few other industries offer comparable employment opportunities.

In spite of this evidence that tax cuts have failed to boost North Carolina’s economy, a virtually identical set of additional cuts was included in the House budget. It up to North Carolinians to demand less myth and more economic meat.

Dr. Patrick McHugh is a Senior Policy Analyst at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

Commentary, News

School choice groups fire back over criticism of another voucher expansion

Accountability is a slippery word to the leadership of the N.C. General Assembly.

Republican legislators in the House and Senate oft crow about the need for accountability — financially and academically — in North Carolina’s traditional public schools. Of course, nobody really disagrees, although there’s something terribly galling about the relative lack of either for North Carolina’s incredible expanding private school voucher program.

The Capitol Broadcasting Corp., WRAL’s parent company, offered an editorial on voucher accountability last week, following the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan bill that only loosens voucher restrictions further, and now school choice advocates are fired up.

Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, issued a scathing statement Monday, slamming CBC for the piece.

From Long’s statement:

OUR money.

Those are the words of the Capitol Broadcasting Company’s (CBC) latest attack on North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program currently enables over 9,600 students from low-income and working-class families in North Carolina to attend the private school of their parents’ choice.

These families are taxpayers, too. But CBC is protecting systems and the status quo, playing politics, and demonizing educational choice.

Here is the downright disrespectful and harmful language used by CBC’s editorial board in full:

If these parents were spending their own money, Clark might have a case. But these parents are not spending their own money, it is OUR money, tens of millions of dollars’ worth. We not only have the right, we have the responsibility to be sure that OUR tax dollars are being spent as intended – to educate North Carolina children.

“Our money” is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to turn one group of people—those of us paying taxes but not using a “scary” voucher—against another group of people—those of us paying taxes who use an Opportunity Scholarship.

Even Governor Roy Cooper says Opportunity Scholarships are “an expense that we should stop” while talking about investing more in education. Apparently to the governor, poor and working-class families are nothing more than “an expense.”

Divide and conquer is his plan, pitting those families against the state that thinks it knows best where parents should send their kids to school.

The governor and CBC are demanding that “our money” shouldn’t be allocated to “these parents” unless the state controls every penny, regardless of the accountability requirements already in place, the positive impacts schools of choice have on their students, and the overwhelming support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the parents using it.

Thousands of families on the Opportunity Scholarship Program (taxpayers, mind you) dig into their own pockets every month to cover what’s left in tuition and fees after the Opportunity Scholarship has provided them a much-needed boost. Yet, there is a real disconnect when CBC questions if “these parents were spending their own money.”

Rhetoric aside, North Carolina lacks sufficient evidence that the expanding private school program — lawmakers built in millions in additional funding each year — works. That says nothing about the relative lack of transparency and anti-discrimination protection in private schools, most of which are religious-based.

At a time when North Carolina teachers are marching en masse to Raleigh, demanding additional funding, legislators would spend millions on the program.  Legislators should shelve the voucher gimmick or delay their expansions, at least until there is credible evidence that the program is effective.

News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Report: Students divided on free speech vs. hate speech on college campuses

A Knight Foundation report, released Monday, gives some fascinating insight into current college students’ views on the First Amendment, hate speech and which forms of protection should be protected on campuses.

The issue may be particularly of interest in North Carolina, where UNC students are rallying over the final destiny of the Silent Sam Confederate monument, facing off with white supremacist groups who have vandalized campus sites with hate speech and calling for changes in policing policies around protests.

The study polled more than 4,000 full-time, four-year degree seeking students through a confidential mobile app rather than telephone interviews.

A clear majority — 58 percent of respondents — said they do not favor restrictions on free speech, even for hate speech defined as expression that “attacks people based on their race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.” But 41 percent said they do not believe hate speech should be protected under the First Amendment.

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the breakdown by gender shows some important differences in sentiment on questions of diversity.

Read more

Courts & the Law, News

NC Board of Elections appoints new executive director with party line vote; agency counsel resigns

Kim Strach and Josh Lawson

The State Board of Elections has named Karen Brinson Bell as the new executive director of the agency, expectedly marking the end of Kim Strach’s tenure.

Members voted 3-2 along party lines during a teleconference to make the change and had a contentious discussion, with the two Republicans asserting their support to keep Strach as head of the agency for continuity and public trust. That discussion was interrupted briefly due to a fire alarm at the physical State Board building downtown, and the vote was taken not long after.

Strach will continue her service through the end of May. Bell will move to Raleigh from Charleston, South Carolina to start as executive director June 1.

“Kim has been a great investigator, but we need a change in our focus to election administration moving forward,” said Chairman Bob Cordle.

Shortly after the decision, the State Board’s general counsel, Josh Lawson resigned effective May 31. He wrote in a letter (posted at the end of this article) that no member sought his resignation, but it was clear he didn’t approve of the change.

“Choices shape democracy, and yours have outsized effect in our State,” he wrote. “This agency serves voters best when it chooses accountability over complacency, people over partisanship, and the future over our past. These serious times require nothing less, as you confront real and growing threats to elections security, public trust, and the democratic process.”

It’s not yet clear who will replace Lawson.

Karen Brinson Bell

Brinson Bell currently serves as deputy director of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, a nonprofit organization specializing in ranked choice voting, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference.

Gary Bartlett, who was at the helm of the State Board for 20 years before Strach, runs the organization. It’s not known how she became a candidate for the top job at the State Board or if there was a nomination process.

Brinson Bell, 44, previously served four years as Elections Director for Transylvania County in North Carolina and five years with the NC State Board of Elections voting systems division, according to her online biography. During her tenure, she helped administer instant runoff elections for the City of Hendersonville in 2007 and 2009, a district court election in 2010 and a statewide election for a North Carolina Court of Appeals seat in 2010.

Cordle cited Brinson Bell’s county director experience as part of the reason for her appointment — she is believed to be the first executive director who has previously held the county director title. He said the State Board needs to prepare properly for the 2020 election, adding that some have referred to it as the biggest of a generation.

He went over all the details of what makes elections large undertakings and discussed the level of coordination that has to be maintained between the state and county boards.

“We need there to be a consistency in the way these elections are carried out,” he said. “It’s a large task, and to be a success requires detailed planning, coordination, training, knowledge and focus. I believe with Karen Brinson Bell, we found someone with the experience, skill and expertise needed to make sure that our elections are run smoothly and efficiently as possible.”

Brinson Bell, he added, has had a large variety of election experience and computer software experience.

Cordle also spent some time praising Strach for her work at the State Board. She has been at the helm of the agency for six years but has worked there for two decades. She was appointed to the top job by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

“Now, none of what I’ve said about Karen and our need to change focus at the State Board is to take away from the great work Kim Strach has done in her approximately 19 years at the State Board,” he said.

He described the trying and unusual times Strach had to navigate, including managing with and without a State Board during litigation between Gov. Roy Cooper and GOP legislative leaders about the agency’s structure.

“During all of this turmoil, Kim kept the election ship afloat,” Cordle said.

The culmination of her work, he said, was with the evidentiary hearing in the 9th congressional district in which she presented evidence of “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced” absentee ballot fraud. It is reported, he added, to be the only congressional race overturned, and Strach is chiefly responsible for that.

Cordle’s Republican colleagues, Ken Raymond and David Black, also commended Strach for her work on the 9th congressional district investigation and for keeping and maintaining trust with Republicans and Democrats across the state.

“Because of the actions that our Board took regarding the NC09 congressional race, we will be under constant national scrutiny for how we conduct [the 2020] election,” Black said. “As Ken said, Kim has been tenacious in going after both sides when it came to what she believed was breaking the law. In fact, she did not see party, but what she saw was the law.”

He and Raymond both pointed out the political implications of replacing Strach and said there would be public trust lost in that process without a compelling reason for such a big management change at the top.

“This is not a position that should be bounced back and forth like a ping pong ball,” Black said.

Raymond said he did not believe Cordle’s reasons for appointing Brinson Bell weren’t compelling enough and said the decision appeared purely political. He added that the move would send the message that fairness from the executive director’s office is not a priority.

Cordle told him he was entitled to his opinions.

At the end of the meeting, the State Board voted unanimously to make a resolution honoring Strach for her work.

Brinson Bell will oversee about 70 State Board employees, according to a news release. The Raleigh-based Board of Elections is charged with administering elections and overseeing 100 county boards of elections, as well as campaign finance disclosure and compliance.

Her first day on the job will be June 3, and her two-year term will expire in May 2021.

“Our top priorities will be promoting voter confidence in elections and assisting the 100 county boards, the boots on the ground in every election,” Brinson Bell said in the release. “I plan to roll up my sleeves and work with State Board staff to prepare for the important elections ahead.”



Josh Lawson resignation letter (Text)