On his way to Caffé Luna in Raleigh Monday night, House Majority Leader Thom Tillis and freshman members of the General Assembly seemed unfazed as they crossed paths with demonstrators who had assembled outside the eatery.
As Tillis and friends hobnobbed inside, on nearby street corners, about 15 protestors organized by Tony Ndege and the North Carolina Coalition Against Corporate Power took Tillis to task on such issues as fracking, tax reform, voter ID legislation, immigration and education and their most major pet peeve, corporate power.
In particular, protestors condemned Tillis’ cozy relationship with ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate funded ‘research group’ that writes model bills. Those bills, which heavily favoring corporate interests, are then handed off to legislators with whom they are in cahoots.
In North Carolina, some of the corporations who benefit or have benefitted in the past from ALEC include Duke Energy, Bank of America, R.J. Reynolds and GlaxoSmithKline; laws get written that favor their business activity through deregulation and relaxed accountability standards.
And according to SourceWatch.org, a good deal of North Carolina’s Legislature has ALEC ties. Take Rep. and ex-House speaker Harold Brubaker—he sits on ALEC’s Board of Directors and its International Relations task force, and has supposedly been involved with the organization since 1986. And then there’s Rep. Tim Moffitt, who’s behind the proposed state takeover of Asheville’s water infrastructure. Moffitt’s on the ALEC International Relations Task Force too.
Brubaker and Moffitt are just two of an estimated 30 legislators in North Carolina who at the very least have attended an ALEC meeting. The speaker himself is also on the International Relations Task Force, which corporations can buy into for $10,000 a year.
Give his people credit for trying—a mouthpiece for Tillis came out of the Luna Café and engaged with protestors for a few minutes. But there’s not much he could have said to that crowd in defense of the speaker, who said he felt “honored” when he was named 2011 ALEC Legislator of the Year.
Ron Rabatsky, a protestor from Charlotte, described ALEC’s advocacy for corporate interests via legislation as “devious… insidious.”
“It’s an exchange,’ he said. ‘Legislators pay to sit with corporations, who pay to sit with legislators, to write legislation together. The problem is, not enough people know about it.”
The state House and Senate reconvene on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
The Wake County school system has officially conceded that it has to do a better job educating students with disabilities who receive long-term suspensions.
Here's a partial account from Keung Hui's WakeEd blog:
In this July complaint, Advocates for Children's Services and attorney Mark Trustin had charged that Wake was failing to provide an appropriate alternative education to five students who missed 10 or more days due to suspensions in the 2011-12 school year.
Under this settlement agreement announced today, Wake will provide this summer a free, six-week program offering 60 hours of individualized services in math, literacy, reading, and social skills, via “in-person, live, direct instruction by a highly-qualified general and special education staff." This is open to any students with disabilities who received lengthy suspension in 2011-12, not just the five in the complaint.
One of ACS’ clients will receive an additional 190 hours of one-on-one, compensatory education.
Wake has also been under scrutiny in the past for its abnormally large long-term suspension rates of all students. INDY Week wrote about the issue in 2010 and provided a graph which showed Wake with nearly ten times more long-term suspensions than any of the other five largest school systems in the state.
Jason Langberg, an attorney with ACS, has long argued that long-term suspensions contribute to Wake's school-to-prison pipeline.
You might have seen this one coming.
Chapel Hill Town Council members on Wednesday tapped former (well, not anymore) Councilwoman Sally Greene to fill the panel's vacant seat. The seat has been open since Penny Rich departed to join the Orange County Board of Commissioners last month.
Greene seemed the frontrunner coming into Wednesday's meeting. She was a popular councilwoman from 2003 until 2011, when she stepped down reportedly to focus on her work at UNC's Center for the Study of the American South.
Town leaders were also expected to be under pressure to appoint a woman to replace Rich, because Rich's departure left only two women, Laurin Easthom and Donna Bell, on the nine-member council.
George Cianciolo, a Duke University associate research professor who co-chaired development of Chapel Hill 2020, initially seemed the favorite when he announced his interest last year. But Cianciolo bowed out and threw his support behind the former councilwoman in November when Greene indicated she would apply for the seat.
Greene was one of 11 seeking the vacant seat. In her application, Greene said she would focus on affordable housing, the public library and local homelessness. Read her application in full here.
Today’s Democracy NC analysis of the 2012 election results by gender, race and age has yielded some predictable results, but also some surprises.
The predictable: A majority of voters in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties chose President Obama over Mitt Romney. The race was close in Chatham County where Obama slipped under the wire by about 1,700 votes; however, the president won decisively in Durham County, by more than 77,000 votes.
The surprise: Wake County went for Obama by about 50,000 votes, but it also had the second-highest Republican voter turnout in the state after Mecklenburg County. Wake County also cast the most ballots statewide (488,599) and saw the third-best turnout among registered voters in the state.
First place for voter turnout goes to Chatham County, where more than three-quarters of registered voters cast ballots, compared to 68.3 percent of the state total. Chatham also had the second-highest turnout of African American voters at 76.6 percent, against a statewide 70.2 percent.
Both Wake and Chatham saw the highest registered voter turnout among women, with 76.3 percent and 76.8 percent respectively, compared with a statewide turnout of 69 percent.
Women voted in greater numbers than men in every county in North Carolina, though in Chatham, white women voted at a slightly lower percentage than white men, 76.8 percent to 76.9 percent.
Overall, black women and Republican men cast ballots at the highest proportions statewide, (74.4 percent and 72.2 percent respectively). Only in Orange County did black women vote at a lower rate (73.4 percent) than the state percentage. In Durham and Orange counties, both traditional Democratic strongholds, Republican men voted below the state percentage, at 67 percent and 66.8 percent.
Wake and Chatham counties saw the highest turnouts for voters over 65 in the state. Overall, seniors voted at higher rates than any other age group. In Durham and Orange however, people ages 18 to 25 cast more ballots than seniors, though seniors outvoted them proportionally.
The Town of Cary is no longer screwed. Nor is it, according to today’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, doing the screwing.
The court ruled in favor of the town, determining that its sign ordinance does not violate a First Amendment right to free speech. The decision overturned a lower court ruling.
The case stems from a disagreement between the town and Cary resident David Bowden, who died in 2011, over roadwork that allegedly resulted in water runoff damaging his home.
In response, Bowden hired someone to paint a sign on his house that read "Screwed by the Town of Cary," which, the town said, violated the sign ordinance. In 2009, Cary officials threatened to fine Bowden if he didn't change the size of his sign, although he did not have to alter its message.
However, a U.S. district court ruled in 2011 that unless Cary regulated holiday decorations and public art, it couldn’t enforce the ordinance in the Bowden case. A judge ordered the town to pay his legal bills—Bowden was represented by the ACLU—and assessed $1 in damages.
The town appealed the case—Bowden’s daughter carried on with the lawsuit—and the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., took it up last year.
My work often takes me to community advocacy meetings and puts me in contact with people who fight fiercely for a better Wake County. When I tell them I work with INDY Week, the first thing they tell me, almost 100 percent without fail, is how much they love Bob Geary.
When I showed up at WakeUp Wake County's annual meeting last night, I expected to hear the same thing. Instead, I saw it on the agenda.
WakeUP, a nonprofit group that has advocated for better transit and education, honored Bob as the first recipient of its Stan Norwalk Community Leadership Award.
"Bob has written about many issues important to our quality of life, from transportation to education," said Yevonne Brannon, outgoing chair of WakeUP. "And like Stan Norwalk, [Bob] never shied from speaking his mind if he thought it was something right for the community."
It's also fitting Bob was honored with an award from WakeUP since he helped form the group in 2006. Raleigh was experiencing major changes during that time and a boom of development both in downtown and the suburbs. But no group existed to bridge the gap between citizens and politicians; no major grassroots entity had a voice at the table advocating for good growth.
In community meetings, similar to the one last night, which focused on transportation, some of the heavyweights in local politics had been bemoaning the lack of a grassroots group that could push an agenda. City councilor Thomas Crowder; Karen Rindge, who went on to serve as WakeUP's chair; and Stan Norwalk, a former county commissioner who died last year, were some of the few.
Since then, the group has become a powerhouse in Wake County politics.
WakeUP formed Great Schools in Wake, an organization that arguably played the biggest role in organizing protests against the Republican majority that scrapped the Wake schools diversity policy in 2010. The protests led to the arrest of more than 20 people and national media attention in Wake.
Ultimately, a group of diversity-supporting Democrats regained control of the school board in 2011, due, in large part, to the efforts of WakeUP and GSIW.
All the while, Bob has played his part as a columnist at the INDY, writing consistently about what he saw as the most vital components for making Wake County a great place to live—education, transit, land-use and social justice.
Fighting for change in a community can be a drawn-out, lonely affair. And no one knows that more than the members of WakeUP. That's what made hearing Bob's voice in the paper all these years so important for them.
Without ever setting out to do so, Bob validated their efforts—a priceless service for those who wonder some days if they are fighting a lost cause.
"We all fought over who would be able to give you this award," said Brannon, "because we all love you that much."
Undocumented immigrants in North Carolina who have been granted a special status by the Department of Homeland Security can apply for a state driver's license if they have proper legal documentation. This is according to a opinion issued today from N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper.
You can read the opinion here: AG_letter_to_DMV.pdf
Cooper issued his opinion after the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles announced earlier this week it would cancel driver's licenses issued to 13 undocumented immigrants who are legally in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
In September 2012, then-DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson had asked the attorney general's office to weigh in on whether undocumented immigrants who had been approved under DACA could be issued driver's licenses.
In June 2012, Homeland Security established DACA, a program allowing undocumented immigrants who as children had been brought to the U.S. by their parents, to legally stay in the U.S. for two years without being deported.
These immigrants must meet certain criteria: They have to be younger than 30, have graduated from high school or are currently in school or be an honorably discharged veteran, and can't have been convicted of any serious criminal offense.
Individuals approved for this status can apply for a Social Security card and can be legally employed in the U.S.
In his opinion issued today, Cooper wrote that while these immigrants don't have legal "status," they are lawfully present. Thus, the DMV must issue a driver's license "of limited duration," to this group of immigrants who have valid documentation and meet other legal requirements.
INDY Week could not immediately reach a spokesman for the N.C. DMV. Check back for updates.
The Latin American Coalition, based in Charlotte, issued a statement from its executive director, Jess George:
"We are very happy that the North Carolina Attorney General's office has decided on a common sense solution for our state. This decision continues to move North Carolina in a positive direction and provides a shining example of how access and opportunity benefits all of our communities and the state as a whole."
The coalition is demanding that the DMV immediately reinstate the licenses it had issued and cancelled—and that it begin issuing licenses to DACA recipients.
Poor schools are getting poorer, while the rich get richer, a new study from Duke University finds.
“The average imbalance by race in North Carolina hasn’t really changed,” says Charles Clotfelter, a public policy professor who helped conduct the study. “North Carolina schools are becoming more imbalanced by economics than race. That’s something to worry about.”
It’s something to worry about because, as Clotfelter notes, schools with high percentages of low-income students find it hard to recruit and retain good teachers.
That’s a problem for low-income students, who usually perform worse on tests than their affluent peers, because highly qualified teachers have been shown to be one of the most effective tools for improving the performance of at-risk children.
Essentially, good teachers gravitate toward affluent schools, so creating high-poverty schools means setting yourself up for a dearth of good teachers in the classrooms that need them most. And, apparently, that’s what is happening across the state.
Clotfelter and a team of other researchers in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy studied all 100 counties in North Carolina going back to 1994. They found that racial balance had stabilized since the mid-2000s, which ended a trend of schools becoming more racially segregated.
Socioeconomic data showed the reverse trend. The state’s two largest school districts, Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenberg, showed a particularly sharp divide.
Since 1994, CMS schools have become economically segregated at a rate nearly four times greater than Wake.
The comparison between Wake and CMS is particularly apt, because Charlotte and Wake both used to bus students to achieve socioeconomic diversity. CMS ended its policy in 2002, which has led to more neighborhood-centric schools.
Wake's policy ended in 2010 at the hands of a Republican majority, which had just swept into power. However, the policy was still in effect in 2010-11, the last year studied by researchers.
Wake may also move back toward a diversity model now that Democrats have regained control of the Board of Education.
The researchers rated socioeconomic balance by how much individual schools' poverty percentages lined up with the countywide percentage. Free and reduced lunch was used as the indicator for socioeconomic status.
Each school district was given a number to denote its level of imbalance—the larger the number, the more economically segregated the district. CMS scored 0.38 on the scale in 2010-11, while Wake scored 0.13. In 1994-95 the school systems had a virtually identical rate of imbalance. CMS scored 0.12 and Wake scored 0.08.
Sounding the effects of diversity in the classroom often leads to mixed conclusions. Research does not conclusively indicate that socioeconomic diversity automatically leads to better performance for low-income students, who tend to perform far worse than their affluent peers.
However, diversity does lay a good groundwork for success, given that it is difficult to retain and recruit high-quality teachers in poor schools. The conservative counterargument is often to channel additional money into high-poverty schools. Research has shown this can be effective, though liberal policy advocates tend to argue that it’s unsustainable.
Vance County, which sits along the Virginia border, is the most economically segregated school district in the state, the study concludes, with a rating of 0.46. CMS was second highest with its 0.38 rating. Chatham County schools were the seventh most economically segregated district with a score of 0.29. Durham County schools tied for that spot. Orange County schools were well down the list with a score of 0.08.
Gov. Pat McCrory picks so many winners he should play the ponies.
ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, is composed of at least 300 corporations and 2,000 legislative embers and is funded in part through grants by right-wing organizations, including the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
Corporate members pay as much as $25,000 a year to belong to ALEC, with additional fees assessed if the members sit on one of the nine task forces. Legislators pay just $50 annually, according to the watchdog group, ALEC Exposed.
ALEC advances its agenda through “model bills,” legislation crafted by business interests and their lawmaker allies that are then introduced in multiple states.
Previous bills include opposing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, legalizing fracking, privatizing education, fighting against public health care and bans on semi-automatic firearms.
Until last year, Steen had represented Rowan County in the N.C. House of Representatives for four terms. He had higher aspirations for Congress that were quickly dashed when he placed fourth in a five-way race for U.S. House in the Eighth District.
While in the N.C. House, Steen was a primary or co-sponsor on 54 bills, including several that failed: “Protect Health Care Freedom,” which opposed Obamacare; a bill that would have allowed employees to keep loaded firearms in their cars—as long as the cars were locked, and another measure allowing persons with concealed handgun permits to bring a firearm into a restaurant.
Steen also was among the lawmakers behind successful measures such as the Woman’s Right to Know Act, which requires women to view an ultrasound of the fetus and to look at pictures and drawings of fetuses before undergoing an abortion.
During WRAL anchor David Crabtree’s interview of newly appointed Transportation Secretary Tony Tata earlier this week, Crabtree seemed star struck.
Crabtree scored an exclusive interview with the retired US Army general, who was fired as Wake County schools’ superintendent late last year. It was Tata’s first interview since the incident.
But, rather than questioning Tata over the possible reasons he might have been fired, Crabtree sympathized with Tata about the dismissal.
While Crabtree’s opinion lines up with popular sentiment, he failed to do his due diligence as a journalist by questioning Tata about such missteps as allegations that he ruled by intimidation, a bussing debacle, and an incident in which Tata publicly accused board members of ethics violations.
Crabtree did mention the bussing fiasco, which caused children to be late for school or not picked up at all, but he also let Tata off the hook.
“I know there was a problem at the beginning of school [with bussing]” says Crabtree. “Some people tried to tie that with your firing. To me, that doesn’t wash. The decision was made. When this board changed, let’s be honest, the decision was made.”
Crabtree went on to say that Tata had a target around his neck, ever since the board changed from Republican to Democratic control. However, Tata served nearly a year under the Democratic majority before his dismissal.
Democrats, indeed, did a very poor job explaining their reasons for firing Tata, which amplified the assumption that they intended to fire him all along. But by accepting that assumption, instead of questioning it, Crabtree reinforced public opinion that Tata was unjustly fired.
People in Wake County view Tata as a superintendent who raised student achievement (which is true, though the numbers are complicated) and listened to the concerns of the community.
However, people close to the inner working of Tata’s administration, including board chair Kevin Hill, charged that Tata led central office with an iron fist and regularly berated and intimidated his employees.
An INDY Week investigation, which included interviews with nine administrators who worked under Tata, found ample evidence to suggest the allegations were true.
Despite the fact Hill cited this as a reason for Tata’s dismissal, Crabtree failed to even bring up the topic with Tata. Instead, his interview amounted to a compliment of Tata’s leadership style.
“You told me that you didn’t walk into a classroom or even down the hallway, without students coming to your mind first thing and that’s what I heard from people in D.C. when I was there,” says Crabtree. “I’ve got to think you miss those students tremendously.”
“You could have done anything almost short of walking on water and when the majority changed it didn’t matter,” Crabtree later posited. “Is that a fair statement?”
It isn’t easy to ask difficult questions. My heart still beats out of my chest every time I ask a question that challenges a leader’s honesty or actions. But even when when we admire the people we interview, we have an obligation to challenge their actions and decisions.
Crabtree's exclusive interview presented an opportunity to ask Tata what he did well as superintendent and also to take him to task on the things he didn't. Instead, it was fanfare.