Voting For Education

Early voting is in full swing, so I’m taking a break from the Amendments (Nix all Six!) to talk a little bit about how to spot pro-public education candidates, from state level legislators down to school board.

Nobody (well, almost nobody) ever comes out and says “I do not support public education.”  So in general, you need to dig a little deeper.  Here’s what you’re looking for:

  1.  Specificity

Ponder the following statement, found on one candidate’s  website:

[Redacted]’s background as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has led her to a great understanding of North Carolina’s education system.

 She is passionate about her work in the Senate for improving early childhood and K-20 public education. 

Not very specific, is it?  The candidate claims she is passionate about improving K-20 (what grade is 20th?) education, but provides absolutely no actual information on what she means by that.  There is a chance she might be a public schools advocate, but she certainly doesn’t think education is an important enough issue to merit any kind of specific policy positions. 

Compare and contrast with this candidate:

As a long time public school advocate and PTA leader, I know that every child deserves a world class education, right here in North Carolina. From pre-K through high school, education should be free to students and well-funded by the state. For our state to compete economically and for all individuals to live fulfilled lives, a quality education is crucial.

Our state government needs to restore the respect of our teachers and administrators, respect that has been damaged under the current leadership in our General Assembly.  We need to increase teacher pay, restore pay scales that reward teachers for advanced degrees and experience and end pay incentives based on test scores.  We also need to support ALL students through increased per pupil spending and investment in their school buildings.  We need to provide students the resources to support their social-emotional learning through increased funding for school counselors, social workers and nurses.

As the mother of magnet school children, I understand the decisions parents make every year when it to comes to deciding where their child goes to school. But I also believe that all publically funded schools should be on a level playing field. For years, the current majority in the General Assembly has allowed our tax dollars to flow to unaccountable charter schools and voucher programs. That’s not right. If a school wants to receive public funding, then they need to be completely transparent and provide the same resources that every North Carolina public school provides – like transportation, lunch programs, and additional resources for students.

This is much more informative.  Note how the candidate not only makes explicit her support for public education, but also lists several concrete policies she would like to enact.

2.  Meaningless or misleading claims

Here’s my number one tip for reading a candidate’s website:  If they make any version of the claim “we’re spending more on education than ever before!,” do not vote for them.  Just don’t.  I’ve written before on why this is such a meaningless claim, and anyone making it hopes you just won’t notice.  The same thing goes with “we gave teachers/principals/workers raises.”  Well, that may be true, but did those raises keep up with inflation?  Were other aspects of teachers’ pay decreased correspondingly, making their “raises” illusory?  Did all teachers get a raise, or only some?  (and that doesn’t even touch the principal pay claim, which is such a big issue that it merits its own blog post at a later date.  For now, suffice to say that our most experienced principals face massive (as in up to 30%) pay cuts under the NCGA’s current pay scheme).

3.  Explicit Support for  public schools

Take a look at this candidate’s website:

The 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 state budgets passed during [Redacted]’s tenure all substantially increased teacher pay and overall K-12 education spending in North Carolina.

At long-last, starting teacher pay was increased to $35,000 and average teacher pay to $50,000 thanks to [Redacted]’s commitment to increasing compensation for educators.

The North Carolina House also passed pay raises for principals, assistant principals and other state employees who work in education administration in 2017.

North Carolina has developed a dynamic education system under [Redacted]’s leadership, expanding options for parents through significant charter school enrollment growth, more Opportunity Scholarships for low-income students and pilot-programs like Achievement School Districts to improve low-performing schools.

This candidate supports some schools, all right, but they’re definitely not public schools.  Note his enthusiastic mention of both charter schools and public funding for private schools.  And he throws in a reference to the opposite-of-choice “Achievement School Districts,” an outdated term for a program that seizes high-poverty schools from school districts and turns them over to private managers.  Add in some meaningless/misleading claims, and you’ve got yourself a candidate that deserves to lose.

4.  A clear understanding of their job

A few days ago, I read a quote from a school board candidate that thought the board to which he hoped to be elected should be spending much more money on school safety than it currently is.  I daresay any current member of that board would agree with him.  But school boards cannot raise money; they can only spend what they are given by the various jurisdictions with taxing authority (federal, state and county).  And it wasn’t at all clear that this candidate understood this fact (there is a chance he meant that the school board should cut spending elsewhere to free up funds, but it didn’t sound like that’s what he meant).  You and I could be forgiven for not knowing exactly who is responsible for funding schools, but one would hope a candidate for a seat on any governing body would at least have a basic grasp on its powers.

On that note, a quick primer:  in NC, the state has a Constitutional responsibility to provide a sound, basic education to every child.  That means providing the money to run the public schools.  Traditionally, counties have been responsible for building schools, and many also kick in additional operating funds though they are under no obligation to do so.  School boards have absolutely no taxing authority at all; they must make do with whatever funds the state, county and (to a lesser extent) the federal governments provide.

Armed with this info, get out there and vote!  Bring friends.  Or, better yet, come vote with friends at our “Parents to the Polls” even this coming Sunday, October 28.  Find more info here.

This is What Democracy Looks Like

One of my proudest moments as a public education advocate was being on stage for the Rally for Respect on May 16th 2018.  My speech was entitled: A Reason to Rally.  I still can’t believe that I was there.  It was exhilarating and I was honored to speak.  The rally seems like it happened so long ago as we are inundated with political ads, calls to volunteer, and the stress of our everyday lives.  Perhaps now what is needed is a reason to vote.

My reason to vote this year, is our public schools. On May 16th, I marched with our North Carolina teachers and their allies.  There was a power and aura around us even in the hot muggy weather.  The sea of red was endless, and  I remember cheers ringing out every time another bus passed.  I felt a part of something.  I looked at my eight year old, and I knew that all those who marched the streets truly cared about the quality of his education.  I don’t know if he felt loved that day, but as a parent I felt the love.

As I finally wove around the state capital I started getting hugs from those I knew. Even in the amazing crowd, I saw so many familiar faces.  I hugged  a Wake County Commissioner.  Only a week before, I nervously spoke in front of them.  That day we were one.  I looked for my son’s own school, but we quickly realized how difficult that might be.  I got a text that they had made it inside the General Assembly.  I beamed a bit with pride.  My school.

As I finally approached the legislative building, my favorite chant began again, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”  I looked around me at the sea of red and I felt a few tears on my cheek.  It is the first time that I really heard the words and felt the truth of it deep inside me.

So when you step into the voting line.  Picture a sea of red.  Visualize all the signs and marchers headed for our legislature.  They are there with you.  They are cheering on every voter seeking a better North Carolina.   It is a democracy so you never vote alone.  As you fill in your bubbles I hope you hear the chant, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”

 

 

Why I believe in Funding Public Services

I never thought much about other public institutions or why they are important or even how they work in conjunction with our public schools.  That is, until I had to use one.  My story isn’t unique by any means, but it is important.  You see at 18 months, my son didn’t make a sound.  He cried, he laughed, but that was it.  There were no words, there were no other verbal noises.  He was silent.

My pediatrician was concerned, and referred us to a state agency called CDSA.  The CDSA or Child Development Service Agency was amazing.  We got a hearing test, evaluations, speech therapist list, but most of all a case worker to help navigate us through the process.  I consider myself a fairly intelligent white suburban mom, but I wasn’t prepared for a child with a delay.  No one really is.

We got early intervention services.  As we began to navigate the even more intimidating county school system, we had a support system behind us.  Most of all, as difficult as transitioning into Kindergarten was, we weren’t starting from scratch.  We again had a team at our backs, thanks to early intervention.  This helped us and our school.

It’s not just about early intervention services.  By funding other public services we help out our school systems.  So many times, our public schools are the last stronghold of public help for our community.  Public schools across our state hold food drives, coat drives, and drives for other basic school supplies.  Public schools do their best to deal with those left homeless, hungry, and in need of healthcare.

By supporting our county and state services, we help our public schools.  By lifting up basic healthcare providers, affordable housing, and food assistance, we lift up those in our public schools.  We let teachers teach.  We let our schools educate.  When we under-fund public services, our teachers, counselors, and administrators can’t turn a blind eye.  Nor, can they always be the support those kids need.  We need strong community services around our schools.

While PTAs and private foundations are wonderful.  They are not sustainable on the scale to truly help all our community.  Public services provided by county, state, and even federal agencies have long term funding through tax revenue.  They have strict accounting rules and regulations that make sure money is going where it should.  They have no motive to pay those at the top any more than a standard salary.  They work solely for the public good on a scale that charities just can’t match.

So, when thinking about an amendment to cap our state income taxes, think about our public schools.  However, also think about our community as a whole. Think about all children and how many are struggling, and how our schools are struggling to meet their needs. The stronger our public services in healthcare, housing, and food security the stronger we are together.    #InThisTogether

 

 

Messing with the Judiciary

Wow, this past week really flew!  And now I’m finally getting around to the post I teased last week, about one of the amendments on the ballot that inspired all living former NC governors and all living former chief justices of the NC Supreme Court to oppose it:  the judicial appointments amendment.

First, a quick refresher on separation of powers.  We all learned in school about the three branches of government: the legislative, who makes the laws, the executive, which enforces the laws, and the judicial, which interprets.  Each branch is meant to act as a check and balance for each of the others so that no one branch becomes too powerful.  Perhaps one of the most vivid examples of Federal separation of powers has been on display in the last two months — judicial nomination.   The President nominates a judge to fill a vacancy, subject to the advice and consent of the legislature.

Imagine, instead, that the legislature had the power both to nominate and to confirm those judges, with no input from the executive branch.  This is what the NCGA is asking us to grant it with the Judicial Nominations Amendment.

The ballot language reads:

Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the  Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making
recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via legislative action
not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.”

Proponents of the Amendment contend  that we must restructure our Separation of Powers because it’s that it’s unfair for the governor to be allowed to fill judicial vacancies.  They claim that this Amendment will allow “the people” to be involved in the process.  But a close look at the language of the Amendment reveals the sham of this claimed “process.”  In reality, the Amendment simply takes a power currently held by the Governor and transfers it completely to the NCGA for no reason other than the NCGA wants that power for itself.

Let’s take a look:

Under the Amendment’s appointment scheme, the Governor still, nominally, has the power to appoint justices.  However, he or she cannot actually choose any nominee.  Instead, he/she is Constitutionally required to appoint a nominee selected by the NCGA.   In effect, the Governor’s judgement — for which he/she, was elected by the People to use — has been excised from the process.  The NCGA gets sole appointment authority, with a little Gubernatorial window dressing.

The Amendment’s proponents make much of the fact that anyone can nominate a potential judge, but in reality that nomination process is meaningless.   For one thing, “the people” appears to include members of the NCGA or their agents, so in effect the NCGA has the power to nominate potential judges to this new Commission.

And about that Commission — The Amendment makes the Commission sound remarkably fancy and inclusive, with members selected by NCGA, the Chief Justice and the Governor, but that Commission may only make a determination of whether a nominee is “qualified.” That term is, of course, left undefined, presumably so that the NCGA can fill in the blank later.  The point is, this Commission has no discretionary role; it’s acting only as a limited background check for potential judges.

So here’s how this process can go:  A vacancy opens on the Supreme Court.  Phil Berger decides that he’d like one of his wealthy donors to hold that seat, so he submits to the Commission a list of folks that he’d like to reward for their loyalty.  The Commission uses a metric that has been determined by the NCGA to deem those nominees “qualified,” and good ol’ Phil muscles his subjects in the NCGA into approving them (and we’ve seen ample evidence that this group of legislators does not and will not deny anything Berger wants).  The list then goes to Governor Cooper, who literally has no choice but to appoint one of Berger’s buddies to the court.

I feel better about the legitimacy of the Court already, don’t you?

Sarcasm aside, this is the exact process that the NCGA has asked us, the voters, to approve, despite any kind of rational justification for it.  And so we are left with the question, “why?”  Why is it better for the legislature, rather than the governor, to appoint judges?  Why should the legislature get yet more power, in the very same year in which its leadership has openly joked that they didn’t realize the governor had any power left at all?  Simply put, this proposed Amendment has absolutely no benefit for the people of North Carolina, but it does have some big downsides.

For example, there is the very real threat that this Amendment, if passed, will allow the General Assembly to overturn to express will of the people and to stack the NC Supreme Court with its own hand-picked candidates.  Here’s how:

In the normal course, the members of the NC Supreme Court are elected by popular vote.  That Court can have up to 9 members on it (there are currently 7).  The NCGA has the power to expand the court by two seats, and if the Amendment passes, it could use that power in combination with their new appointment power to stack the court with judges of their own choosing.  And while some Republican legislators have claimed that doing so isn’t their intention, they also expressly rejected pleas to change the language of the proposed Amendment to make such a scenario impossible (by making the Legislative appointment power inapplicable to newly-created seats on the bench).

In short, the Legislature is asking us to give it more power, for no good reason, and is also asking us to trust that they won’t abuse that power, while at the same time rejecting any safeguards that would prevent that abuse.  Nothing in the majority’s conduct these past few years justifies our putting any trust in their restraint, so this Amendment must fail.

The Color of Education

I had the privilege of attending the Color of Education event this week.  I’m still trying to digest everything said by the wonderful Nikole Hannah-Jones.  She was blunt and funny about a subject that most people dance around.  She spoke about race and integration.

I encourage all of you to tune into Public School Forum’s Education Matters this weekend.  She will be the keynote guest.  I encourage all of you to check out her writing on your own.  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/magazine/choosing-a-school-for-my-daughter-in-a-segregated-city.html

I’d love to tell you all that I made some conscience choice to enroll my son in a diverse school.  I didn’t.  Nor did I painstakingly look at test scores and demographics.  I was blissfully unaware of it all.  My husband and I bought a house in ideal location that was near both our workplaces, and had a basement.  We both hated the idea of wasting our lives sitting in traffic.    As luck would have it, we ended up in a diverse public school.

Also, despite the fact that my kid’s school is only 35% white, our PTA board is almost all white.  This is problematic and something we should all look at.  One key thing pointed out in the lecture was that integration is the sharing of power.  I need to work harder in my own life to make this happen.

You see, we were all tasked to take our knowledge and do something, to answer the question; what now.  I’m beginning by writing this post.  I’m starting by acknowledging that too many times we dance around the question of integration.  I’m not a good dancer anyway.

I’m going to be blunt.  We have a crisis on hands.  It’s in our North Carolina borders.  It is happening in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  The NC General Assembly passed HB514.  This allows for municipalities to open their own charter schools.  This is segregation.

So one small but yet significant thing we can do in November is vote.  Vote those who voted for HB514 out.  We need to hold our legislators accountable.  We need to add integration as a goal for our schools across the state.   Below is the votes for both House and Senate.

Senate: https://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/voteHistory/RollCallVoteTranscript.pl?sSession=2017&sChamber=S&RCS=585

House: https://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/voteHistory/RollCallVoteTranscript.pl?sSession=2017&sChamber=H&RCS=1006

I apologize that there is no possible way to truly capture all that I’m feeling about hearing Nikole Hannah- Jones speak.  Perhaps as time continues I will be able to put more pieces together.  For now.  I ask us all to do what we can now, and that for all of us is vote.

 

 

Separation of Powers? What’s That?

Folks, tonight’s post is just a teaser — we moved last week and I just unearthed my computer today, so I won’t have a real post up until tomorrow.

But for tonight, I want you to ponder what potential Constitutional changes could be so bad that it inspired all of the living former NC governors, from both parties, to come together and speak out in opposition.

Elections and the Introvert

Election season is upon us, and many of us are rolling up our sleeves to help elect pro-education candidates.  For many, knocking on doors and making phone calls come natural.  For many others, it can be incredibly daunting.  It’s difficult campaigning and being an introvert.

I truly believe, that the internet, was invented so I wouldn’t have to order pizza by phone ever again.  I  probably know more dog’s names on my street than I do neighbor’s names. I need alone time to function.  I’m an introvert.

So, how does an introvert contribute to such a crucial election?  We need every voice involved in this campaign to elect pro-education policies and candidates.  Below is simply my experiences as an introvert on the campaign trail.

One thing that helps me is that I believe passionately in what I’m doing.  Without my deep belief in the power of public education,  I couldn’t do any of this.  I volunteered to speak at my first rally, because I felt so strongly about the issue.  Although, it gets better with practice, my legs still shake a bit when I’m speaking.   NC Public Education is worth a little leg shaking.

Another thing that helps, is I know my limits.  I’m not going to sign up for a phone bank.  You honestly don’t want me in a phone bank.  I get nervous, I talk too fast, and then mess up the script.  I once left a message on a Senator’s voicemail that basically gave my name, my number, and begged not to be called back.

Door knocking can also be scary.  The first time I went door knocking, it was with a friend.  I never said a word.  It’s something that took practice.  I now sometimes prefer to go solo.  I like going at my own pace.  I also generally shorten the script.  Although I take breaks between houses, I am a very quick canvasser.  After a morning of door knocking and talking to strangers, I’m done.  I need quiet afterwards.  Which as a mother makes it all the more difficult.  Still with a little help from my family, I can canvass.

There are lots of jobs on campaigns that are perfect for introverts.  There are opportunities to put up signs or drop flyers.   Canvassers can use drivers especially in rural or large areas where houses are more spread out.   Letters and postcards need to be written.

The problem is so much of working on the election involves getting out the word to the public.  In the end, you might at some point be asked to go beyond your comfort zone.   You don’t need to jump in the deep end.  Try one thing new.  You might find it isn’t so bad.  You might find you hate it and never do it again, but that’s OK.  I actually set up a reward system.  If I have to call people I don’t know for a candidate, I get to eat Bojangles for dinner.  It might sound silly, but it works for me.

The truth is elections take work.  Just getting people to vote takes work.  Think how much time, money, and effort is needed just to get people to the polls.  So many campaigns and issues need our help. Now isn’t the time to sit on the sidelines.  So whether introvert or extrovert, we’re all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission Creep, part 3 — Hunting and Fishing

Today, we’re talking about one of the more head-scratching amendments up for a vote in November: the Hunting and Fishing Amendment.  If the amendment is approved, it will add the following language to the Constitution:

“The right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife is a valued part of the State’s heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good. The people have a right, including the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to laws enacted by the General Assembly and rules adopted pursuant to authority granted by the General Assembly to (i) promote wildlife conservation and management and (ii) preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. Nothing herein shall be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or eminent domain.”

I have no quibble with folks who hunt and fish being able to do so, but the first question this proposed Amendment brings to mind is “why?”  Hunting and fishing are already allowed in North Carolina and I can find no evidence that they are under any sort of threat.  So, why do we need to alter our Constitution to protect a right that (a) already exists and (b) isn’t being threatened?  I can’t seem to find any good answer to that question.  And without any compelling reason to change our Constitution, there doesn’t seem to be any excuse to vote in favor of the Amendment.

I also  want to point out one aspect of the Amendment’s proposed language that concerns me.  Currently, NC’s municipalities have some say in hunting and fishing within their town limits.  So, for example, when the State decided to allow alligator hunting in NC, certain municipalities declined to relax their own rules, so that hunting alligators was still prohibited in those towns (see http://www.jdnews.com/news/20180405/no-nc-towns-have-taken-bait-to-allow-alligator-hunting )

But the language the Amendment would insert into the Constitution says that the rights to hunt and fish should be subject only to laws made by or with authority granted by the NCGA.   If I’m reading that correctly, it means that if the NCGA ever decides that it wants to strip municipalities of their authority to control hunting or fishing within their borders, it will have a Constitutional right to do so.  And there has been ample evidence that this NCGA, in particular, is very willing to exercise its power over municipalities, no matter what the people in those towns may want.

That provision, in my opinion, takes the Hunting and Fishing Amendment from merely useless to openly dangerous. It, like the rest of the Amendments, seems to provide an already-overpowered General Assembly with yet more power.  For that reason, I urge you to vote “No.”

Calendar Wars

Many in North Carolina were off school last week, and many are still not able to resume thanks to the devastation of Hurricane Florence.  My family in Wake County were very lucky.  That didn’t keep my area from being angry at our school board.  The problem came when make up days for time missed were proposed.  I myself struggled with the mere idea of Saturday school for my special needs child.  However, most of us put the pressure on our local school board.  The pressure needs to be put on the General Assembly of North Carolina.

As many others have alluded to this week, we have a very strict calendar law.   While 14 states restrict when a school year can start, NC as well as Maryland, also restricts when the school year can end.  This gives our school board a tight window for things like make up days.  According to the NC calendar law first enacted in 2004, traditional public schools have to start on the Monday nearest August 26, and end on the Friday closest to June 11. As stated in a WUNC report, “In those months they have to fit in 185 school days, nine teacher work days, several weeks of holidays, and make-up days lost to weather events.”  Keep in mind this only applies to traditional public schools.  Year round and charters are exempt from the NC calendar law.

What is so alarming about NC’s calendar law isn’t just that the state restricts local control, but that it does that knowing that students’ and educators’ interests aren’t given the highest priority.   In 2017, the NC General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division or PED, created a very telling report.   The stakeholders clearly fit into two groups, ones that benefit financially from the law and those that actually teach our children.

While the report highlighted all the pros and cons of our calendar law, it was the conclusion of the report that left me baffled.  The report recommended no large change to the law.  In the end, the experts in education were no match to industry and money in North Carolina.

Exhibit 15 in the the document sums up my point.  On one side you have the ‘stakeholders’ who prefer state control of the calendar.  They include The NC Travel and Tourism Coalition, the NC Association of Realtors, and the North Carolina Vacation and Rental Managers Association as well as other tourist related interests.  While the tourism industry tried to cite that the calendar law benefited the state financially, no one could find any data to back up that statement.

On the other side of things, are those who favor more local control.  They include groups like NCAE, NC Department of Public Instruction, NCPTA, the NC State Board of Education, and other groups who study  education policies.  So, if all the stakeholders that actually have something to do with educating children agree that we need more local control, why on earth do we still have the calendar law?  This is the question we must continue to ask our legislature.

There was another group on the list that warrants some scrutiny and not just because it shares initials with Save Our Schools.  The group is or was Save Our Summers North Carolina.  They call themselves a grassroots parent led group to protect traditional summer.  Their website is down, and I had to do some digging.  They sound well meaning, but not representative of most NC families.  I couldn’t find much, but according to Guidestar, in 2009 they listed $20,130 in assets.  They did do an excellent job of raising money.

They had a petition with over 20,000 signatures asking the General Assembly for later school start dates.    They also stated that polls showed that 70-80% of NC support that.  They are repeatedly mentioned in the PED report as a stakeholder in supporting state calendar control.  The PED report actually refutes their data.  In fact, according to the Elon Univeristy poll,  65% of the public support local control for the start date of schools (10% had no opinion).  That leaves only 25% who actually favor state control of the school calendar.

They do have a list of other points and a few of them are valid.  However, their most crucial argument is that having a full 3 months of summer is more family time.   I don’t think family time is restricted to summer.  I think we could have family time just as easily in May as we can in August.  In fact, one of the arguments to have a local control is so that high schools can have exams, and the end to second semester before Winter Break. The current calendar law forces most high schools to have exams and schools finalize second semester after Winter Break.  I know from experience that nothing ruins family time like writing a paper on The Great Gatsby at Grandma’s house at Christmas time.

Other points by Save Our Summers are about fall sports and the heat  I agree that summer sports and the temperature can be a problem for North Carolina when starting in early August.  However, I also believe that practice times can be adjusted, and starts of seasons manipulated to help. We aren’t so rigid that we couldn’t make something work even if it looked just a little different than it did in the past.

The strangest point in favor of a long summer and state control is that educators depend on summer jobs to make ends meet.  That is indeed a very serious issue. One that the General Assembly can also fix.  PAY OUR TEACHERS A LIVING WAGE.  We should never use the inadequacy of our General Assembly’s policies to promote further bad policies.

The PED report concluded by saying that competing interests cannot be reconciled.  This report simply highlights that our state listens to those with wealth and profit interests above the welfare of our children and educators.  Education policy should be made by the educators.

Further Reading:

PED Report on the School Calendar Control

Wake Ed Partnership on PED Report and Wake County Schools

WUNC Article on Calendar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission Creep, part 2 — Voter ID

If you read my post last week, you know that there are six Consitutional amendments on the NC ballot in November, and that I believe we should vote all of them down.  Today, I’ll tackle one of the most controversial and sticky ones:  the Voter ID Amendment.

Voters will be asked to approve adding the following language to the NC Constitution:  “Voters offering to vote in person shall present photographic identification before voting. The General Assembly shall enact general laws governing the requirements of such photographic identification, which may include exceptions.”

The proposed Amendment poses many problems:

The Voter ID Amendment is not narrowly tailored to a compelling  state interest.

Voting is a fundamental right guaranteed by the United States Constitution.  When governments pass laws that impose burdens on fundamental rights, those laws must be narrowly tailored — that is, written carefully and specifically — to solve a compelling problem.  It’s kind of a balancing act — big problems may warrant more restrictive laws, but the general goal is that States should find solutions that restrict rights in the narrowest reasonable way that solves the problem.

The Voter ID amendment fails on this point.  There is no compelling government interest on display here: in the 2016 election, there was one single case of in-person voter fraud (the only kind a Voter ID law can prevent) out of almost 5 million votes cast.  There simply isn’t a problem with in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.

Unsurprisingly, proponents of Voter ID argue that a lack of actual voter fraud is irrelevant to this discussion because Voter ID laws make people feel like the voting system is secure.  This is, in a word, poppycock.  The argument treats NC’s citizens like toddlers afraid of the dark, with the NCGA as the parent wielding a bottle of homemade “monster spray.”  Everybody knows that monsters aren’t real, but the spray gives the child a (false) sense of security, so what’s the harm? But of course, there is harm.

The Voter ID Amendment Would Impose a Significant Burden on Voting Rights

According to one recent state study, NC has about 300,000 registered voters who lack an ID issued by the DMV.  Assuming that the NCGA decides that a DMV-issued ID is required to vote (more on this later) Each and every one of those folks would immediately become unable to vote if we pass Voter ID.  That’s 300,000 people whose ability to vote would be gone in the blink of an eye, to “solve” a 1-in-5-million problem.   And that number doesn’t even count the folks who aren’t yet registered and might never bother because they know they don’t have the right ID.  I guarantee you that number isn’t 0.

Voter ID proponents argue that this isn’t a big deal, that most of those 300,000 people can simply mosey on over to the DMV and get themselves an ID (oddly, this argument often goes hand in hand with the declaration that “If people want to vote badly enough, they’ll show it by getting an ID”  To this, I can only point out that fundamental rights need not be earned.)  But anyone who’s been reading the reports of day-long lines at NC DMV offices knows it isn’t that simple, it isn’t cheap, and it isn’t easy.  (and at the risk of being snarky, may I point out that most of the strongest proponents of Voter ID laws already have ID?  It’s awfully easy to decide that a burden isn’t too heavy when you’ll never be the one carrying it).

And, by the by, the burden of obtaining ID isn’t limited to the actual time one spends in line at the DMV (and the travel time, fees and lost wages that doing so can require).  Many, many people, particularly the poor or elderly, don’t even have access to the background documents that would allow them to get a driver’s license or other ID card.  Birth records get lost, people change names, clerks make spelling errors, and all of these things take money and time to cure.  Getting ID is sometimes so difficult and so burdensome that there is actually an entire non-profit set up to help people obtain this precious documentation — I urge you all to check out Spread The Vote to get a taste of how much money and effort can go into obtaining ID.

So, we have an imaginary problem, and the “monster spray” fix proposed by the NCGA comes at the low, low price of disenfranchising 300,000 people unless and until they can spend enough money and time to prove they really want to vote.

The Amendment Wouldn’t Actually Solve Voter Fraud, Even if There Were Any

I mentioned above that in-person voter impersonation is the only kind of voter fraud that Voter ID can fix.  That’s because, if you look closely at its language, you can see that the Voter ID requirement applies only to in-person voting.  Why?  Beats me.  There were exactly as many cases of absentee voter impersonation fraud in 2016 as there were cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud (one of each), but only in-person voting is restricted.  This inconsistency renders the Voter ID amendment, so overly broad in every other respect, too narrow to accomplish its alleged purpose. (Yes, I am aware that you voters must provide some proof of name/address when requesting an absentee ballot, but no photo is required.)

We Already Have Mechanisms In Place to Detect, Deter and Punish Voter Fraud

Proponents of the Voter ID Amendment often make it seem as if Voter ID is the only possible way to make our elections secure, as if until the first Voter ID law passed, American elections were a free-for-all of fraud and abuse with absolutely no way that poor, beleaguered States could stop it.  But of course, this isn’t true.

When you register to vote (or the first time you vote after registering), you provide the State with your name, address, and proof that you are you and that you live where you say you live.  You attest, under penalty of perjury, that you are a U.S. citizen, eligible to vote, and that the information you have provided is true.  And when you show up to vote, you verify your name, address and eligibility to vote.  It’s against the law to commit voter fraud, and as we’ve seen, the State has mechanisms to identify and to prosecute people who break that law.  And it does all of that without preventing hundreds of thousands of citizens from exercising their right to vote.  Without any evidence that this system is broken, the “fix” is unnecessary at best, and harmful at worst.

And while we’re on the subject, proponents of Voter ID often point to the fact that there were of alleged cases of either non-citizens or felons voting in the 2016 election as proof that Voter ID is needed.  But again, there are already laws in place to address those situations and it’s not at all clear how (or if) Voter ID requirements would help.

The Amendment Gives the NCGA a Blank Check

Finally, we come to one of the reasons that this Amendment — not just Voter ID in general — is a bad idea:  we have absolutely no idea what a Voter ID regime would actually look like in NC if the Amendment passes.  The text of the Amendment didn’t come with any implementing legislation, only the promise that the NCGA would write a law to enforce our new Constitutional restriction.  And that’s a problem.

First, as a matter of policy, it’s a bad idea to vote for something when you have no information about what you’re actually voting for.  For example, the text of the Amendment says that the NCGA may include exceptions to Voter ID requirements.  We may hope that this means the NCGA will make allowances for people who lack the basic documents I mentioned earlier, such as birth certificates or proof of citizenship, but we cannot guarantee it.  Is that a risk you’re willing to take?

We also don’t know what kinds of IDs might be accepted for voting purposes, because the Amendment doesn’t say.  We do know that, when crafting their first stab at a Voter ID law, our NCGA asked researchers for data about how Black people in North Carolina voted and excluded the documents most likely to be held by Black people from the list of acceptable IDs.  A disgusted Federal Court struck down that law, noting that it targeted Black voters with almost surgical precision.  Who’s to say that, if given the chance, the NCGA won’t do the exact same thing again, only this time be smart enough to cover up the “smoking guns” that contributed to the previous law’s downfall?

We also know that the General Assembly’s Republicans, fearful that the voters may strip them of their veto-proof majority in the November election, has already scheduled a special session for November, so that its probable lame-duck members can cram through a Voter ID law without input from Democratic legislators (due in party to their illegal Gerrymandering, it is highly likely that the GOP will maintain a majority in the legislature next year, but if they lose the supermajority, they will be forced to craft legislation that can at least survive a gubernatorial veto and they really don’t want that).

In light of the deliberately vague nature of the Amendment, the NCGA’s past history of bad behavior on this topic, and their transparent plan to pass voting restrictions during a lame duck session, one can only assume that the GOP has skulduggery, not election integrity, on its mind when it proposed this Constitutional amendment.  Even if no other portion of this post is persuasive, that fact alone should give every North Carolinian reason to vote “NO.”