A Last Word on the Last Day

Well, here we are.  Election Day eve.  To the millions of North Carolinians who have already voted, congratulations and thank you!  If you haven’t already voted, I would like to lead you with a few closing thoughts:

This Democracy thing; it’s hard.  It’s a system of government that demands a lot of its citizens.  We need to research candidates, analyze issues, sift through the rhetoric to find the nuggets of truth, and make decisions, then make sure we are registered to vote and have the time and ability to get to the correct polling place.

And after the election, the work doesn’t stop.  We need to be aware of what is happening in our town halls, our board chambers, our state houses, and in the federal government.   We need to hold those former candidates to the promises they made.  We need to know what our representatives are doing, while also making sure that they know what we want them to do and why it’s important.  And before you know it, there’s another election and it’s time to start all over.

Democracy isn’t easy.  But when it works well, it’s an amazing thing.  Just think:  you, yes you, have the ability to change your world.  You can have an idea on how your town, or your county, or your school or your state should be run, and you can actually make that happen.  You can ask your representatives for help.  And if they don’t, you can run for office yourself, or support candidates that will listen to you.  You can convince other people to support your idea, and suddenly you have a movement.

If you’ve ever thought that you and your voice don’t matter, please believe that they do.   This system of ours doesn’t work perfectly all of the time, and we’ve made some pretty egregious errors in our two and a half centuries as a country.  But every day, and with every election, we have a chance to ameliorate the mistakes of the past and to ensure a better future.

So go out there and vote tomorrow.  Add your voice to the millions who have already voted, and make a difference.  I’ll see you at the polls.

#NixAllSix By Guest Blogger Michelle Burton

 Welcome Michelle Burton our guest blogger!   Michelle Burton has been  a public school library media specialist for 23 years in the state of North Carolina (Alamance, Durham and Wake counties)  She believes all students deserve a high quality, well-rounded education and art, music, P.E. and school libraries staffed by highly educated professionals is apart of every child having a sound basic education.   Please take time to read her thoughts on the amendments on the 2018 ballot.  

The six constitutional amendments that have been placed on the ballot will cause irreparable harm to our state.  These amendments would drastically alter the North Carolina constitution forever, and would be almost impossible to change if they are approved. They were written to purposely deceive North Carolinians in handing over power to the North Carolina legislators by stripping any little power the governor has left, taking away the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens, and destroy any additional funding public schools and many public services that North Carolinians depend on.

 

Here is an overview of the six amendments and why you need to vote against all of them.

 

  1. Protect the right to hunt and fish: Your right to hunt and fish is not under attack. The sole purpose of this amendment is to get conservative leaning voters to turn out and vote during a midterm election. If this amendment passes there may some harm done with regards to wildlife and our environment.

 

  1. Strengthen Protections to Crime Victims: Again, this is another ploy to get more conservative voters out to vote in November. North Carolina already has protections for crime victims in its state laws. Many people do not know that this amendment  is being bankrolled by a California billionaire and if this amendment passes there will be unintended consequences with regard to people being treated fairly in court and having due process.

 

  1. Reduce the income tax cap to 7 percent: This amendment will benefit wealthy people so they don’t have to pay income taxes. If this amendment is passed, sales taxes will go up, property taxes will go up, fees for car registrations and licenses will go up. This will be totally regressive, affecting  low income and middle income people. This amendment will decimate public education, roads, health care and low wealth counties would not keep up with the cost of taking care of their communities and their citizens.

 

  1. Change the process for fulfilling judicial vacancies: Right now, Gov. Cooper, who is a Democrat, has the authority to appoint judges. This amendment would give the authority to the legislature and the legislature is presently dominated by Republicans. Even two of our former Republican governors, Jim Martin and Pat McCrory, said this was a bad idea and have come out against it.

 

  1. Establish an eight-member board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement: This amendment will take the authority away from the governor, who is presently a Democrat, to have control over elections in the state and giving it to the legislature. This will make the elections board four Democrats and four Republicans. If this amendment is passed nothing will get resolved with the elections board and major gridlock will occur.  All five former governors, two who are Republican, have come out against this amendment.

 

  1. Require Voter ID:  All of thee above are bad, but this one is really bad. This law will disenfranchise thousands of North Carolinians from voting because they don’t have proper identification. We as voters are suppose to decide on this amendment without knowing what type of ID would be required. The legislature said they would come back in a special session in December and make that decision. But we don’t know what ID the legislature will require citizens must have to vote.

 

Vote against all six constitutional amendments on November 6.  #NixallSix.

 

Unsafe

A child died today in North Carolina, shot at his own school.

As of right now, I do not know the circumstances surrounding the shooting, and it would be irresponsible for me to speculate.  But I can say, with certainty, that it is a tragedy that a child — any child — had access to a gun with which to shoot another child.  And that the roughly 2,000 children at that school have now, unwillingly, been inducted into a club that already had almost 200,000 members — kids who have also survived shootings at school in recent years.  Will they ever feel safe again?

Will any of us?  I know that in the years since the horrifying shooting in Newtown, Ct., it has become almost a reflex for me to survey my children’s classrooms at Meet the Teacher, noting the places they could hide or escape if necessary.  I breathed a small sigh of relief this year when my 4th grader moved back into the building after spending 3rd grade in a trailer; I’m almost certain that those thin metal structures aren’t capable of stopping bullets.

Our schools are doing the best that they can to keep our children safe, but as usual the needs are great and the resources scarce.  Statewide, we have $8 billion in unmet school construction needs (those trailers aren’t going away anytime soon).  We know that adequate numbers of school counselors, psychologists and social workers can help, but so far we haven’t funded those professionals at sufficient ratios.  And it appears that we as a society can’t even have a real discussion about the thing that could help the most — making guns much harder to access.

Our schools need our help.  There is no real possibility that they can keep every kid safe all of the time, but there is more that can be done.  As you go to vote, think about what your candidates are saying about school safety and what they’re willing to do to support our schools.

Poll Greeting

We finally made it.  It’s voting time.  It all comes down to this, the vote.  We have the opportunity to change things for the better in the state.  This is why on many days you’ll find me greeting voters at the poll.  I’m assisting a representative that has a proven public education record.  I’m also talking to voters about public education and the amendments.

Poll greeting can be the ultimate people watching opportunity.  You have those who want to just get in line and those who are dying to connect.  I’ve talked at length to many who just needed to vent and others who were seeking information.  I had the pleasure of watching a poll supervisor named Peggy help a someone in line who was in pain make it to curb side voting.  I actually babysat someone’s dog so their owner could go in and vote.  Rufus and I had a great time.

That’s not say that poll greeting can’t be stressful.  I find it very stressful to listen to others spew misleading information.  I can actually feel my body temperature rise.  I’m thankful for groups out there engaging voters daily, especially those helping pass bonds or working to prevent the passage of the harmful amendments.  I’m impressed by candidates that may not appear on any slate cards out there talking to voters.  I’m humbled by all the candidates willing to put themselves out there.

Poll greeters can help those unsure of their voting districts, but more importantly they can help swing a vote or two.  I had the pleasure of witnessing a voter confused by the amendments decide during a conversation with another SOSNC member to vote against them.  I happened across the voter in an elevator as we walked to our cars.  She bragged about her no votes.  We make a difference.

If you’d like to make a difference, I can guarantee there is room for you to help.  Contact your party.  Contact your favorite pro education candidate.  There is room at the polls.  Your help is needed.

Now since this much social interaction drains me of all energy, it is time for me to say goodnight.    Oh and of course GO VOTE!

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.