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 )

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.”


Education Roundup, 9/14/2018

First off, I hope everyone here in NC is weathering this storm ok, especially our friends at the coast and in the eastern part of the state.  Here in Cary, we have wind and rain, but thankfully, power (for now).

As we get deeper into election season, there are lots of claims going around about education, and funding it specifically. This week, Kris Nordstrom took on one of Phil Berger’s education claims and explains why it’s less than honest:

One of North Carolina’s own teachers, NaShonda Cooke, was featured in Time Magazine this week, as part of a report on what it means to be a teacher in the United States:

In national news, a Federal Court struck down the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to delay implementation of rules designed to protect students defrauded by for-profit colleges.

And this week, Stu Egan wrote about Mark Johnson’s spiffy new  website, which apparently went live at the same time that the state-run DPI websites were taken down because of the hurricane:

That’s all for now.  Time to get my kids to settle down in the camp they’ve built in the living room. Stay safe, y’all.

The Cost of Things

Like most in North Carolina, my family has been preparing for Hurricane Florence.  I’ve got everything from glow sticks, to glow in the dark pajamas to peanut butter and crackers.   This blog was difficult to write this week only because my thoughts are on the storm.  My favorite history teacher told me that there are only a few rules or axioms in history.  One is that war costs money.  I think we should declare our own axiom of history, natural disasters cost money.

While federal dollars play a role in disaster relief, there are still road repairs and other costs that are handled by the state.  For the most part, this is handled by a rainy day fund.  However, what happens to that rainy day fund if we cut North Carolina taxes through the new amendment?  I’m not an economist, but without taxes exactly how do we pay for significant expenses?

Hurricane Matthew cost North Carolina approximately 4.8 billion dollars.  Federal help was slow and not sufficient.  Our own state legislature had to allocate disaster relief.  This means we had to spend our rainy day fund.  That in itself is fine.  That is what the fund is there for in the first place.  However, how do we replenish it with a tax cap?

Renee I’m sure will have a very deep analysis of all the amendments.  However, while the threat of Hurricane Florence is emanate take a moment and think.  Think how the tax cap will hurt North Carolina and potential disaster relief efforts if it is passed.  The tax cap amendment is just plain bad economics.

On a more personal note, we here outside the cone of uncertainty are thinking of those who are not.  Share a loaf of bread or a bottle of water.  Be kind to one another and be safe.


Mission Creep

Sometimes I struggle with the fact that this is an education-focused blog, because our state (and our country) are facing so many issues that seem inextricably intertwined with educational issues, and to focus strictly on education means telling only part of the story.  This is particularly true in the case of the upcoming election, where North Carolinians are being asked to restructure our state constitution in some significant ways.  There are six amendments on the ballot this election, and according to the News & Observer, many of us aren’t even really aware that those amendments exist, much less the very high stakes involved in the changes we’re being asked to make.

So, with your indulgence, for my next several posts, I’ll be writing about each of the amendments and about why I think all six of them should be voted down.  But first, I’d like to take the opportunity today to set out where I’m coming from on the NC Constitution and why I think it shouldn’t be messed with. [Fair warning — of necessity, these next several blog posts will mention the fact that these amendments are being driven by the actions of the current NCGA majority party, which happens to be the Republicans.  I will have to ask you to trust me that if the same actions were being undertaken by Democrats, I’d be just as angry.]

I understand that Constitutions are living documents — their framers, both on a federal on state level, were human beings subject to the same foibles and failings as any other human beings.  So it’s a good thing that we can change these documents when it becomes clear that such change is necessary: to right wrongs, to make explicit human rights that had been merely implied; to deal with circumstances unforeseen by the framers.

That said, Constitutions are (or should be) serious documents, and changes to them should be undertaken with exquisite care.  When we use amendments to affect the fundamental rights of others, or to provide a short-term political boost to one party over another, we demean not only the document, but ourselves as citizens.   And when we seek, as is the case this year, to undertake a radical restructuring of the balance of power on which our entire government rests, then we must do it darned carefully.

Which brings me to my first objection to this set of amendments:  the process by which they were placed on the ballot was rushed, opaque, and marked with dishonesty and political skulduggery.  The laws putting them on the ballot were introduced mere days before they were voted on; no meaningful hearings were held, and members of the minority party — the party that represents millions of North Carolina voters — were excluded completely from the process.  The amendment language itself is, in most cases, both misleading and confusing, and the NCGA held a special session to make sure that the bipartisan board that could have provided clearer captions for each amendment would no longer be allowed to do so.   The unmistakable conclusion is that this General Assembly wants North Carolinans to be confused.  They want us not to know exactly what we’re voting for.  And that is unconscionable.

Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll be talking about separation of powers and how two of the amendments would alter that separation significantly.  But if you can’t wait until then and want more info now, please check out  There’s a bunch of information there, too.


Education Roundup, 9/7/18

Hey all,

The biggest education news in NC this week has been the state’s newest round of test scores and school grades.

Here’s one overview.

Adrian at Tales of an Educated Debutante has been knocking it out of the park all week.  I particularly liked her post on Read to Achieve.  Since I can’t seem to isolate the link to just one post, head over and check out her whole page.  It’s worth it.

We also learned this week that many NC voters aren’t yet well-informed about the six constitutional amendments on the ballot in November.  While all of the amendments, IMO, should be rejected, the tax cap amendment is particularly harmful to education, and to the continued financial well-being of our state.  Here are a few articles explaining why:


How to be an Advocate When Your School P**ses You Off.

Last Tuesday, I was livid.  It had nothing to do with reassignment plans, it was an IEP issue.   It was deeply personal, and I had a little boy in tears on the second day of school.  After discussion in the main office with teachers and administrators, I believe the problem was resolved, but a deeper issue remained to be taken up with others later.

On Wednesday, I admit my desire to take a Red4Ed selfie was basically zero.   My school dropped the ball.  My child had another terrible start to a new a school year despite my best efforts.  I know what the problem is, but I’m meeting resistance to get it resolved.  It was hard to be a public education advocate that week.  To be honest, I did skip the selfie.

So why defend something that can screw up so royally?  For me, it’s about the big picture.  No school system is perfect.  However, I believe in the mission of public education.  I believe in educating all children. I believe in equality and diversity and community, and public schools have the potential to provide that.  I believe that public education is the best investment we can make for our future.

If you scratch the surface of so many problems, just below lurks a lack of funding.  In so many ways, it is at the root of so many problems, both big and small.  Which is why despite anger over IEPs, a frustrating bureaucracy, or even reassignment, we must continue to advocate.   We need to channel our anger.  If we can get 150 parents to come out to a meeting about reassignment , we need to get even more to come out when commissioners decide our budget.   We need those numbers to lobby our legislature to fully fund our public schools.  Most of all we need everyone to vote for those who will defend public education this coming election.