Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


NC PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS STILL LACK ACCOUNTABILITY, TRANSPARENCY: One of the report’s authors describe the study as “quasi-experimental.” Caveats included in the report read more like the warnings for prescription medication than an evaluation of a government program. The goal of those who ordered up the report had little to do with an objective evaluation. What they wanted was a campaign sound-bite. Inflated statements about the report that say it shows “positive, large and statistically significant” impact of vouchers spread across the Twittersphere and other social media avenues. Citizens rightly demand that public schools meet standards and demonstrate that student are – or are not – achieving. Does it make ANY sense that millions of tax dollars should go to private schools that don’t have to demonstrate that kids are learning – or even attending class? The latest report from N.C. State University tells us little about the voucher program and doesn’t bring us any closer to the transparency and accountability the program needs.

VOTER ID IS BACK IN NC, AND THE JUSTIFICATIONS ARE AS LAME AS EVER: Moore called photo ID a “common sense measure to secure the integrity of our elections system.” He said it’s needed because “protecting our democracy should be one of lawmakers’ highest priorities.” Rep. John Sauls, a Lee County Republican who is a primary sponsor of the constitutional amendment, said, “Our state must not tolerate anyone’s vote being threatened because lawmakers failed to prevent fraud.” What a sham. For years, Republicans in North Carolina alleged that in-person fraudulent voting is rampant. Then, in April 2017, the state Board of Elections released the results of an extensive, objective audit of the 2016 election. It found that out of almost 4.8 million votes cast, one fraudulent vote probably would have been avoided with a photo voter ID law. One! If Sauls is worried about lawmakers failing to prevent fraud, he should pay more attention to Russian hacking or mail-in absentee-ballot fraud, both of which pose bigger threats than someone showing up at the polls illegitimately.

TRUMP'S TAX LAW SPECIFICALLY PREYS ON PEOPLE OF COLOR: The Trump tax law primarily benefits already wealthy people who already had access to the educational, systemic, and human resources necessary to accumulate wealth. The “Racial Wealth Gap” is the reality that the average wealth for families is much higher than for African-Americans. Our dreadful history of discrimination in housing, lending, and employment has legally obstructed the ability of African Americans to accumulate wealth over generations. The Trump tax law is expected to encourage state and local governments to add fees and fines to make up lost revenue. As Peter Edelman exposes in his new book, “Not a Crime To Be Poor,” court costs, bail, fines, and incarceration for non-violent behavior all act to keep people of color in an endless loop of economic distress where great harm is done to families and communities. The Trump tax law is estimated to cost $1.9 trillion in lost revenue in the next 10 years. We have already seen that this Congress is willing to cut medical, health, and social services to offset some of their tax cuts. This is not sustainable.

HOW WE TREAT REFUGEES SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT US: New policies have capped how many refugees the U.S. will accept at 45,000 this year, down from 85,000 in 2017, and across North Carolina in 2018, agencies may see one-third of the 2,000 people who were resettled here a year ago, a number that had already dropped significantly from 2016. Most of those who have come to our state as refugees in the last decade have made their homes in Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte. Meanwhile, this country’s philosophy of refugee resettlement has devolved into a scarcity model exacerbated by a dose of adult-strength stranger danger. America is, shamefully, on a path to accepting fewer refugees than at any point since 1980. “Refugee resettlement should not be a partisan issue. It’s a humanity issue,” said Phillips, who works in Raleigh. “These are people who are looking for safe haven and some place they can achieve self-sufficiency. The level of hateful rhetoric, the disinformation, the misinformation is hurtful to individuals as well as to the overall scope of the (resettlement) program.”

IT'S ANTI-FREE MARKET TO PROP UP COAL AND NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS: President Donald Trump’s fascination with coal borders on obsession — maybe that’s what happens when coal barons donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to one’s inauguration — and he has promised repeatedly to revive the flagging industry. Never mind that the energy market is moving away from coal in favor of cheaper and cleaner natural gas, solar and wind power. Now the administration is contemplating invoking two rarely used laws to postpone the demise of some coal-fired power plants for two years, while also propping up some nuclear power plants that were slated to be mothballed. It’s a preposterous idea. Continuing to operate financially nonviable power plants and forcing grid operators to buy power they don’t need or want is an unacceptable governmental intrusion into the power market that, by one analysis, would needlessly cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.


NEVA BARTHOLOMEW: "PRO-LIFE" SHOULD MEAN HELPING DISABLED CHILDREN LIVE: Regarding “Plan gives taxpayers’ dollars to pro-life clinic, Christian hunting club” (May 30): Twelve thousand North Carolina children with severe intellectual disabilities and autism are desperately waiting for services from our state. Many are like my daughter Meg – nonverbal, sleeping only a few hours at a time and not toilet trained, even at age 14. Many have hardworking parents who are struggling with how to care for these children at home. North Carolina has a Medicaid waiver program designed to help provide services to families like mine. The goal of this waiver is to keep these children in their own homes and out of institutions. But it can’t work if it’s not funded, and our state legislature continues to choose other ways to spend our tax dollars. Every year, the waiting list for these services grows. Most people on the list have been waiting for several years now. This year our state legislature has chosen to provide $1.25 million to religious-based anti-abortion clinics that provide no actual health care services, only anti-abortion counseling and referrals. That’s over $1 million that will not go to the 12,000 disabled children waiting for health care services. What does being pro-life mean if it is not to help disabled children and their families live productive and happy lives? If the hypocrisy of this funding plan wasn’t enough, this budget was written in secret by a handful of Republican lawmakers. It’s time for the term “pro-life” to truly mean better lives for children in North Carolina.

CECILIA & ROBERT WALKER: POLITICS CANNOT REPLACE HUMANITY: We are appalled at the new policy established by the Department of Justice about a way to deter and discourage potential immigrants who may be undocumented. That is the policy to take children away from parents at the border and place them in foster care with American residents. This is one of the most inhumane practices that our country has ever engaged in. It is also a policy that will negatively affect those children for the rest of their lives, as well as the parents. Some of those parents will probably never see their children again, but that will probably be called “collateral damage.” Has our government lost all sense of value about people? What about the whole question of family values, when families are being disrupted in abominable ways? It is conceivable that some of those removed children will be mistreated physically, sexually and emotionally, and that is nothing but criminal. The question must be asked: Where is the justice in the development and implementing of such a policy? Forget justice; where is the humanity in this process? We are ashamed that such a policy has even been conceived by our government, much less implemented. Who will raise their official voices in protest? We find it difficult to think that no one in the government will do so. Politics cannot replace humanity, or our society will fall by the wayside, and we cannot ever be the moral compass of the world that we like to think we are.

WILLIAM DELAMAR: RELIGIOUS SCHOOL EDUCATION SHOULD NOT BE PAID FOR WITH PUBLIC DOLLARS: “Three out of four NC voucher schools fail on curriculum” (June 3) begs the question, why would our state Legislators take needed public education money from our schools to subsidize substandard schools? Schools that are not science-based and teach Biblical writings that have been disproved by science? The earth is not 6,000 years old and was not created within six days. We know that, and to teach Biblical parables as fact results in children not thinking critically and ultimately trains them to be followers and not leaders.
Accepting these schools as normal sets a dangerous precedent that unfortunately is consistent with the nationwide attack on public education that seems to be disturbingly coordinated. Many of us were raised in the Christian religion and the values taught have had a mostly positive effect on society, but teaching the literal interpretation of the Bible as part of an educational curriculum crosses the line and should not be subsidized by taxpayer dollars. If parents want their children to be indoctrinated by these schools they should pay for it out of their own pocket and not public dollars.



From the dark side

This week the News & Observer (hopefully by mistake) treats us to some Koch Brothers propaganda on school vouchers:

New research shows that the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) may be working for students. N.C. State University recently released a study showing that a small sample of OSP students outperformed a matched sample of public school students in Spring 2017 on a standardized math, reading and language test. The study’s results were “positive, large and statistically significant.” While the study’s limitations prevent the authors from directly attributing the results to the program and restrict those results only to the volunteer OSP students who participated in the study, the outcome suggests that the OSP may be making a real difference in students’ academic performance.

It does not suggest anything of the sort. Catholic (private) schools only make up 10% of NC's voucher recipients, but provided 50% of the "volunteer" students tested for this report. Those Catholic schools also already use that Iowa test, meaning those students were already familiar with it. The only thing this outcome suggests is that NC State has some serious academic integrity problems, and should take a deep breath and do some self-evaluation.

The program serves economically-disadvantaged students whose parents would not be able to afford private school tuition. For these children, their new school can unlock potential that was previously hidden. Take, for example, a family in Merritt in coastal Pamlico County. Ruzalia Davis’ son, a third grader, struggled for attention in an overcrowded public school classroom. Now, at his new private school, Ms. Davis’ son benefits from small class sizes and has earned a place on the honor roll for the first time ever. “The Opportunity Scholarship Program has opened the door for my child to receive a better education. Truly, being awarded this scholarship has been the greatest thing for my young scholar and our family,” said Davis.

"Small class sizes" is a huge understatement. The school, based in a church, has a grand total of 18 students. Not in each grade, that's the whole school. I've had this argument before and will likely have it again in the future, but anecdotal stories of extremely small, specialized schools is worse than pointless when considering state-wide reform.

But voucher proponents love to do this, because it supports the false narrative that vouchers help poor (especially black) children.

As to the reference I made about the Koch Brothers, the author of this misleading propaganda hails from the Institute of Justice based in Virginia:

The Institute for Justice has long been involved in litigation and advocacy efforts around the country that involve school privatization efforts as well as issues revolving around private property, economic liberty, and free speech.

The law firm was founded in 1991 by Clint Bolick and Chip Mellor. In the firm’s early days, Bolick was known for his work opposing affirmative action legislation, and acted as one of the top strategists endeavoring to hold up the passage of the 1991 Civil Rights bill.

And, according to the New York Times, he is one of the prime architects behind school voucher plans in Milwaukee and Cleveland, which have come under intense scrutiny for no better or worse academic outcomes for its students as compared with public schools and numerous incidents of fraud and abuse of the programs.

According to the IJ’s tax records, the law firm took in more than $18 million in donations during the 2012 fiscal year. Asked who funds the Institute, attorney Komer said he did not know.

“I believe, however, that 80 percent of our funding comes from individuals, and 20 percent of our funding comes from foundations…we are a 501c3, so donor lists are considered secret, or private, I think,” said Komer.

According to the website as well as the IJ’s own website, the Koch brothers were instrumental in providing the startup funds necessary for the Institute for Justice to get off the ground.

Another prominent funder of the Institute for Justice? The DeVos family, heirs to the Amway fortune who have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of seed money into school privatization groups.

Wife Betsy DeVos runs the American Federation for Children, a national school privatization advocacy organization. Betsy is also known for her conservative Christian right-wing ideology and for having poured millions of dollars into promoting voucher programs across the country.

And now she's the #$%^&* Secretary of Education, which the author of this 2014 piece (Lindsay Wagner) would have told me to stop huffing paint if I predicted it was possible four years ago.