SCHOOL CHOICE DOESN'T HAPPEN IN A VACUUM: Since the cap on charter schools was lifted by North Carolina’s state legislature in 2012, the number of charter schools in the state has nearly doubled. This year we have 185 charter schools in operation, serving more than 100,000 students across the state (overseen by a staff of 8 people). Next year we’ll have 200. The rapidly expanding charter schools siphon money away from traditional public schools and reduce what services those public schools can offer to students who remain, according to a recent Duke University study. As students leave for charters, they take their share of funding with them--but the school district they leave is still responsible for the fixed costs of services such as transportation, building maintenance and administration that those funds had supported. Districts are then forced to cut spending in other areas in order to make up the difference. In Durham, where 18 percent of K-12 students attend charter schools, the fiscal burden on traditional public schools is estimated at $500-700 per student. As the number of charters increases, so will that price tag.
NC HOUSE SPEAKER MOORE'S BUSINESS DEALS NEED REVIEW: Tim Moore, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, has made no bones about his admiration for President Trump. It seems the speaker also may share Trump’s drive to use his post for his personal financial benefit. Over the course of the past two years, my organization, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), has investigated Moore’s business dealings, filing numerous open records requests with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. The documents we uncovered suggest Moore has tried to use his legislative position to benefit his company. A DEQ employee later wrote that the agency fast tracked the approval process for the company because of “legislative inquiries.” Southeast ultimately sold the property for $550,000. The documents reveal that Gillespie intervened with DEQ for the benefit of Moore’s company. Recent news reports indicate this isn’t the only time Moore has used his legislative position for personal enrichment; he’s apparently done the same thing on at least two other occasions.
BURR AND TILLIS FAIL TO END GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: President Donald Trump has shut down critical portions of the federal government for 35 days -- key services are not available or operating at a reduced level. North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis have the power and the duty to get government up and running. They had the chance to do that job Thursday and failed. Congress is responsible for funding government and can override a presidential veto. If Burr and Tillis were serious about their duties and responsibilities, that is what they would do. We keep hearing that Republican senators are scared to oppose Trump because they fear they would be "primared." Tillis can use that excuse but not Burr. During his last election, as a promise of his independence, he announced he wouldn't not seek another term.
TWO WAYS FORWARD ON MENTAL ILLNESS AND HOMELESSNESS: Tragically, the Marcus Smith case is not unique. In 2016, Chieu Di Thi Vo, whose family said she suffered from bi-polar disorder, was fatally shot by an officer in Greensboro which she approached him with a knife. In 2010, Christian Rook, 17, also armed with a knife and also struggling from bipolar disorder, was fatally shot by a Guilford County deputy. Among others with mental or behavioral disorders who have been shot and killed by law enforcement in Guilford County over the years: Darryl Howerton (1995), Gilbert Barber (2001), William Roy Lewis (2001), Ratmir Gasanov (2003) and Dylan Hartsfeld (2008). We have cited such cases before as a symptom of broader community problems that have been allowed to fester in plain sight: Mental illness. Homelessness. Poverty. So, it is encouraging to see some steps taken to make things better. One week ago today, the Guilford County commissioners approved funding to build two new mental health crisis centers that will provide emergency treatment for adults and young people, respectively.
TRUMP'S SHUTDOWN WAS A CRUEL JOKE: What a debacle President Trump’s shutdown proved to be — what a toddler’s pageant of foot-stomping and incompetence, of vainglory and self-defeat. Mr. Trump tormented public servants and citizens and wounded the country, and, in conceding on Friday after holding the government hostage for 35 days, could claim to have achieved nothing. He succeeded only in exposing the emptiness of his bully’s bravado, of his “I alone can fix it” posturing. Once upon a time, Mr. Trump promised that Mexico would pay for a wall. He instead made all Americans pay for a partisan fantasy. Maybe you want a wall. Can you possibly argue that Mr. Trump’s shutdown strategy advanced your cause? He made the right decision on Friday — to sign a bill reopening the government through Feb. 15, giving lawmakers time to reach a permanent deal. But he could have had this same outcome without a shutdown. He ultimately agreed to the sort of bill that Democrats have been pitching for weeks — one that contains not one dollar in wall funding.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
NANCY MILIO: AMERICA IS BEING SEARED BY TRUMP: Our country is being seared with the Trump brand: a record-long partial shutdown over a wall most Americans don’t want (“Trump offers Pelosi a deal that the opposition would hate for her to accept,” Jan. 20), thousands of children taken from their parents and lost in government bureaucracies, the surprise pullout from Syria even as four Americans were killed by ISIS. Finally, with little notice by the press or public, comes the abrupt end of US Agency for International Development aid for water systems and other essential infrastructure in Palestine, on top of previous slashing of funds for the UN humanitarian mission there and US support for non-profits doing collaborative local projects with like minded Israelis. This kind of mercurial policy action without regard to human and diplomatic consequences is turning the US into an unreliable, even dangerous giant. Is such ruthless decision-making different from the autocrats in Russia, China or Turkey? North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis must not keep silent. They must exercise their co-equal power and responsibility for leadership. The new Democratic House will hopefully call the Trump administration to account. We must refuse to have our country under the Trump label.
JAMES R. JACKSON: DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD: Recently, conservative letter writers have been confusing democratic socialism (see my Sept. 17, 2018, letter) and pure socialism, equating it with communism. Different terms do have different meanings. Democratic socialism seeks to restrain the self-destructive excesses of capitalism and channel the government’s use of our tax money into creating opportunities and benefits for everyone, not just corporations or the rich. It does not want to destroy private businesses, but does want to bring them under democratic control. Regulations and tax incentives could encourage companies to act in the public interest and outlaw destructive activities such as polluting the environment. Democratic socialism already exists in our world in Canada, the European Union, Australia, Japan and others. In all of these countries all citizens enjoy universal health care, and all new mothers enjoy months of paid post-natal care. Because of controls, Canada has never had a banking crisis. In Iceland heads of failed banks in 2008 were jailed; in France they were fired and the banks sold. Public schools are well-funded and teachers well-paid. University education and apprenticeships for qualified students are subsidized. Unions are encouraged to work to maintain good working conditions and a living income for employees. These benefits could be ours as well.
MOLLY DE MARCO: TRANSIT PLANS ADDRESS CURRENT AND FUTURE NEEDS: The Orange and Durham transit plans succeed not only in managing current needs, but also in meeting future needs. Constructing a light rail line that enables a larger number of people to have a 30-minute-or-less commute to the region’s major employment centers will enhance access to jobs and services and support economic opportunity throughout the region. Beyond economics, transit plans also have social justice implications — and on this metric, light rail also wins. The DOLRT provides transit access to lower-wealth neighborhoods all along its corridor: 43 percent of those living along the corridor are low-wealth and the majority of Durham Housing Authority units are within walking distance of a station. Critics of light rail continue to drag out old arguments about bus rapid transit being a superior option for the Durham-Orange corridor. The case here, however, is settled. Much work was done by transit and planning experts to determine the best transit mode for that corridor. Light rail has key advantages. It will generate more sustainable growth, move more people more swiftly and safely, and connect people to the Triangle’s major employment centers. Given the challenges and needs specific to our region, light rail is a critical step toward a fully integrated transportation system. It’s vital we move ahead.