Moving to “Greenerer” Pastures Fertilized by “Specialer” Interests – Sen. Tom Apodaca has Resigned from the NCGA

Sen. Apodaca is going to “greenerer” pastures fertilized by more “specialer” groups. In other words, he will become a lobbyist for the very entities that he already lobbies for as a state senator.

State Senator Tom Apodaca resigned his seat in the NC General Assembly last week shortly after the summer session was ended in a state of “Sine Die”. (If you have no idea what Sine Die is then you can look here – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/02/you-need-to-know-this-term-sine-die-or-how-the-ncga-will-not-let-bad-bills-die/.

As reported in the Raleigh News & Observer by Colin Campbell on July 15th in an Under the Dome blog post entitled “Sen. Tom Apodaca steps down early, might become a lobbyist” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article89801667.html),

“Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca resigned his Senate seat Friday, a few months before his term officially ends.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, has said he’s considering taking a job as a lobbyist. Resigning early means he can start the clock on a six-month “cooling off period” required for lawmakers who become lobbyists. The legislature won’t return to Raleigh until January.”

It would make sense that Apodaca stay in the political arena. He is after all ranked 2nd in “Legislator Effectiveness” according to the NC Center for Policy Research.

According to Votesmart.org, Apodaca does have strong political ties with many whose policies are still to be enacted in Raleigh that would create profit. His ratings with entities that are rather conservative is very high, but on issues that seem very relevant to the upcoming elections he is not rated highly by those who lean to the democrats. Of course he will become a lobbyist.

Here’s a slight summary of that report from Votesmart.org.

  • 93% rating from the NRA – think of all the debate about gun control
  • 91% Lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union – this is one of the oldest right-wing lobbying groups in the nation and founded by William F. Buckley
  • 100% rating by Civitas Action – think of Art Pope, the former budget director for McCrory
  • 17% rating by the ACLU – these are the people fighting against HB2
  • 0% rating by the NC League of Conservation Voters – think of the Duke coal ash spills and fracking

However, when I think of a politician who has served the very conservative faction of the state in such a way as Apodaca has, I can’t but think that his transition to becoming a lobbyist is really not a transition at all.

Think about it. He has been called the “Bull Moose” by many Western NC newspapers because he is considered the muscle for the GOP in state politics. And while the “Bull Moose” may be going to “pasture,” it really is not retirement but a move to a “greenerer” pasture that is being fertilized by more “specialer” interests.

And I even have a special interest license plate made for him now. It actually is available from the NC DMV.

Apodacatag

We’ll make Charlotte pay for it. Or at least Sen. Apodaca would.

You Need to Know This Term – “Sine Die”, Or How the NCGA Will Not Let Bad Bills Die

Can you identify these Latin terms and phrases?

  • “Carpe Diem” – Dead Poets Society
  • “E Pluribus Unum” – look at a dollar bill
  • “Et Cetera” – also known as “etc.”
  • “Et tu, Brute?” – read some Shakespeare
  • “Fac simile” – just the fax
  • “In memoriam” – can be saddening
  • “Magna Cum Laude” – not on my diploma
  • “Pater familias” – watch Oh Brother! Where Art Thou?
  • “Pro bono” – sounds legal
  • “Semper fidelis” – Marines
  • “Terra Firma” – you are hopefully standing on it
  • “Wingardium Leviosa” – ask any Potter fan

And…

  • “Sine Die” – What the hell is that? Just wait

What do these people have in common?

  • Paul “Skip” Stam
  • Bob Rucho
  • Tom Apodaca
  • Buck Newton
  • Fletcher Hartsell
  • Daniel Soucek

All of these incumbents are not seeking reelection to the North Carolina General Assembly after this term – a term that actually ends at the end of 2016, not at the end of the summer session of the NCGA.

When the General Assembly adjourned this weekend, it did not mean that these lawmakers’ tenure of havoc ended. Why?

Because the House adjourned “SINE DIE” which if you know your Latin means “without day”. According to a post from the great public school advocate Yevonne Brannon, “To adjourn an assembly sine die is to adjourn it for an indefinite period. A legislative body adjourns sine die when it adjourns without appointing a day on which to appear or assemble again.”

It means they did not set a return date. They can reconvene at any time before public schools go back to classes. They can reconvene at any time before the November General Elections.

This General Assembly has already shown us that it will meet in a special session; that’s where we got HB2.

This General Assembly and its leadership has already shown us that it will meet behind closed doors without public debate.

This General Assembly has shown us that it will hold press conferences but not give the press the material to review in order to ask important questions.

This General Assembly has shown us that it will hold midnight votes to discourage floor debates.

And do not think that the same people who have done the above will not come back to take care of business that they have tabled because of the bad publicity it has garnered specifically the following:

  • Background Checks for Teachers
  • The Math Bill
  • Charter School Funding
  • TABOR, also known as HB3
  • HB2 fund to fight the Feds

This is not a group that will easily just let those items stay on the table for the 2017 session.

Brush up on your Latin!

TABOR – A Tourniquet Around the Bloodlines of Our Republic

TABOR. To many in the NCGA it is called the TAxpayer Bill of Rights. Makes it sound like it truly benefits those in our state. It doesn’t. It’s just another catchy acronym that acts like a Trojan horse for something more destructive.

Acronyms are easy to shape and easier to sound beneficial. However, the “benefits” of this piece of legislation would be far reaching and would take years to heal from.

In reality TABOR is a Terribly Awful Breach Of Representation, a Totally Asinine Bit Of Reform, and a Truly Abusive Bit Of Rubbish in which people are being forced to Turn All Backs On Reality. It’s a Tremendously Atrocious Bunch Of Refuse Taken Amidst the Bowels Of Rapacity and passed off with a Total Assortment of Baloney Or Rigmarole.

It’s a metaphorical tourniquet, a Tourniquet Around the Bloodlines of Our Republic.

Just think of a tourniquet, a device that constricts blood flow to a limb or extremity. Only in times of medical emergency should a tourniquet be used. Maybe for a poisonous snakebite or a bloody wound. Sometimes one is used to allow for blood to be taken for testing and health purposes.

But one does not place a tourniquet on an arm or leg for kicks and giggles. There are consequences because blood is the very life force that carries oxygen and nutrients to the very parts of the body that need them. Cutting off blood flow has deleterious effects. Bones weaken and muscles atrophy.

That’s not good for a growing body.

Now think of a metaphorical tourniquet, one in which a constricting element is placed on a part of society that cuts off resources and funding for those who are most invested.

GOP leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly are pushing for a proposal to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would cap the income tax rate a 5.5% (currently it is 10%).

That proposal is a political tourniquet, pure and simple. And just as limited blood flow would cause harm to the skeletal system in a body, this measure would cause our state’s infrastructure to slowly disintegrate.

Chris Fitzsimon puts it very bluntly in his latest “The Follies” from June 17, 2016 (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/06/17/the-follies-253/).  He states,

“As the N.C Budget & Tax Center points out, that cap would cut off a vital source of revenue that the state needs and make it virtually impossible for future lawmakers to use the income tax to increase state investments, even in times of emergencies.

It also locks in place the massive tax cuts for the wealthy passed in 2013 that will cost more than $2 billion a year when fully in effect, more than the entire budget of the community college system and early childhood programs combined.

The new lower tax cap could threaten the state’s coveted AAA bond rating and force increases in the state sales tax and could lead local governments to raise property taxes and fees.  It’s a terrible idea that threatens funding for public schools, health care, and environmental protections and makes decisions for future members of the General Assembly that will be elected by the voters just like the current members were.”

That’s scary to think about. The very fabric, the very sinews of society like schools, healthcare, and environmental protections would be instantly jeopardized and it would take years to recover as part of the GOP’s plan is to change the constitution of the state.

Remember that all three of those areas (schools, healthcare, and environment) have already been hazardously affected in the last three years here in North Carolina.

Per pupil expenditures are lower, charter school growth is uncontrolled, and teacher pay is still low despite what the current administration wants to boast.

Medicaid expansion was denied and we as a state are still paying into a system that benefits other states but not ours because of political ideology and a dislike for the current president.

The fracking industry is being given an open door and permission to do whatever it wants. Duke Energy’s coal ash spills have still gone relatively unpunished.

Those three areas alone form a large part of our state’s infrastructure, or rather the skeleton of the state’s body. When these areas are harmed, then the need to help them heal is paramount. When bones and muscles have been damaged in a body, then one does not place a tourniquet on the wounded limb. You make sure that blood is flowing amply into the affected area.

It promotes healing. It promotes health.

That is unless those who want to place the tourniquet on those parts of society want to create a situation where amputation is the only option in the end. And while we could not literally amputate the public school system or the environment, we can do the political equivalent – privatize them. It would allow a few select people to profit over the very institutions that our state is supposed to provide.

Think about the effects on K-12 public education, community colleges, the public university system, public assistance programs, health care, correctional facilities, transportation, economic development, parks and recreation, environmental projects, state police forces, and aid to local governments.

You place a tourniquet on those items and you stagnate the growth of a state whose population is growing. And when the bone structure cannot handle the weight of a growing body, then… well you can imagine.

Proponents of the amendment to cap income taxes will tout that it means more money for people to spend on their own. It would allow for people to have more choices within their power. But unless you can send your students to private schools, have your own libraries and media outlets, pay for all out of pocket medical expenditures, hire your own security team, have your own environmental control, or set up your own recreational facilities, then you may be out of luck.

Even John Hood of the John Locke Foundation, a self-professed “conservatarian,” expounds on the role of the state in keeping a strong infrastructure. He says in his op-ed “How to read this column” printed in the June 19th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/john-hood-how-to-read-this-column/article_1b7789ac-1fcf-5389-a6be-eca653d233bc.html) ,

“So I believe government should (and always will) exist to protect individual rights and to finance certain core services that, because of collective-action problems, will not be adequately provided through purely voluntary means. At the state and local level, those services include public safety and health, education and some infrastructure.”

And to place a cap on state income tax as being proposed would hurt the ability for the state to finance those “core services”.

Ironic that people who are pushing for this cap like Sen. Tom Apodaca, Sen. Jerry Tillman, Sen. Bob Rucho, and Sen. Bill Rabon are public officials elected by the public who seem more interested in placing a tourniquet on the very services that they are sworn to protect and provide the public.

Actually, it isn’t ironic, but rather consistent and predictable.

Just look at what has happened in the last three years here in North Carolina.

So tell Tom Apodaca, Buck, Or Rucho that this is nothing more than surreptitious politics. Let Tillman, Andrew Brock Or Rabon know this is not good.
And vote it down if it comes up in November.

“License Plates For Lawmakers”, Part 2

AS I have said before, North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles allows car owners to purchase a customized license plate and personalize it with individual text and numbers – as long as it is not already taken by another motorist or it is too inappropriate. Monies collected go to the state with a donation made to the entity honored with the plate.

License plates can reflect so much of the owner’s personality, allegiance to college/pro teams or causes, and hobbies. Simply look at the DMV’s site and begin to imagine the possibilities (https://edmv.ncdot.gov/VehicleRegistration/SpecialPlate#term=Standard).

Try it. It’s fun.

However, with all of the different plates available, I did not see one that honors educators and public schools. Odd that my childhood state of Georgia does this as well as other states, but the fact that my home state North Carolina does not is a little disheartening.

So, I have made some more.

AND ALL OF THESE ARE GREEN LIGHTED. THAT MEANS I COULD ORDER THEM. WHO’S WITH ME?

  1. For Rep. Cecil Brockman who said in arguing for the Achievement School District, “If (teachers) don’t like it, good. This is about the kids. Who cares about the teachers? We should care about the kids. If they don’t like it, maybe it’s a good thing.”

hedupasd

 

2. This one is for Sen. Jerry Tillman, the champion of unregulated charter school growth.

h8pubschl

3. This one is for U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and his unrelenting stance on allowing people ot buy guns meant for military use even after the Orlando Massacre.

luvnra

4. and 5. These next two are for Gov. Pat McCrory and his inability to still explain HB2.

6. This plate is for Gov. McCrory’s hybrid that he drives to coal ash ponds that contaminate water for NC citizens.

clenh20

7. This is for Art Pope.

privatize

8. This is for Sen. Phil Berger and his attempts to spin his policies in such a way that it may appear to be beneficial to average North Carolinians.

spindr

9. For Donald Trump, since he will be in NC often in the next few months.

tinyhand

10. For Sen. Tom Apodaca and his hatred for Charlotte and its audacity to pas an ordinance protecting LBGT citizens from discrimination.

blameclt

11. This last one is for the governor. He has this on the car he uses to drive away from reporters who ask questions about his policies that he really doesn’t have answers for.

uscareme

When a Tourniquet Is Put On The State’s Core Services, It Leads To Amputation and Privatization

Think of a tourniquet, a device that constricts blood flow to a limb or extremity. Only in times of medical emergency should a tourniquet be used. Maybe for a poisonous snakebite or a bloody wound. Sometimes one is used to allow for blood to be taken for testing and health purposes.

But one does not place a tourniquet on an arm or leg for kicks and giggles. There are consequences because blood is the very life force that carries oxygen and nutrients to the very parts of the body that need them. Cutting off blood flow has deleterious effects. Bones weaken and muscles atrophy.

That’s not good for a growing body.

Now think of a metaphorical tourniquet, one in which a constricting element is placed on a part of society that cuts off resources and funding for those who are most invested.

GOP leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly are pushing for a proposal to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would cap the income tax rate a 5.5% (currently it is 10%).

That proposal is a political tourniquet, pure and simple. And just as limited blood flow would cause harm to the skeletal system in a body, this measure would cause our state’s infrastructure to slowly disintegrate.

Chris Fitzsimon puts it very bluntly in his latest “The Follies” from June 17, 2016 (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/06/17/the-follies-253/).  He states,

“As the N.C Budget & Tax Center points out, that cap would cut off a vital source of revenue that the state needs and make it virtually impossible for future lawmakers to use the income tax to increase state investments, even in times of emergencies.

It also locks in place the massive tax cuts for the wealthy passed in 2013 that will cost more than $2 billion a year when fully in effect, more than the entire budget of the community college system and early childhood programs combined.

The new lower tax cap could threaten the state’s coveted AAA bond rating and force increases in the state sales tax and could lead local governments to raise property taxes and fees.  It’s a terrible idea that threatens funding for public schools, health care, and environmental protections and makes decisions for future members of the General Assembly that will be elected by the voters just like the current members were.”

That’s scary to think about. The very fabric, the very sinews of society like schools, healthcare, and environmental protections would be instantly jeopardized and it would take years to recover as part of the GOP’s plan is to change the constitution of the state.

Remember that all three of those areas (schools, healthcare, and environment) have already been hazardously affected in the last three years here in North Carolina.

Per pupil expenditures are lower, charter school growth is uncontrolled, and teacher pay is still low despite what the current administration wants to boast.

Medicaid expansion was denied and we as a state are still paying into a system that benefits other states but not ours because of political ideology and a dislike for the current president.

The fracking industry is being given an open door and permission to do whatever it wants. Duke Energy’s coal ash spills have still gone relatively unpunished.

Those three areas alone form a large part of our state’s infrastructure, or rather the skeleton of the state’s body. When these areas are harmed, then the need to help them heal is paramount. When bones and muscles have been damaged in a body, then one does not place a tourniquet on the wounded limb. You make sure that blood is flowing amply into the affected area.

It promotes healing. It promotes health.

That is unless those who want to place the tourniquet on those parts of society want to create a situation where amputation is the only option in the end. And while we could not literally amputate the public school system or the environment, we can do the political equivalent – privatize them. It would allow a few select people to profit over the very institutions that our state is supposed to provide.

Think about the effects on K-12 public education, community colleges, the public university system, public assistance programs, health care, correctional facilities, transportation, economic development, parks and recreation, environmental projects, state police forces, and aid to local governments.

You place a tourniquet on those items and you stagnate the growth of a state whose population is growing. And when the bone structure cannot handle the weight of a growing body, then… well you can imagine.

Proponents of the amendment to cap income taxes will tout that it means more money for people to spend on their own. It would allow for people to have more choices within their power. But unless you can send your students to private schools, have your own libraries and media outlets, pay for all out of pocket medical expenditures, hire your own security team, have your own environmental control, or set up your own recreational facilities, then you may be out of luck.

Even John Hood of the John Locke Foundation, a self-professed “conservatarian,” expounds on the role of the state in keeping a strong infrastructure. He says in his op-ed “How to read this column” printed in the June 19th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/john-hood-how-to-read-this-column/article_1b7789ac-1fcf-5389-a6be-eca653d233bc.html) ,

“So I believe government should (and always will) exist to protect individual rights and to finance certain core services that, because of collective-action problems, will not be adequately provided through purely voluntary means. At the state and local level, those services include public safety and health, education and some infrastructure.”

And to place a cap on state income tax as being proposed would hurt the ability for the state to finance those “core services”.

Ironic that people who are pushing for this cap like Sen. Tom Apodaca, Sen. Jerry Tillman, Sen. Bob Rucho, and Sen. Bill Rabon are public officials elected by the public who seem more interested in placing a tourniquet on the very services that they are sworn to protect and provide the public.

Actually, it isn’t ironic, but rather consistent and predictable.

Just look at what has happened in the last three years here in North Carolina.

I Can Do Math Well Enough to Know That Sen. Jerry Tillman’s Policies Don’t Add Up

Sen. Jerry Tillman’s grasp on educational reality is about as strong my grasp of string theory or a Calculus BC exam – loose at best.

The former public school administrator has again launched an ill-conceived rash boon piece of legislation through the Senate that demands schools to offer two tracks of math courses.

I am not a math teacher. In fact, according to my wife, I am rather poor in explaining mathematical concepts to our children when they are faced with math homework. But I do know that all of a sudden changing the course tracks in high schools will present an incredible challenge for schools to adequately teach those differing courses in high schools in such a quick amount of time.

Sen. Tillman think it can be done in the blink of an eye. He was quoted in an EdNC.org report ((https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/09/senate-moves-state-one-step-closer-split-high-school-math-tracks),

“If you can teach math, your same certifications are required, same students, same allotment of teachers. Not gonna change,” he said.

Tillman said the practical aspect of teaching could be accomplished by having a teacher teach Algebra I alongside Math 1 in the same class.

“With a good teacher, you can do it,” he said.

So, teaching two subjects in the same classroom? In the same amount of time? With two different pedagogical approaches? Of course, Sen. Tillman would think that. He believes there should be a charter school built next to every public school. Two schools for one student. Makes sense. At least with Tillman’s math.

Here is the man who has literally ramrodded unregulated charter school growth down the throats of the very public he claims to represent. Here is the man who is pushing for more tax payer money to fund the very charter schools he wants built to make public schools seem inferior. Here is the man who helped institute a public school grading system that unfairly labeled hundreds of schools as failing so that it would create a “reason” to bring in more charter schools.

So forcing schools to teach more courses to the same number of students with an ever decreasing amount of resources is good math within a matter of weeks is good legislation? Coming from a bunch of non-math experts?

Of course it is. Not. It is purely political.

If you read Sen. Tillman’s comments from the June 16th report by Alex Granados in EdNC.org (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/16/senate-passes-bill-require-high-school-math-tracks/ ), you will see the strong-arm method of debate that is often used by the senator when he senses that others disagree with him.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Buncombe, first said he wouldn’t vote for the bill because it didn’t extend to the way math is taught at the elementary school level, where he said damage was being done with the teaching methods currently being used.

“I’m not voting for this bill, because this bill doesn’t do enough,” he said.

Tillman fired back that if Apodaca wanted to be stuck with Common Core, not supporting his bill would make that happen.

“If you don’t like choice, and you want to be stuck with the June Atkinson/Bill Cobey Common Core, well that’s exactly what you’re going to get,” Tillman said.

June Atkinson is the state Superintendent, and Bill Cobey is the chair of the state Board of Education.

Wow! Dr. Atkinson and Mr. Cobey invented Common Core?

If we can add names to ideas and concepts in order to plague them with ill associations, then I have plenty in mind. Maybe when a lawmaker berates others because they see a lack of reason in his proposals as being inferior we can call it the “Tillman Argument”. But I digress.

Call it a “Tillman Digression”.

Whether or not you like Common Core, it shows people how easily education gets politicized. And when education gets politicized, it becomes a child in a contested divorce case between different sets of parental entities whose egos and personalities cloud the principles under which all should abide by.

Except, this is not a child – it’s our students.

Sen. Tillman has already shown his cards. He is not a man truly connected to public education. If anything, his record has shown a complete disdain for schools coated under a clear veneer of bullshit.

This next bit from Granados’s report shows that very manure which covers Sen. Tillman’s words.

Tillman said that large and medium level schools and districts should be able to handle the change without additional financial resources, but that smaller schools with fewer math teachers might struggle. He said he was committed to making sure they were allowed the funds they needed to compensate.

I am sorry, but the words “funds”, “resources”, “committed”, and public “schools” have never collided in the same sentence when it comes to Sen. Tillman. Ask anyone following the General Assembly’s deliberate underfunding of traditional public schools. Tillman’s voice is usually heard loudest.

If he is all about offering “choices”, then I choose to allow for more investigation into the math courses already offered. I choose to let more math educators speak on the matter since they are the ones in the classrooms. I choose that we take the time needed to allow for an educated decision.

But if Sen. Tillman is so intent on bringing back the “old” math maybe he can use it to fund public schools with the ”old “numbers” and “percentages” that public schools used to be supported with.

I’d take that math anytime.

Dammit Charlotte! You Made People Treat Sen. Apodaca Poorly – The Conspiracy Theory of a Slippery Slope

“I’ve never tried to help people in my life and be treated so poorly.” – Sen. Tom Apodaca, June 1st, 2016 in reference to SB 837.

And it is all the fault of Charlotte, NC.

Seriously. The Slip-n-Slide, slippery slope logic used in the past by Sen. Apodaca makes this easy to explain.

Charlotte passes an ordinance that protects the civil rights of the LGBT community. The General Assembly under a call from people like Apodaca is “forced” to fight that scourge of local government and convene a special session, secretly constructing HB2. Publicly saying that Charlotte “brought it on themselves,” Sen. Apodaca and other GOP members withstand a national backlash and even bring a lawsuit against the federal government to allow them to keep HB2 on the books.

But that’s when Bruce Springsteen, Maroon 5, and Cirque du Soleil started cancelling shows. Even England talked about us, as well as many governors and large city mayors.

Sensing that the negative image was hurting the reputation of the NC GOP, Sen. Apodaca, Sen. Berger, and Gov. McCrory begin crafting “feel-good” legislation trying to satiate those who have been hurt most by their lawmaking. This leads to empty teacher raises and the Access to Affordable College Education Act.

So, none of this would have happened if Charlotte had not done what it did.

Dammit, Charlotte! You made Adam Levine and The Boss force Apodaca to create SB 873 and then get his feelings hurt.

But, on a pseudo-serious note, I am sure that Sen. Apodaca does feel somewhat unappreciated after the backlash that occurred over Senate Bill 873, his attempt to “help” people get a college education while actually bankrupting some flagship HBCU’s and the largest public college campus in the western part of the state.

In what is becoming a rather intense swansong of his political career as a state legislator, Sen. Apodaca seems more intent on acting as if his heart is being worn on his sleeve.

John Hinton in his front page article on the June 2nd edition of the Winston-Salem Journal (“Apodaca to remove HBCU’s from tuition bill”) reported that Apodaca “said he was hurt by Tuesday’s comments by the Rev. William Barber II, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, who called the bill’s supporters ‘extremists’ and described the bill as an attack on the state’s historically black colleges and universities.”

Wow! That’s rich. If having someone tell you that you are wrong will get you to drop the bill, then many should have spoken out before on previous bills.

But they have, which makes Apodaca’s “excuse” childish and not genuine.

Rev. Barber has made many comments about some of the legislative actions of Sen. Apodaca. Look at reactions to HB2 or the Voter ID Bill, both of which have the senator’s fingerprints all over them. Look at the Moral Monday Movement. That’s more than a statement; that’s a moral revolution.

I wonder if the senator realized he may have hurt the feelings of the very people he hoped to “help” when he, as the “the second most effective legislator the past two sessions” according to the Henderson Lightning, led contentious votes along party lines.

Maybe it’s just kharma that his own feelings got hurt, but more than likely it’s just a lame excuse.

Sen. Apodaca was also quoted on June 1st as saying, “I’ve never had such a hard time trying to give away $70 million.” But he wasn’t trying to give it away. He was trying to create a diversion with strings attached. By allocating that $70 million for the first year the bill would be implemented, Apodaca never relayed how it would continue to be allocated after that to help the affected schools recoup revenue losses.

Just imagine if he was giving it away with good intentions.  I can’t. The timing smells of electioneering.

He seemed to be saving face in the eye of his record on public education and LGBT rights. He was wearing a crown of good intentions alongside his heart on his sleeve. And as the British Romantic poet William Blake once said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Ironically, the senator could “give away” much more money. The almost one billion dollars allotted for the Opportunity Grants over the next ten years would really be put to better use if given to the public school system. Giving back item deductions to working citizens would help. Expanding Medicaid would help.

But for someone who has shown ardent support of fracking, abortion restrictions, and election reform that is still being challenged in court, yet claims to be hurt by one person’s comments is placing false blame.

That’s because it’s still Charlotte’s fault.

 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Syllables – Senate Budget Press Conference on Teacher Pay

 

Alex Granados of EdNC.org did a nice job of reporting on the Senate press conference on teacher pay proposal on May 26th (https://www.ednc.org/2016/05/26/senate-unveils-teacher-salary-pay-plan/).

If you go to the actual story on EdNC’s website, there is a video of the press conference. In it you will see who is present.

senatepressconference.png

Of course, Sen. Phil Berger is at the podium, but many may not recognize the others. Over Berger’s left shoulder is Sen. David Curtis. Ironic that he is on stage after his historic missive from two years ago in response to teacher Sarah Wiles when he literally bashed public school teachers (http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0).

Here is the text of that letter. If you are reading it again, then it is worth reviewing. If you have never read it, then brace yourself. He actually did a “reply all” when he sent it on his government email account which made it public property.

From: Sen. David Curtis

Date: May 12, 2014 at 9:46:57

Dear Sarah,

I have given your e-mail titled “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher” some thought, and these are my ideas.  A teacher has an incredible influence on students–for good or for bad. My teachers, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders had a great influence on my decision to go to college which was not a family tradition. My concern is that your students are picking up on your attitude toward the teaching profession. Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer:

  1. You expect to make a lot more than you made as a teacher because everyone knows how poorly compensated teachers are.
  2. You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher
  3. You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.  If he objects, explain to him that a judge has ruled that the taxpayers of North Carolina must provide this benefit to every public school teacher. Surely your new employer wants to give better benefits than the benefits you received as a poorly compensated teacher.
  4. Your potential employer may tell you that he has heard that most North Carolina workers make less than the national average because we are a low cost-of-living- state, private sector workers making 87% of the national average and teachers making 85% of the national average.  Tell him that may be true, but to keep that confidential because the teachers union has convinced parents that teachers are grossly undercompensated based on a flawed teachers union survey of teacher pay.

I support the teacher pay raise but am very concerned that the teachers union has successfully presented to the public a deceptive view of total teacher compensation that is simply not consistent with the facts.

Sincerely,

Senator David Curtis

The backlash from teachers was intense. Dr. Diane Ravitch was kind enough to post my letter to him on her blog (https://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/20/a-teacher-in-north-carolina/ ). It was my first venture into public education advocacy that has eventually led to this blog.

And Sen. Curtis is standing up there as a crusader for the teaching profession.

If you look to the far right of the screen, you will see Sen. Tom Apodaca. His recent legislative attempt is the Access to Affordable College Education Act that was recently rolled into the very budget this press conference is about.

These are not the faces of people championing public education.

SB 873 – Shame on Apodaca and Kraweic – The Farce of the Access to Affordable College Education Act

Note: Be sure to view a note by John de Ville, public school advocate and Hope Street Fellow from Macon County, following this op-ed. He highlights that Western Carolina University has strong reservations and provides a link to their statement on SB 873 – The Affordable College Education Act. Thanks to John.

Sen. Joyce Kraweic is now offering red herrings from the North Carolina General Assembly’s political menu, and it serves as a reminder that there are many in our General Assembly who are simply intent on hurting public education.

John Hinton’s feature story in the May 29th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, “Bill to lower WSSU tuition draws fire”, outlines the Access to Affordable College Education Act which was introduced by Sen. Tom Apodaca and co-sponsored by our local state senator.

The bill “would require Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University, to lower tuition beginning in the 2018 fall semester to $500 for state residents and $2,500 for out-of-state residents.” That would cut current tuition by %69 for in-state students, almost %61 for out-of-state students.

In what is being hailed by Apodaca and Kraweic as a means to make education more affordable for students, this bill would spell certain bankruptcy for these schools which include flagship HBCU’s and the largest public college campus west of Asheville. It is a pure and simple attack on the public university system in our state.

While Apodaca could not be reached for explanation, Sen. Krawiec gave enough political spin to reveal the absence of foresight evident in this bill and a lack of being educated on how this legislation would devalue what these schools offer students.

When asked about the impetus for this bill, Krawiec stated, “The cost of education in North Carolina has skyrocketed over the past 10 years, rising by 72 percent.”

It would make more sense for the senator to find out why tuition has “skyrocketed” and attack those causes, one of which is the state’s unwillingness to extend more funds to the entire UNC system to help defray costs for our state’s students by slowing tuition hikes.

Or better yet, stop putting more of the state’s tax burden on the very people who send their students to these public universities. Extending Medicaid might ease financial burdens for many; fully funding k-12 public schools would give all public school students a better chance to succeed in post-secondary studies; slowing down the siphoning of money to unregulated charter schools and unproven vouchers would save money that could be reinvested in public systems.

However, more of the actual intention of this bill appears in Kraweic’s last quote in the report. She says, ““We must find a way to increase student population and provide a quality education,” she said. “The buildings still have to be maintained and professors compensated even when classrooms are nearly empty. The legislature has committed to compensate any shortfall in funding due to reduced tuition.”

When Sen. Kraweic states that the legislature is “committed” to repay any budget shortfalls to the universities because of tuition revenue loss, she does not mention that Apodaca has already admitted that the bill “wouldn’t commit future legislators to continue that funding to the UNC system” after the first year. So, how would that really benefit these affected colleges and universities?

It wouldn’t. It would simply drive down their appeal to students because if the university cannot recoup revenue losses, then the ability to attract a viable faculty, keep the best resources on hand for students, offer financial packages through scholarships, and ultimately get alumni donations will all diminish.

More egregious is that this bill targets schools with a history of educating minorities, one of which is literally next to Kraweic’s district, Winston-Salem State University. Her own bill would hurt the very community that she serves, the very people she is supposed to represent.

Most ironic is that Sen. Kraweic is a real-estate broker by trade. She should know better than anyone that the price of a piece of property is intrinsically tied to its value. That is not to say that if one simply raises the price on something that the value automatically goes up. The market will even that out.

However, if one all of a sudden lowers the price on a piece of property by over %60, then there is a perception that what is offered is not as valuable. What would happen to the senator’s property value if the house next to hers sold for one-third of its value? Would the state come in and repay that financial setback? It wouldn’t.

Comparably, if schools like Winston-Salem State offer an education for a fraction of the cost to supply it, like any business, it would go bankrupt.

And the senator should know that.

 

From John de Ville:

The faculty of Western Carolina University says, in a blinding flash of strenuous diplomacy, that they understand perfectly well the NC Senate’s goal to crash them into the mountain and convert the venerable institution into a community college:

“Part III. Reduced tuition at certain institutions.

This is certainly the most attention-getting provision of the bill; it is both the most immediately attractive feature, and simultaneously the most problematic. A tuition rate of $500 per semester, if offered equally to students across the state, and, if matched with an identical investment back into the affected campuses, would be a great benefit for the people of the state. It would reflect the ideals represented in our state Constitution, and would clearly support a commitment to accessible, affordable, extraordinary higher education for North Carolina citizens.

Unfortunately, the current version of the bill only mandates the $500 tuition fee for five universities, does not offer a rationale behind selecting those universities, and provides no promise or even hint of current or future funding to make up for the catastrophic cut in these five universities’ budgets. We appreciate the verbal commitment by the bill’s sponsor to include an appropriate offset in the upcoming Senate budget (as reported in the News and Observer). However, having the $500 tuition cap in one bill, and the offset funding in a single biennium budget, creates a very precarious funding scenario for future years—when the overall cost of the plan is likely to increase many-fold. In order to make sure these universities are able to continue to provide a quality educational product to their students, the method of funding this plan should be included in the same bill as the plan itself.”

https://docs.google.com/document/d/19zlO7AqnFkUKGVqVxNAFbEERWZbMksgT8PHc-LVeFYU/edit

North Carolina’s Playbook to Dismantle Public Education

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing.  Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth exploring.

Specifically, the last five year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.

Actions Against Teachers

  1. Teacher Pay – A recent WRAL report and documentary highlighted that in NC, teacher pay has dropped 13% in the past 15 years when adjusted for inflation (http://www.wral.com/after-inflation-nc-teacher-pay-has-dropped-13-in-past-15-years/15624302/). That is astounding when one considers that we are supposedly rebounding from the Great Recession. Yes, this 15 year period started with democrats in place, but it has been exacerbated by GOP control. Salary schedules were frozen and then revamped to isolate raises to increments of five+ years. As surrounding states have continued to increase pay for teachers, NC has stagnated into the bottom tier in regards to teacher pay.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Thanks to NCAE, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.

What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.

  1. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
  2. The Top 25% to receive bonus – One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25% of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
  3. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. The amorphous Standard 6 for many teachers includes a VAM called Assessment of Student Work.

I personally teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition and am subject to the Assessment of Student Work (ASW). I go through a process in which I submit student samples that must prove whether those students are showing ample growth.

In June of 2015, I uploaded my documents in the state’s system and had to wait until November to get results. The less than specific comments from the unknown assessor(s) were contradictory at best. They included:

Alignment

Al 1 The evidence does not align to the chosen objective.

Al 4 All of the Timelapse Artifacts in this Evidence Collection align to the chosen objectives.

Growth

Gr 1 Student growth is apparent in all Timelapse Artifacts.

Gr 2 Student growth is apparent between two points in time.

Gr 3 Student growth is not apparent between two points in time.

Gr 4 Student growth samples show achievement but not growth.

Gr 9 Evidence is clear/easily accessible

Gr 10 Evidence is not clear/not easily accessible

Narrative Context

NC 1 Narrative Context addresses all of the key questions and supports understanding of the evidence.

NC 4 Narrative Context does not address one or more of the key questions.

 

And these comments did not correspond to any specific part of my submission. In fact, I am more confused about the process than ever before. It took over five months for someone who may not have one-fifth of my experience in the classroom to communicate this to me. If this is supposed to supply me with the tools to help guide my future teaching, then I would have to say that this would be highly insufficient, maybe even “unbest.”

  1. Push for Merit Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?

Those legislators who push for merit pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

  1. “Average” Raises – In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.

That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.

  1. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. There is also talk of pushing legislation that will take away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.

 

 

  1. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership.
  2. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.

Actions Against Schools

  1. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent.

  1. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.

Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

  1. Amorphous Terms – North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates”, all of which are amongf the most nebulous terms in public education today.

When speaking of “test scores”, we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, most states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.

“Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.

  1. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
  2. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

Actions To Deceive The Public

  1. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring.

Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax free churches.

  1. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.

Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that NC uses to finance schools ; the financial impact can be overwhelming. In Haywood County, Central Elementary School was closed because of enrollment loss to a charter school that is now on a list to be recommended for closing.

  1. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.
  2. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus Rep. Rob Bryan has crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.
  3. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.
  4. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.

  • Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
  • NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
  • North Carolina is in the middle of a huge election year and teachers as well as public school advocates will surely vote.
  • The national spotlight placed on North Carolina in response to the voter-ID laws and HB2 are only adding pressure to the powers that be to reconsider what they have done.
  • Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.

I only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School