North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
StarNews of Wilmington on Republicans’ roles in the addressing the GenX chemical compound being discharged into Cape Fear River:
Just over a year ago, few people in our region had heard the word “GenX,” at least as the name of a chemical. On June 7, 2017, the StarNews reported that the mysterious chemical compound not only was being discharged into the Cape Fear River — the area’s primary water supply - but that the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) and other local utilities had no ability to filter it out.
People across the region from average citizens to government and health officials posed hundreds of questions, and few were immediately answered. The StarNews has wanted nothing more than to be able to answer those questions. But a year later, answers to most of those questions remain hazy — among them how dangerous is the substance and at what levels and how will we know when there is no longer a GenX problem?
We’ve said before that when we learned a potentially dangerous chemical was in our drinking water, we were confident that finding a solution would transcend the hyper-partisanship that has polluted our once-moderate, practical-minded state politics in recent years. After all, this wasn’t a culture wars issue like the HB 2 bathroom controversy; this was a potential major health threat to a quarter million people.
While area leaders mainly put aside political differences to at least bring attention to GenX, the folks in Raleigh who have the power to do something about it — notably Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore — made little if any effort to address the issue.
The safety standards of water flowing through U.S. rivers is laid out under the authority of the federal Clean Water Act. Most of the actual monitoring and regulatory action is delegated to state agencies — in our case, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.
In what seems to be a mindset of “we’ve never met a polluter we didn’t like,” the Republican supermajority in Raleigh has worked to scale back the DEQ during a time it needs more resources to deal with a rapidly growing state and the discovery of even more so-called “emerging contaminants” in our rivers, groundwater and air.
The leadership in the General Assembly has refused to provide the funding the DEQ has repeatedly requested to do its work. After all, the DEQ is controlled by the Governor — at the moment a Democrat — and the Republicans at the legislature have used every tactic they can think of to try to strip him of power.
Rather than providing those funds, the leadership has decided the best way to address GenX and other emerging contaminants is to task universities across the state with water monitoring for GenX and other emerging contaminants, based in the UNC System, which, of course, is under Republican control through the Board of Governors.
And who is research director at the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, which will coordinate water testing for contaminants? Why, that would be Jeffrey Warren, former science adviser to Sen. Phil Berger. What a coincidence.
On the surface, leveraging the expertise of the state’s universities to help with water-quality research is not a bad idea. But the collaborative does not fill the role that must be served by a well-funded DEQ. What about accountability and oversight? And then are legal issues, such as chain of custody of samples and data. And with Berger disciple Warren directing its work, it would be naive to think the collaboratory is not politically tainted from day one.
We’ve also previously made the point that policy decisions are initiated on election day. No one should be surprised that a party that goes out of its way to accommodate major polluters — Chemours and the hog industry come to mind — passes legislation that puts the interests of industry ahead of the very-legitimate safety and quality-of-life concerns of the people they are supposed to be representing.
We would say that this devotion to polluters could be changed in November at the polls, but that is not likely to happen as long as gerrymandering rules the day.
So a year into the age of GenX, amid all the unanswered questions, we can say at least one thing definitively: However this problem plays out — and we hope and pray there is a good ending — the North Carolina Republican Party now owns GenX and other toxic chemicals that might find their way into our water.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on the effectiveness of private school vouchers the state is spending millions on:
Supporters of North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program say a new report by N.C. State University researchers shows that the state voucher program is helping students from low-income families.
That’s far more hype than fact.
What the study makes clear is there’s no way to know whether the students who receive up to $4,200 per school year to pay private school tuition are getting a better education than they would at their local public school. Private schools do not take the End-of-Grade tests taken by public school students. Instead, they use national standardized tests of their own choice making a broad and balanced comparison with public schools impossible.
Two researchers from N.C. State’s College of Education and a third from the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at N.C. State set out to explore this yawning accountability gap in the nation’s least regulated voucher program. They recruited 698 student volunteers in grades 4 through 8 from public and private schools to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in the spring of 2017. After students were sorted and some eliminated by various factors, the final comparison involved 245 students in private school and 252 in public schools. More than 7,000 students received Opportunity Scholarships in the 2017-18 school year.
The students getting Opportunity Scholarships showed a “positive, large and statistically significant” edge on the exams, the researchers said. But that conclusion came with multiple caveats. For one, half the private school students were from Catholic schools, which represent only 10 percent of the more than 400 schools receiving vouchers. In addition, the researchers stressed how a lack of common testing requirements for public schools and voucher-receiving private schools limits the applicability of their findings.
That did not stop voucher proponents from cheering the outcome of the study, which was primarily funded by two organizations that strongly support school choice, North Carolina’s John William Pope Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
Brian Jodice, interim president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said, “We celebrate these early findings, showing this program is offering children from some of North Carolina’s lowest-income families a real chance at academic success, and it’s spurred by parental school choice.”
The state had committed major funding to the Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program was allocated $44.8 million in 2017-18, and total funding is scheduled to increase by $10 million annually through the next decade. As a recent WUNC report noted, the projected funding level of the program in 2028 — $145 million — “is close to how much the state spent on the salaries all the principals in North Carolina last year.”
It would be better if no public funding supported private school tuition, but since that has been the case in North Carolina since 2014 the money should at least be producing better results for students from lower-income families.
The law creating the program contains virtually no requirements that private schools receiving public dollars account for the quality of their curricula or the performance of their students. That is in sharp contrast to Republican lawmakers’ enthusiasm for tying public school teachers’ salaries to student performance and slapping letter grades on every public school based on test results.
Even Jodice concedes the need from more data on the effectiveness of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. “I think we need to know where we’re at. If you don’t measure something, it’s hard to really know if it works,” he said.
He’s right. We still haven’t measured the impact of vouchers. And we still don’t know if they work.
News & Record of Greensboro on a state House bill over whether the constitution should be amended to require photo ID at voting polls:
A bill submitted to the state House last week seeks once again to raise the issue of requiring North Carolina voters to show photo identification at the polls, BH Media’s Richard Craver reported last week. This, despite the legislative failures of pushing such bills in the past. It’s like a zombie idea that keeps lumbering along and refuses to die.
The bill’s initial version says nothing about what kind of photo ID would be required — at this stage, it only calls for voters to decide whether the state constitution should be amended to require photo ID at the polls.
If voters favor the proposal, legislators would still have to pass a separate law to implement the requirement, the Journal reported. That would call for three-fifth majorities in both chambers — which Republicans currently have, but might not have after November.
Legislative leaders say that the purpose of passing the bill is to restore confidence in elections and prevent voter fraud.
Of course, one of the main reasons voters lack confidence in elections is because Republicans keep telling them that voter fraud is a big problem in the state.
But the claim has been refuted time and time again, including by Republican authorities such as Kim Strach, the executive director of the State Board of Elections. It does occur from time to time, but no evidence has ever been produced to prove that the problem is widespread or significant.
In 2013, Republicans tried to push through a voter-ID bill, only to have the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determine that the bill was intended to suppress voting by African-Americans, who generally go heavily for Democrats, and that it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
“The State has failed to produce one individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina,” the Fourth Circuit Court said in its ruling.
Republicans spent more than $9 million of taxpayer money trying to push the bill through the courts, only to finally have the U.S. Supreme Court tell them to knock it off.
Republicans were so desperate to push their conspiracy theory in the last election that they accused voters in 52 counties of double voting and other misdeeds. Four of those voters are currently suing their accusers for slander and libel.
We do have voting problems in this state — voter suppression and Russian attempts to interfere in our elections. The state legislature has done nothing about those. Instead, they’re following their partisan pattern of trying to retain power at the expense of fair elections. It’s past time to let this zombie die.