North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Fayetteville Observer on how the lottery fund is cheating North Carolina children:
If we want to know why North Carolina schools haven’t improved anywhere near as much as we need them to, we can get a pretty good insight from former state Sen. Tony Rand. It’s about our North Carolina Education Lottery and how present-day lawmakers have done exactly what many people feared they’d do with its proceeds.
Rand as much as anyone can claim responsibility for the lottery. Without his efforts in the Senate, where he served as majority leader, we wouldn’t have a lottery today. It was Rand who engineered the bill’s passage in the face of strong opposition from both the right and left. Since it began operating in 2006, the lottery has sent about $175 million to Cumberland County, where it’s been used in school construction, teacher hiring, college scholarships and financial aid, pre-kindergarten programs, hiring teacher assistants and more.
The problem is that the General Assembly has done exactly what lottery critics warned would happen: It has used lottery proceeds to substitute for regular education funding in the state budget. This was a necessary and pragmatic choice during and immediately after the recession, when state revenues took a beating and all state budgets were significantly slashed. But for the last three or four years, the state has had substantial revenue surpluses, some of which could easily have been channeled back into education. While school funding has increased somewhat, it’s never returned to pre-recession levels, when our school achievement rankings and teacher pay had risen to the midpoint among the states.
One of the big promises of the lottery was that it would channel millions of dollars into school construction, a boon to “low wealth” counties like many in this region. But interim Cumberland County school superintendent Tim Kinlaw — who has long overseen school building programs here — says lottery funding for school construction has tailed off badly after a good start. “We actually receive less capital outlay funds from the state now, which includes the lottery funds,” he said, “than we were receiving prior to the lottery.”
Why is that? It’s because the lottery revenue isn’t considered a bonus anymore. It’s no longer the means to do the extra things that raise our school systems — and our children’s potential — to excellence. Instead, it’s simply part of the diminished educational revenue stream that is dooming our schools and our kids to mediocrity.
When our school funding and our teacher pay remain in the bottom 20 percent of the country, we are all but guaranteeing that our children won’t be competitive in the global marketplace. We are ensuring that they won’t be prepared for the high-tech jobs that are appearing as we move into the worlds of robotics and machine learning.
On a more practical level, we won’t even be able to build the schools that our kids need. That troubles Rand, and it should trouble everyone in government — not to mention North Carolina parents. Rand says he likes “building schools. That helps the property taxpayer. I love the early childhood (program). I’d like to see more of that because that’s so important, how they get started.”
Rand was recently appointed to fill a vacant seat on the state Lottery Commission. We doubt that will give him any additional clout with the Republican-dominated General Assembly, but it will certainly give him a useful soapbox from which he can spread the word about the lottery’s declining impact — and our state’s failure to provide the funding that our schools and our children really need.
If our goal is mediocrity, then that’s OK. But if anyone in Raleigh wants to believe our education quest is excellence, then it’s time for them to put the money back where their mouths are.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on if North Carolina will learn any lessons from Hurricane Harvey:
The tragic flooding of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston has communities all over the United States studying their own flood plans, and that’s one, perhaps the only, positive outcome of this horrendous event. (It should be noted that the Red Cross and other charitable organizations, along with churches, are mustering support for Houston’s victims. Those interested in helping should contact such organizations.)
In Raleigh, floodplain administrator Ben Brown is among those studying what happened in Houston to see if more regulation is needed and what can be learned from Houston’s experience. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he said, “what’s happening in Houston right now. Fifty inches of rain in 24 hours or so — that’s very scary.” As a News & Observer report noted, Raleigh’s a much different place than Houston: more hilly, and the city has good rules on land use. But beyond that, Raleigh officials know where the potential trouble spots are and have worked with federal emergency officials to learn what to do in an emergency.
But climate change — no matter what “deniers” say there is climate change in the view of the world’s most esteemed scientists — has itself changed the way communities are planning or at least training people to cope with emergencies.
And then there’s the coast. Here, the worry is considerable, as rising sea levels are a scientific fact and the consequences undeniable — unless someone comes up with a way to stem the ocean’s tide, which is unlikely.
Consider a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group that was founded almost 50 years ago by faculty and students at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The report is titled, “When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of U.S. Coastal Communities.” And it says that perhaps 20 such communities along North Carolina’s coast could be impacted by rising tides in the next 15 years. That’s right. Not a century. Not 50 years. In the next 15 years.
That means those communities could be underwater.
The data in the report factors in three possible scenarios about sea level, from the most optimistic to the least, and bases expectations on carbon emissions that are predicted through the end of the 21st century.
Deniers wouldn’t believe such a report if they were standing in Asheville with saltwater running between their toes, but for most North Carolinians this is a matter of no small concern, and not just because hundreds of thousands of residents depend upon the coast for their livelihoods, not to mention valuing the coast for its wonder and beauty.
If Hurricane Harvey awakens state leaders in all vulnerable states to the need to do more to stem carbon emissions and their consequences, then some positive things can come. In the meantime, the priority is for all people to do all they can to help their fellow Americans in Texas.
News & Record of Greensboro on how new districts are still flawed:
When Republican state legislators once again are called to account for their gerrymandered districts, their best defense will be, “We’ve gotten away with it before.”
That and “Democrats did it, too” are true. Republicans and Democrats alike have crafted districts that give themselves partisan advantages, and the courts have let them get away with it.
It’s time for the self-serving exercise to end. Partisan redistricting is a political party’s attempt to rig the election system and deny fair competition. The party in power can make sure it continues to win a majority of seats even without winning a majority of votes. All it takes is placing the right voters in the right numbers in the right districts, which is easily achieved with today’s computer technology. The process is manipulative and anti-democratic — but somehow not illegal, yet.
The N.C. House and Senate this week approved new legislative districts to replace those struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court for relying too heavily on the race of voters in 28 districts. The new plans now must be submitted to a panel of federal judges in Greensboro for approval. They should not get a passing grade.
This time, the Republican lawmakers in charge of redistricting gave no consideration to race, which ought to be a violation of the Voting Rights Act. But they did give every consideration to political party, making sure that most districts would continue to elect Republicans.
There’s no reason to believe that Democrats would not have created similar advantages for themselves if they could. The particular district lines would be different but not the intent to limit choices for voters.
Enough. The U.S. Supreme Court seems to be moving closer to ruling against partisan gerrymanders based on newly developed evidence about their effects on voters. Political scientists describe an “efficiency gap” between the number of votes cast for a political party and the number of candidates of that party who are actually elected. That calculation yields the number of “wasted votes.”
North Carolina is a leading state for such wasted votes — in other words, the number of voters who have little chance of electing the candidate of their choice.
The efficiency gap is most clearly seen in congressional voting. In North Carolina last year, 2.4 million votes were cast for Republican congressional candidates and 2.1 million for Democratic candidates. Those votes elected 10 Republicans and three Democrats. Simple math finds that Republicans won congressional seats at a rate of one for every 240,000 votes, while it cost Democrats 700,000 votes for each congressional seat won. Because of how the districts were drawn, it was nearly three times easier for a Republican to win than for a Democrat.
These kinds of tricks are more worthy of a country like Venezuela than anywhere in the United States. Yet, it’s been proven time and again that when politicians draw their own districts, they do so for their own advantage. It’s little different in North Carolina than it is in Venezuela or any other country where leaders stage mock elections rather than give voters a fair opportunity to elect someone else.
While the judges should reject the latest attempted manipulation by North Carolina legislators, an entirely new system is needed. Some states have implemented independent redistricting to take the job away from politicians. They entrust the process to a panel of impartial citizens charged with creating fair districts, only making sure that they contain equal numbers of voters and that some allow a reasonable chance for minority voter influence.
There is no perfect system, but a deliberately imperfect system should not be continued. The latest plans are unacceptable. The people of North Carolina deserve better than to be apportioned into districts so they can dutifully elect the representatives party leaders choose for them.