- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

May 20

News and Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on tobacco hazard:

Many North Carolina residents recall long, hot summer days working in tobacco fields as youngsters. Few remember the experience as easy or pleasant.

Children still work in North Carolina tobacco fields - and they might be risking their health, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international organization that looks for human rights abuses.

Unlike in other workplaces, children as young as 12 can work long hours as farm laborers when school is out. On tobacco farms, that puts them at risk for Green Tobacco Sickness. The National Institutes of Health reported on this sickness in children and adolescents in 2005.

Studies show the exposure can produce a much greater nicotine effect than smoking - and it’s particularly strong in children. Whether there are long-term health risks is uncertain.

This isn’t regulated like exposure to pesticides, N.C. Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Long said. But there are safe practices that can limit risk, including use of gloves and protective clothing. The Agriculture Department, N.C. Department of Labor and other organizations provide information to farmers.

A Department of Labor video notes that nicotine absorption is more likely in wet conditions, even morning dew. It’s safer to work when plants are dry. Advice for recovering from the sickness includes hydrating and taking a day or two off - hardly practical for low-wage workers who don’t get paid sick leave. The video doesn’t say anything about child workers.

Human Rights Watch calls for strong action. If state and federal governments won’t set stricter rules, tobacco companies should step up, the report’s co-author, Margaret Wurth, said. “Tobacco companies shouldn’t benefit from hazardous child labor. They have a responsibility to adopt clear, comprehensive policies that get children out of dangerous work on tobacco farms, and make sure the farms follow the rules.”

Generations of North Carolinians survived long days in the tobacco fields, but was the work really good for them? More study might answer that question. To be safe, growers should try to minimize nicotine exposure for their workers today.




May 17

Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram on budget plan:

Gov. Pat McCrory unveiled a $21 billion state budget proposal last week that will face no shortage of critics.

While proposing modest pay raises for public school teachers and state employees, the governor’s plan does little to provide the state’s schools with the resources they need to provide a quality education for North Carolina students.

McCrory does propose to spend $23.2 million in lottery funds to double funding for textbooks to partially restore draconian cuts in previous years. But the governor proposes no funding to rehire teachers’ assistants, restore money for classroom supplies or support services for teachers and students.

The spending recommendations seek $44 million in cuts to the University of North Carolina system and a 50-cents-per-credit-hour tuition increase at community colleges. The plan also calls for local school districts to pay for workers’ compensation claims and lawsuit liability claims that could add up to at least $10 million the districts will not have to spend on teacher supplements, maintenance or other needs.

While the governor’s intention to increase teachers’ salaries is laudable, it is a one-time effort that will do little to correct the long-term problem of substandard teacher pay that is sending good North Carolina teachers to other states or driving them out of the education system entirely.

McCrory’s spending proposal faces an uncertain fate in the N.C. General Assembly, where lawmakers will use his plan as a starting point to craft their own budget plan, which is certain to contain less funding for the state’s crucial needs in education - not to mention infrastructure, public health and environmental protection.

With the state facing budget shortfalls in the current and upcoming fiscal years and another round of previously enacted tax cuts set to kick in, lawmakers are all but certain to provide public schools with lower funding levels than McCrory has proposed. Local school districts have been cash-strapped for years and are likely to continue to be for the foreseeable future.




May 19

News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on judge halting attack on teacher tenure:

Teacher “tenure” was such a strange target. Ask parents of North Carolina’s public schoolchildren what they think of their children’s teachers, and most will answer with admiration. In many cases, parents remember a particular teacher taking extra time with a child to bring him or her up to speed on math or reading.

Are all teachers revered by parents and students? No, but it’s fair to say that most parents appreciate greatly what teachers do for their kids.

So when Republican leaders and lawmakers in the General Assembly ran into opposition from the N.C. Association of Educators and other teachers opposed to an assault on public education, they reacted. Overreacted, to be more precise. They set about ending teacher tenure in North Carolina, mainly to teach a lesson to educators who disagreed with them on public school policies.

Republican leaders said it was a push to weed out bad teachers. But it felt to teachers like it was bullying. And it will, in addition to low pay, hurt public schools by making a teaching job in North Carolina less appealing.

Thankfully, a wiser head has prevailed for now. Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood has ordered a permanent injunction against the law that ends what’s known as career status in North Carolina. It’s actually not really tenure in the sense of the security provided college professors under that label. For the North Carolina public school teacher, career status just means that an experienced teacher has the right to a hearing, to a bit of due process, before being dismissed. It’s not a job guarantee. And it’s not, contrary to the simplistic spin Republicans put on it, a protection for lousy teachers.

Hobgood rightly noted the horrendous flaws in the law. For one thing, it is unconstitutional, Hobgood said, because it “amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property rights in their existing contract” under the state constitution.

But not Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tem of the legislature’s upper chamber. No, he’s a champion of the law and said Hobgood’s ruling was a repudiation of “the will of voters statewide” who elected GOP majorities so they’d straighten out public education.

The senator seems to be saying that the majority party is always right and should be allowed to do whatever it wants to do. That’s not what he said during his time in the minority.

This very bad law on teacher tenure now is under judicial review. And the courts do not exist to rubberstamp whatever the General Assembly does, a peculiar take on things coming from Berger, who is an attorney and ought to know better.



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