- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Dec. 11

The News & Observer on better oversight of North Carolina charter schools:

Republicans who lead the General Assembly are tough on accountability when it comes to traditional public schools and public school teachers. They’ve pushed changes that put a letter grade on public schools and moved to end teacher tenure to make it easier to fire poor performing teachers.

But when it comes to the Republicans’ pet education issues - increasing the number of charter schools and expanding the use of vouchers for private schools - the accountability demands ease. The lack of oversight has now shown up in a Durham charter K-12 school that awarded 53 diplomas in the last two years to students who lacked the credits necessary to graduate. That’s nearly a third of the school’s graduates since 2014 and the problem could go back further.

The problem at the Kestrel Heights School was not detected by the state. It was found by a conscientious Kestrel Heights School principal who started work at the school this summer and discovered that recent graduates lacked sufficient credits. Apparently a former principal and guidance counselor both failed to properly check transcripts before approving diplomas. The failure was so widespread that the matter has been referred to the Durham County District Attorney’s Office to determine if a criminal investigation is warranted.

That Kestrel, a 1,016-student school that has been graduating students since 2008, could grant diplomas to so many unqualified students raises clear question about whether charter schools need closer oversight. But Bill Cobey, the Republican chairman of the State Board of Education, says no.

Cobey dismissed the need for a new system for checking graduation eligibility because it would be unnecessary. He said charter schools should simply be trusted to enforce graduation standards and requirements.

“My experience with educators is that they are people of very high character,” Cobey said. “Is it going to be perfect? No, obviously.

“I believe this is an isolated case,” he continued. “Are there other isolated cases? Maybe. But I have a very high-level (of) trust in the educators in this state.”

Cobey sounds like a man whistling past the diploma mill. If there are other “isolated cases,” they’re not isolated. They’re a symptom of overall weak oversight. The state board should do for all charter schools what the conscientious principal did at Kestrel. Review the transcripts of charter high school graduates and establish reporting procedures that would detect or prevent more Kestrel School situations.

Online:

https://www.newsobserver.com

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Dec. 12

The Fayetteville Observer on state disaster aid legislation:

Members of the General Assembly are in Raleigh today for a special session that is essential. The members will discuss and vote on recovery assistance for victims of Hurricane Matthew and the wildfires that scorched our western mountains this fall.

Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday that he’s asking state lawmakers to appropriate $200 million for flood and fire victims, with the first priority the creation of housing. A federal funding bill signed by President Obama over the weekend will provide another $300 million in aid for North Carolina.

We hope that’s the only business that will be done during the session, but we fear it might not be. The Raleigh rumor mill is especially active lately, thanks to McCrory’s broad summons to convene the session, invoking Matthew and the forest fires, but also saying the lawmakers were free to consider “any other matters” that concerned them.

One of those matters might be the surprise loss suffered by veteran state Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican and a reliably conservative voice on the high court. Edmunds was upended in the November election by Judge Mike Morgan, a Democrat. That shifted the balance on the court to the Democrats.

The theory making the rounds in Raleigh is that the Republican legislative majority could legally reverse the Democrats’ gain by adding two new seats to the court - the N.C. Constitution allows up to nine justices on the court, and there are only seven at present. If the governor appoints two Republican jurists to the court before he leaves office next month, that would shift the deciding vote back to the GOP.

Several members of the governor’s cabinet urged him to try to restrict the session to disaster aid, but McCrory insisted on including the broader language. Of course, the lawmakers don’t need the governor’s permission to do anything they want: Once they’re in session, they can set their own agenda, resurrect old legislation and otherwise follow their own counsel.

But “packing” the court would be a dangerous mistake that could lead to Republican losses in 2018. Voter concerns that the state had strayed far from the political center - especially with controversial House Bill 2 - led to McCrory’s loss. Those same misgivings were the undoing of Sen. Buck Newton’s campaign for attorney general. Newton was an author of the business-killing “bathroom bill.”

Packing the court might be legal, but it stinks. It’s the very sort of underhanded, secretive move that Republicans long decried when the former Democratic majority indulged in it.

Our advice: Comfort the afflicted, then go home.

Online:

https://www.fayobserver.com

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Dec. 13

The News & Record of Greensboro on political jobs in governor’s administration:

Republican legislators were happy to let Pat McCrory fill his cabinet agencies with political appointees. In 2013, they passed a bill expanding the number of “exempt” positions in the Republican governor’s administration from 500 to 1,500.

Now that Democrat Roy Cooper is about to take office, however, the partisan move then doesn’t look so smart.

Exempt positions are those not subject to protection from arbitrary dismissal. It’s better to staff executive agencies with professional employees who carry out their work of behalf of the public without regard to political interests. We don’t have Republican state troopers and Democratic state troopers, or ferry boat operators, or crime lab technicians. We should have career workers who do their jobs, even as governors come and go.

At the same time, a governor is entitled to fill top leadership posts with people he or she can count on to implement his or her own policies. The question is how many are needed.

In 2013, Republicans contended that, after 20 straight years of Democratic governors, McCrory had to bring in many new people to truly effect a change in government. But he surely didn’t need 1,500 people. Reportedly, he hired only 1,300.

That still meant he ousted hundreds of state workers for no other reason than to replace them with partisan loyalists. State government should not be a place for political patronage on such a large scale.

So, what happens when Cooper takes office Jan. 1? The 2013 law gives him the authority to remove up to 1,500 state employees - 1,300 of whom were appointed by McCrory - and give their posts to his supporters.

Unless the legislature acts to stop him.

It is holding a special session today, called for the purpose of providing disaster relief to areas damaged by floods and fires. The legislature can allocate funds from budgeted savings to boost recovery efforts.

That’s all it should do. But rumors persist that it will try to pack the state Supreme Court with two additional justices, change how election boards are constituted and reduce the number of exempt positions - all for political reasons.

It should do none of that. It should stick to its intended, important business and leave any other matters to its regular session, which opens in January.

The number of political jobs in a governor’s administration should be examined. If there’s an objective argument for keeping that number at 1,500, it should be discussed. We can’t imagine there is, but the matter should be debated openly. If a change is warranted, legislation should move through normal procedures, not in a rush for the apparent reason of weakening an incoming governor. Such an act by legislators would be a rude greeting for Cooper.

For his part, Cooper should look at everyone who holds an exempt position and replace only those who seem to hold few qualifications beyond partisan loyalty to the outgoing governor. He should hire people who provide real value to the taxpayers, not just political value.

Online:

https://www.greensboro.com

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