- Associated Press - Thursday, May 11, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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May 5

The Greensboro News & Record on malnutrition among the state’s residents:

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill’s medical school recently found that food scarcity contributes to malnutrition in older adults. That seems easy to figure out. But why is malnutrition allowed to happen at all?

“There is an existing national system of food assistance programs, such as Meals on Wheels, and we believe we can use the emergency department to link patients in need to those programs,” the study’s author, Dr. Tim Platts-Mills, told UNC’s news service. He added: “Even though such programs are relatively inexpensive - about $6 per individual per day - many programs are underutilized and under-funded. We need to link patients to these programs and fund these programs.”

Is that political advocacy? Would it upset conservative politicians? The Trump administration proposes funding cuts for such programs.

The UNC Board of Governors, whose members are appointed by Republican legislators, will consider a policy barring a university center from taking advocacy positions, insisting it stick to academics instead.

The focus, for now, is on The Center for Civil Rights housed at UNC-CH’s law school. A proposal would prohibit it from filing lawsuits or representing clients in civil rights cases.

The center led a legal challenge against Pitt County schools alleging racial segregation, reportedly forcing the district to raid textbook funds to pay legal expenses. Some UNC board members cite that as an example of improper advocacy.

“This is outrageous,” Steve Long told The Associated Press. “We cannot allow academic centers to hire full-time lawyers to sue cities and counties.”

The wisdom of individual actions can be debated, but a blanket policy against advocacy would be a mistake.

Should a medical school always stick to academics, or is there value in applying medical knowledge to real problems? If medical researchers determine that meal programs can help prevent malnutrition in elderly populations, why shouldn’t they call for greater support for those programs? Isn’t that also instructive for medical students? As practitioners, they should argue for policies that can help produce better health outcomes for the people they serve.

The same is true for law students. Participating in real legal actions strengthens their academic experience and gives them the sense that lawyers can help improve civic life in our state and communities by correcting injustices.

“The center trains students to be advocates,” a letter from UNC-CH officials, including law school dean Martin Brinkley, to the Board of Governors said. It added that nearly all public law schools do the same thing.

The Civil Rights Center, established by the late civil rights attorney Julius Chambers, is privately funded and could continue if it were relocated to Duke, Wake Forest or even the Elon law school in Greensboro. It would make those private schools more attractive to students.

But the notion that UNC schools or centers shouldn’t take advocacy positions is misguided. Universities do more than accumulate, create and share knowledge. They apply knowledge in ways meant to improve the world around them. In that cause, they sometimes advocate for better practices and policies, whether in public health, law, social work, environmental protection or any other field. They might not always get it right, but that’s no reason to limit the scope of their activity.

If a legal center is restricted today, a medical school could be targeted next. Putting boundaries on the application of knowledge opposes the mission of any university. The Board of Governors should know better.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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May 6

The Charlotte Observer on low-performing schools:

What’s a “low-performing” school? And if you are one, is it helpful or harmful to get that label?

The N.C. House voted 120-0 last week to change which schools are deemed low-performing. Supporters say it’s a fairer way to judge schools. Critics worry the change will prevent low-quality schools from getting the attention they need to improve.

Under current law, if a school earns a “D” or “F” performance grade, it is considered low-performing even if it meets growth expectations (and, of course, if it fails to meet growth expectations, but not if it exceeds them).

Under the House bill, a school could not be deemed low-performing if it meets expected growth standards, regardless of how poorly its students perform on end-of-course tests and other measures. A school with very low test scores and graduation rates would not be considered low-performing as long as it met expected growth. The only low-performing schools would be those with a “D” or an “F” performance and that didn’t meet expected growth. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Critics say the change lets schools with very low achievement off the hook. Those schools can meet expected growth for years, they say, and still produce students who perform very poorly and who graduate with a nearly worthless diploma.

Furthermore, they contend, if a school is labeled low-performing, its teachers, principal and district leaders must do something to address that. On the other hand, if a school is not on that list, it won’t get the attention or support it deserves and needs. Schools don’t like to be labeled low-performing, the thinking goes, but at least they get some attention that way and the pressure is on to help them improve.

We sympathize with the spirit of that argument. But we think the change better accounts for the realities teachers face in some schools and puts greater weight on a school improving year after year, which everyone wants. Teachers have to teach the kids they are given; in many schools, those students are ill-prepared, and so meeting expected growth is a significant accomplishment, even if their test scores still have a ways to go. It is wrong to punish a school that is helping its students grow in their academic achievement.

The bigger problem is that Charlotte and North Carolina have so many schools that have such high concentrations of poverty. Many of those students come from homes where their academic progress is not supported. Many of those schools feature teachers doing heroic work, but others employ teachers not up to the challenge.

The solution lies less in worrying about definitions of low-performing and more in helping these kids get on track starting at birth, providing them with the most passionate and caring teachers and investing public tax dollars in public, not private, schools.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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May 8

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the state GOP’s plans for the budget surplus:

North Carolina’s projected budget surplus now has grown to $580.5 million, up from $552.5 million. The news ought to encourage some great ideas and broader horizons from legislative leaders - more money for public education, perhaps a guarantee of more than one year for arts and music and physical education programs, bonuses for teachers, boosts for community colleges, investment in programs at the local level that help disadvantaged families.

Instead, Republicans in charge speak mainly of tax cuts for business and the “middle class,” but that middle class terminology is often deceptive. Most GOP tax cuts help the wealthy more than they do the middle class, of course, and the business tax cuts already have been excessive in a state that has long ranked one of the most accommodating for business.

But when news of the surplus and then the revised, larger surplus broke, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, architect of things like HB2, responded to Democratic calls for using the money to help schools and families hit hard by Hurricane Matthew by saying: “While Gov. Roy Cooper thinks politicians know best how to spend your hard-earned money, we believe you know what’s best for your family and your bank account.”

That statement insults the intelligence of every citizen in North Carolina, and Berger and his sidekick, House Speaker Tim Moore, ought to be ashamed of that kind of pandering. North Carolina is not some lone prairie where people fend for themselves.

And it’s interesting that Berger speaks of “your money and your bank account” after being so generous with tax cuts for business, giving up money that might have gone to help all the families of North Carolina.

Surpluses and tax revenue benefit every man, woman and child in North Carolina, period. State and local government provide roads and schools and police and fire protection and emergency services and parks and countless things that enhance the lives of all. All.

And yet given the opportunity to really do something for all, Berger and his sidekick and their mates look only to help business and the wealthy. So that’s what they are going to do.

This isn’t governing. This isn’t smart stewardship of the public’s money. It’s wasting the public’s money, throwing it away for the benefit of a few. This is lackluster, shortsighted government, not steering the state through the early 21st century with foresight.

In the last 50 years, North Carolina moved ahead of other southern states because Gov. Terry Sanford, elected in 1960, promised to make schools better. Gov. Bob Scott put together a new formula for a modern university system. Jim Hunt pushed ahead with a progressive agenda - very progressive, in fact, for the late 1970s and early ‘80s, and then came back for two more terms (‘93-‘01) devotedly primarily to education.

Now, with their lack of investment, Republicans are being every bit as reckless with spending plans as they’d claim the “big spenders” would be. They’re holding the reins on spending, all right. And on everything else.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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