- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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May 3

The News & Observer of Raleigh on Gov. Roy Cooper’s ideas about economic development for North Carolina:

Roy Cooper has better ideas about economic development in North Carolina, and the first one is to straighten out, not abandon, a foolish and failed strategy developed by the administration of his predecessor, Pat McCrory.

Republicans came up with a hare-brained idea about recruiting business, which was to take the task away from the state Department of Commerce and create a new independent nonprofit, the Economic Development Partnership. It was a typical change-for-the-sake-of-change maneuver from the amateurs in the governor’s office and in the General Assembly, newly in charge and empowered.

But their plan didn’t work, of course, because few people, including those in charge of it, understood what it was about. Then came House Bill 2, and school was out.

Curiously, Cooper isn’t going to reroute the recruiting chores to Commerce, but try to fix what’s there, getting a new director, a past chair of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, in that unpaid position on the partnership.

The governor actually showed some good logic in not doing what he could have done in giving the recruiting mission back to Commerce: “There has been an inordinate amount of time spent over the past few years with internal restructuring,” he said. “And there’s been some confusion with companies.”

Cooper’s details were revealed by the governor, interestingly enough, at a Charlotte Chamber meeting. He believes, apparently, that a leader from that group is experienced in ways that will help.

But the governor also set some important priorities to guide the group, which is a good idea. The Charlotte Chamber has been a powerful organization for decades, pretty much directing the city through mayors of its choosing, and the recruitment effort will have to focus on broader goals absent politics.

First up: recruiting not specific businesses but building support among those in the business community (meaning in part Republicans) for more spending on public education. That, Cooper believes, has to come before even more tax cuts for the wealthy and business. Better schools will translate into a better case for the new economic development effort to make when going after the types of clean, high-tech businesses the state wants.

For some reason, Republican legislative leaders have never gotten that. They’ve cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest North Carolinians wildly, which means they’ve given up revenue needed for infrastructure, including schools. The state’s teacher pay, for example, may have gotten better, but it’s still in the bottom half of the country. The community colleges, which are crucial to getting job-ready training for those high-tech businesses, haven’t gotten nearly what they need to accomplish that goal.

The governor, refreshingly, isn’t pandering to business. Rather, he’s taking the case for putting education first and tax cuts off the table until those education needs are addressed. That is good leadership.

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

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May 3

The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina lawmakers voting to allow development and stop protecting buffers on the Catawba River:

Thirty-one of Jeff Tarte’s fellow Republican senators voted last week to remove buffers from the Catawba River. What does Tarte think about that?

“There’s an endless supply of stupid in state government,” he told the Observer editorial board.

Tarte is more familiar with buffers on the Catawba than almost all of his colleagues. After all, he has one in his backyard in Cornelius. Tarte lives on Lake Norman, and for years he has seen how the undisturbed strip of land along the shores protects Charlotte’s drinking supply and provides a habitat for wildlife that is “mind bogglingly awesome.”

The Senate, led by Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory, voted last week to stop protecting that strip of land throughout the Catawba and to allow property owners to develop it as they please right up to the water’s edge. Some individual counties have approved additional buffer protections. Senate Bill 434 would obliterate those as well. The bill was sent to the House.

Supporters say they see it as a property-rights issue. The government, they say, shouldn’t be able to tell owners what they can and can’t do with their land. Except government does so all the time in the form of easements, utility lines and other uses. And buyers of land on the Catawba know the restrictions when they buy.

The state plays an important role in protecting the environment and specifically the river, Tarte says.

“The Catawba River is our drinking water, for God’s sakes,” Tarte said. “There is a role for government; that buffer is part of protecting our environment. Being conservative also means being a conservationist.”

There was little debate in the Senate before the vote, and certainly no presentation of research on the impact of buffers.

“Where’s the scientific evidence we’re not going to harm our drinking supply?” Tarte said. “Then once we do, what’s it going to take to remediate it? When you do stupid, it can be really expensive.”

The environmental value of buffers is not in question. They act as a trap for nitrogen and prevent nutrients and other contaminants from rushing into lakes and rivers. They help prevent erosion, keep the water clean and provide animal habitat and an aesthetically pleasing landscape. If anything, buffers need to be expanded beyond the Catawba’s mainstem to its tributaries, not eliminated.

The Catawba buffers were put in place in 2001. There was some public backlash, but the Environmental Management Commission - made up of Republicans and Democrats - understood their scientific value. A couple of years later, the legislature made those temporary rules permanent in bipartisan fashion. In the House, for example, the vote was 102-4.

Today, it appears, politics triumphs over science. At least in the Senate. The House can still stop this bad idea, and voters who care about having clean drinking water should let those legislators know what they think.

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

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April 30

The News & Record of Greensboro on the North Carolina House of Representatives passing a bill that would authorize 20 school systems to start the academic year earlier:

North Carolina’s public school calendar was set for economic and political considerations, not for academic reasons. It’s time to try a more sensible approach.

A bill that passed 104-6 in the state House of Representatives would authorize 20 school systems, including Guilford’s, to begin the academic year more than two weeks earlier in August than they do now, starting in 2018 or 2019. The bill then would direct the State Board of Education and N.C. Department of Commerce to study the academic effects and impact on travel and tourism after three years and report findings to the legislature.

That idea should have been implemented more than a decade ago, before the legislature meddled in school calendar decisions in the first place.

In 2004, the state enacted a law that set the opening and closing dates of the school year at approximately Aug. 26 and June 11, depending on weekend dates. Some flexibility was allowed, primarily for schools that operated on year-round schedules.

This was in response to a trend that saw some school districts starting their school years earlier and earlier. They did it for academic reasons. Beginning earlier allowed them to complete their fall semester before the Christmas holiday. And shortening the summer break was meant to help children retain more of what they’d learned during the year.

But strong opposition emerged. A well-organized and effective parents’ group called Save Our Summers lobbied for a longer break. It was allied with the travel and tourism industry, which was concerned about the loss of family vacation time and the difficulty in hiring high school students for summer work. They prevailed in pushing the legislature to override the authority of local school boards to set the schedules they thought were best to serve the academic interests of their students.

This was disturbing for the reasons that academic considerations should come first, and that locally elected school boards should make such decisions.

A third concern received less attention: Was there enough hard data to determine the relationship between summer breaks and academic achievement and the economic impact on vacation communities? Probably not, and that didn’t matter to the legislature at the time.

House Bill 389, which now awaits action in a Senate committee, seeks to generate the information that was lacking in 2004. Will students return to school with more knowledge if their summer break is shortened to eight weeks instead of 10? And exactly how much economic harm will coastal communities suffer if families have to squeeze their beach vacations into eight weeks instead of 10? How many summer jobs will go unfilled?

With more information in hand, school boards and legislators could make better decisions about setting calendars.

We hope legislators would not insist on a longer summer break if they learn that students take significantly more time to catch up in September, and especially if the economic benefit is slight. The experience might show different results in different communities - more reason to allow local decisions.

The school systems named in this bill, including Guilford County’s, aren’t required to participate in the three-year research project. But it sounds like a good idea, especially for schools where students tend to struggle and aren’t well-served by a long summer break.

Children should have time off in the summer, whether for family vacations, church camps, goofing off at home or the pool or, for teens, summer jobs. But they don’t need to regress academically. Finding the right balance is important, and it requires information to determine what that is.

The Senate should join the House in approving a bill that could produce real benefits.

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


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