- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 9

The News & Record of Greensboro on state dollars funding private schools:

State legislators are working to avert a looming funding crunch for local school systems, a key lawmaker said last week.



School districts are directed to reduce class sizes in primary grades but weren’t given additional money to carry out the mandate. Rep. Craig Horn, a budget co-chairman from Union County, said last week he’s aware systems are “under the gun” and expressed optimism that they’ll be granted funding soon.

That’s good news. Smaller classes are better for students and teachers, but more classroom space and teachers are needed to achieve them. The funding should have accompanied the directive in the first place. Without it, schools have to shift resources from higher grades to lower ones - in other words, rob Peter to pay Paul.

Meanwhile, the legislature continues to transfer funds from public schools to private schools through its “opportunity scholarship,” or voucher, program. In fact, public funding directed to private education is rapidly accelerating.

The voucher program sent $4.6 million to private schools in 2014-15; $13.1 million in 2015-16; $21.8 million in 2016-17; and $13.7 million in the first half of the current 2017-18 school year. The three-and-a-half-year total is $53.2 million, according to the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority.

The Greensboro Islamic Academy is one of the leading recipients of this funding, having gotten nearly $1.4 million to date. The number of students receiving state assistance to attend the school has risen each year, from 67 in 2014-15 to 131 this past fall. The state has paid an average of about $4,000 for each student. The school serves students through eighth grade.

Other Guilford County private schools awarded more than $100,000 just in the first half of the current school year are Vandalia Christian School, Tri-City Christian Academy, High Point Christian Academy and Wesleyan Christian Academy.

Children from low-income families are eligible to receive assistance of up to $4,200 per year. On its website, the Greensboro Islamic Academy encourages parents to apply for the state scholarships: “Please do not miss out on the great opportunity.”

While there’s no doubt that attending private school at public expense presents a great opportunity for students, and a windfall for the schools, the program was controversial from the beginning - deservedly so.

It was challenged in court by plaintiffs who complained that the state constitution directs the legislature to spend public money for public purposes. In a 4-3 decision in 2015, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the program’s constitutionality, ruling that private education achieves a public purpose.

The ruling did not address the question of allocating taxpayer funds for religious education. Further litigation on that issue could arise in the future, especially if a plaintiff brings a religious discrimination case. For example, one local private school states in the admission requirements published on its website that “high school students must be born-again Christians.” So public money designated for that school is available only to students who meet a religious test.

For now, private school vouchers remain a political matter. Do taxpayers want to pay for children’s private education, and particularly private religious education? The vast majority of schools participating in North Carolina’s voucher program have a Christian orientation. Some are Islamic, some Jewish and some are secular. Furthermore, in contrast to strict accountability measures for public schools, there are few such requirements for participating private schools. Taxpayers can’t tell how much value the state is getting for the mounting expenditures flowing to private schools.

With so many public school financial needs unmet, more funding for private schools remains a poor policy. Private education should be paid for privately.

Online: http://www.greensboro.com/

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Jan. 9

The Winston-Salem Journal on the addition of a section on traffic stops to North Carolina’s driver’s handbook:

One nice change in 2018 is that the North Carolina driver’s handbook will soon contain a section on what drivers should do when they’re pulled over by law enforcement, WRAL’s Laura Leslie reported recently.

“State lawmakers voted (in 2017) to add such information to the driver’s handbook starting next spring,” Leslie reported. “The information also is now being taught in driver’s education courses.”

This should provide sorely needed answers to questions many have been asking, especially young and inexperienced drivers. It would make good review material for everyone, though, especially drivers who may be startled by unexpected stops.

In recent times, some encounters between drivers and police officers have turned contentious and even deadly. Knowing what to expect and how to behave during a traffic stop should alleviate some pressure.

Young drivers should understand that being pulled over is not the worst thing that could happen, and might actually benefit them, especially if there’s a safety issue at hand. And they should be aware that nervous behavior or refusing to cooperate just doesn’t help.

And officers should be aware - and most likely are - that teenagers aren’t always going to act the way they should and be prepared.

Along with these changes, a voluntary designation system for drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing will be put in place. “They can choose to have that noted on their electronic driver’s record, so that, if a law enforcement officer runs their license plate, they will know that the driver may not respond to spoken commands,” Leslie reported.

The law also requires law enforcement officers to receive more training on how to recognize and interact with deaf or hearing-impaired drivers. This inclusion came about after a deaf motorist was shot in Charlotte by an officer during a 2016 stop.

More training has been needed for police officers and motorists in general for some time. We’re glad to see the legislature lend some guidance to the task.

Online: http://www.journalnow.com/

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Jan. 10

The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina’s election districts:

In February 2016, then N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis held the first public hearing of the newly formed Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting. Earlier that month, a federal court had struck down North Carolina’s congressional map because of racial gerrymandering, and the committee was tasked with redrawing the districts. To that end, the public was invited to submit comments on the process.

You might have been skeptical then that the Republicans who controlled the committee were interested in hearing what members of the public - or even the opposition party - had to say. Now, thanks to a federal ruling on the maps that committee produced, we know just how much of a sham it was.

In its ruling Tuesday striking down our state’s election districts, a panel of three judges slapped hard at the lawmakers who drew them. The judges, appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents, said Rucho and Lewis violated the “core principle of republican government” by predetermining that a map should give Republicans wins in 10 of 13 districts. That partisan gerrymandering, and the Republicans who participated in it, disenfranchised millions of voters and violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, the ruling said.

The judges also described, with evidence, just how bad it was.

That February 2016 meeting? It was a cynical formality, according to the judges. Before legislators even gathered to talk about the congressional districts, and before the public was allowed to have its say, the maps were a done deal. That had happened in the 10 days before, when Rucho and Lewis had asked redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller to come up with new districts that would, according to Hofeller’s testimony, “create as many districts as possible in which GOP candidates would be able to successfully compete for office.”

Hofeller did as he was told, constructing maps on his personal computer using data from previous elections. He never heard public comments about the districts he was drawing. He finished on Feb. 16. Later that day, Rucho and Lewis continued the charade by proposing to their committee the criteria governing the drawing of the maps that had already been completed.

Equally galling was that Lewis told his fellow committee members that the goal of the map drawing was to elect 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Why? “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” Lewis said. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

Such arrogance is hardly surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to Republican leadership in the General Assembly, but it illustrates just how important the federal ruling was Tuesday. The drawing of election districts shouldn’t be put in the hands of lawmakers - Republican or Democrat - who will use that authority to keep themselves in power. Only recently are courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, taking a more critical look at partisan gerrymandering.

We hope and expect that the 4th Circuit judges eventually will appoint a special master to redraw North Carolina’s election districts. We also expect Republicans to fight that fairness to the end, because as yet another court ruling showed, the true voter fraud in North Carolina takes place long before an election is even held.

Online: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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