- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Dec. 17

The Fayetteville Observer on a proposed Civil War center that has been challenged in recent weeks:



At a Monday press conference, State Rep. Billy Richardson and Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin rolled out a plan they believe will help the community move forward on the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center. The multimillion-dollar state project is proposed to be built in Fayetteville and has been on a glide-path to funding. But it has been challenged in recent weeks by some residents and activists skeptical of its content, and the motives of its organizers.

Colvin has been a prominent figure who has raised questions, though he has said several times he is not against the project. He has said he wants to make sure it tells the full story of the difficult period. He has also said he wants History Center supporters and officials to broaden their community outreach in pitching the center and addressing residents’ concerns. These concerns are heightened among some African-American residents who fear the center will be a glorified Confederate museum.

We have said that Richardson and Colvin’s ideas are sound - they include forbidding, through the force of a local bill, any Confederate statues from coming to the center, and creating a local advisory board to have input in History Center content.

Just as important as the proposals sketched out at Monday’s press conference were the people who came to stand with the two men as they rolled them out. The framing could not be missed.

Standing with the mayor as he spoke were three of the four new council members, sworn in earlier this month: Shakeyla Ingram (District 2), Chris Davis (District 6) and Yvonne Kinston (District 9). Many have wondered where they stood on the Civil War center, and in point of fact we still don’t know. But their presence signaled they are willing to give the History Center idea a good listen. The same can be said of council members D.J. Haire (District 4) and Larry Wright (District 7), two men who have, like the mayor, expressed some reservations.

Also in attendance were Cumberland County Commissioners Michael Boose, Charles Evans and Marshall Faircloth, the board chairman. Evans has expressed serious reservations about the History Center.

But we believe the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center has much to say and, when properly presented, will convince most skeptics willing to keep an open mind. It’s bold. It seeks to tell a compelling story of all North Carolinians living during the period just prior to the war, during the conflict and then in the aftermath. Judging by its diverse bench of prominent scholars, it will be the exact opposite of the rehashing of Rebel glories that is too often depicted below the Mason-Dixon Line. The center’s digital curriculum would revolutionize the way the war and Reconstruction is taught in K-12 education in North Carolina, giving more schoolchildren a stake in events that continue to shape the state and nation into the present day.

In a prepared statement Mac Healy, chairman of the History Center’s nonprofit foundation, expressed support for Richardson and Colvin’s plan, which also calls for a local delegation to visit three successful museum sites around the country that have similar content. Richardson said he specifically wanted critics to be part of the tours and make suggestions for the History Center.

In 2016, both the City Council and Cumberland County Board of Commissioners passed resolutions in support of the center and pledging $7.5 million. The city has since indicated it may want to do a re-vote.

But if the “all-hands-on-deck” feel of the press conference can be extended into further discussions over the Civil War center, we believe the council will again vote to back the center.

Faircloth said the county had not withdrawn support of the plan and would follow the city and state’s lead, if those two entities were “all in.”

Colvin said of the center’s future prospects: “I’m favorable about it. I know there are several members of the community who are willing to have their voices and their opinions heard, and the fact that you have major funding partners represented in this room today, I think makes it more credible.”

It certainly does.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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Dec. 16

StarNews (Wilmington) on a new statute with North Carolina’s “move-over” law:

It’s dangerous enough on the road as it is. Now imagine you are a law enforcement officer, emergency responder, wrecker driver or utility crew working along the shoulder of the road.

Thousands of steel and metal objects hurling along at high speeds in often-crowded spaces, sometimes in the dark, sometimes in the rain and snow or even on ice. Oh, and by the way: they’re all carrying people.

That’s more or less what’s happening when we hit the roads in our automobiles. In 2017, more than 1,400 people died in crashes in North Carolina and many more were injured.

It’s dangerous enough on the road as it is. Now imagine you are a law enforcement officer, emergency responder, wrecker driver or utility crew working along the shoulder of the road. Their vehicles are especially vulnerable to that mass of steel zooming by. When they step out, they’re pretty much defenseless targets.

Common sense (and common decency) says slow down and take extra caution when driving past such sites. North Carolina law now says the same thing. It’s commonly known as the “move-over” law, and requires motorists to shift over one lane, or slow down (if shifting lanes isn’t possible) when passing emergency and other public service vehicles that are stopped within 12 feet of a roadway and giving a warning sign.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many people regularly violating the law or laying down on the horn when a driver ahead of them is obeying it. The penalties for violating the law, however, were not very harsh, especially considering the harm that could be inflicted by a careless driver (which seems to be about half the drivers out there). Fines ranged from $250 to $500.

There was an obvious need to give the law some teeth, and a new statute (which took effect Dec. 1) says that a person who violates the law and causes serious injury or death to a person working at such a site is guilty of a Class F felony, which can carry up to 59 months in prison. Violators may also have their driver’s license suspended for up to six months.

Though we hope the increased punishment gets more people to obey the law, considerate and cautious driving should always be a rule of the road.

We also should recognize the toll our actions can take on others. Think of Leah Quick, who pushed for stiffer penalties after her husband, Lumberton Police Officer Jason Quick, was struck and killed by a passing vehicle Dec. 15, 2018, while out of his patrol car investigating an accident. He was 31. The updated “move over law” is officially known as the Officer Jason Quick Act.

So when you see flashing lights, slow down and think of Jason Quick; think of Leah Quick. And think of the two young children she’s now raising on her own.

Online: https://www.starnewsonline.com/

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Dec. 15

The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer on state spending for public education:

For the past several years, Republican state lawmakers have made two counterintuitive claims. They have taken credit for cutting taxes, but also said they’ve been big spenders on public schools, increasing teacher pay and overall state funding for K-12 education.

Now a comprehensive new report on North Carolina’s public schools reveals what most teachers, principals, administrators and school board members already knew: State spending has been far short of the need and the quality of public education is declining.

That’s the finding of the report from WestEd, an independent consultant hired at the request of Superior Court Judge David Lee. Lee is overseeing the state’s compliance with the state Supreme Court’s 1997 Leandro decision, which found that the state Constitution requires every school-age child have access to a “sound, basic education.” Lee took over the case when Judge Howard Manning retired after years of exhorting the state to come into compliance.

Meeting that mandate has been elusive, but the report says progress was made in the form of more funding and improved student scores the 1990s and early 2000s. But the state has lost ground during the past decade. Republican lawmakers have pushed tax cuts and let the public schools slide.

“As North Carolina educators prepare for the 2019–20 school year, the state is further away from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with the opportunity for a sound, basic education than it was when the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued the Leandro decision more than 20 years ago,” the report said.

The report puts a number on what it will take to adequately fund schools in low-income areas, bring most North Carolina students up to proficiency in reading and math and expand pre-K education: $8 billion more over the next eight years. That’s a big number, but it’s far smaller than what state tax cuts are costing: $3.5 billion a year.

Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education, said in a statement: “The WestEd Report tells us that considerable work must be done – and done soon – for the State to meet the promise of our Constitution for all North Carolina students. The State Board shares this sense of urgency and recognizes our constitutional duty to ensure access to a ‘sound, basic education.’ ”

That urgency isn’t shared by state Senate leader Phil Berger, whose answer to declining public schools is to provide tuition vouchers for private schools. In Republicans’ view, Democrats overspent in the years leading up the recession, and better public schools are not a matter of money.”

“Money doesn’t buy outcomes,” Berger spokesman Pat Ryan said in a statement. “New York spends more per student than any state in the country – two-and-a-half times as much as North Carolina – and their scores are still lower than North Carolina’s.”

Studies and North Carolina’s own experience have shown that more money does improve outcomes. But the money must be well allocated to reach schools in counties that lack the tax base to spend much beyond what the state provides. The WestEd report calls for a change in the state’s allocation formula to target low-performing schools. It also calls for better pay for teachers and principals and more school support staff.

North Carolina has known for a long time what’s needed to improve public schools. In the 1990s through the mid-2000s it made real progress in improving teacher pay and students scores. The cuts required by the Great Recession broke that progress and a Republican fixation on tax cuts has left that austerity in place.

The WestEd report offers a detailed and ambitious map for moving forward again. For now, Republican lawmakers may use the 300-page document as a doorstop, but it will still be there after the 2020 election. After that, providing all North Carolina’s children access to a sound, basic education may once again be the top priority of the General Assembly.

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

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