Friday, October 30, 2009

Lassiter getting a bounce from McCrory's coattails

A new poll shows Republican John Lassiter is being helped in his bid for mayor against Democrat Anthony Foxx by current Mayor Pat McCrory's popularity across party lines.

Here is the take from Tom Jensen, an analyst with Public Policy Polling in Raleigh:

Charlotte's a Democratic city but John Lassiter is hanging in there and one person he really owes for that is Pat McCrory.
Last year George W. Bush was an anchor on Republican candidates across the country as he left office but McCrory's continuing popularity seems to be helping Lassiter secure the crossover support from Democrats and independents that he needs to be competitive. McCrory's approval rating is 60%. For the occasional grumbling from the right over the years he has the support of 85% of Republicans. His 69% approval with independents is one of the best we've measured for any politician in the country this year and even Democrats are pretty evenly divided with 37% giving him good marks to 44% disapproving.
Let's put Lassiter's Democratic support in perspective- only 14% are voting for him but that's still a lot better than the 6% of Republicans Foxx is getting. 80% of the Democrats who support Lassiter approve of the job McCrory's doing. That speaks to the fact that McCrory has shown a moderate Republican can be a reasonable Mayor, even across party lines, and there is at least some segment of the Democratic electorate that's content to keep on that way.
79% of the independents who think McCrory's doing a good job are voting for Lassiter. Only 42% of the rest are. It's safe to say Lassiter's 20 point lead with that group would be considerably more narrow if not for McCrory's popularity with them.
Let me put it simply: if Pat McCrory's approval rating was only 50%, still well above average for politicians these days and particularly in North Carolina, this race would be over. The only question would be Foxx's winning margin. But with him at 60%, this contest is a dog fight. In this tossup there's not much doubt Pat McCrory is John Lassiter's best friend.

This analysis is also available on PPP's blog.

-- Posted by Jack Betts and Taylor Batten

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More teacher cuts nationwide next year?

Still angry at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for cutting teachers and popular programs this recession year? Well, CMS wasn't alone. A nationwide study released this week shows hundreds of school districts did the same thing - and will likely have to make cuts next school year too.

The report from the American Association of School Administrators called “One Year Later: How the Economic Downturn Continues to Impact School Districts,” shows that even federal stimulus funds couldn't stop the layoffs and cuts. The report says data suggests that's because states engaged in a "shell game" where state budgets were cut after it was known what stimulus money was included for education. So the federal money was used to fill holes, not provide additional money after cuts were made.

A survey of 875 school administrators conducted in September and October 2009 showed districts in every part of the nation were forced to make cuts that directly affected student learning. Among the highlights of the survey:

- Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents reported having to eliminate personnel positions for the 2009-10 school year, and 83 percent anticipate having to eliminate further positions in 2010-11.

- Stimulus funds allowed districts to save some of teacher positions slated for elimination, but many still had to make cuts. One-quarter (26 percent) of respondents were able to save all of the core-subject teaching positions slated for elimination in their district. One-third (33 percent) were able to save some. Another third (35 percent) were unable to save any of those core-subject teaching positions.

- The percentage of districts increasing class size, eliminating field trips and cutting bus transportation routes increased from 2008-09 to 2010-11.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Foxx-Lassiter race is close, two new polls show

A week before Election Day, the race for Charlotte mayor is all tied, according to two new polls.
Republican John Lassiter and Democrat Anthony Foxx are tied at 45-45, according to a poll from Public Policy Polling in Raleigh. A poll from Cornerstone Solutions shows Lassiter with a 42-37 lead, but that is within the margin of error, meaning the poll shows "essentially a dead heat," said Chris Sinclair, a partner with Cornerstone.
The PPP poll broke down largely along racial lines. White voters back Lassiter 63-29 while Foxx leads among black voters 80-9. That suggests that the outcome could hinge on turnout, particularly the racial breakdown of people who go to the polls.
"If excitement about the possibility of the city having its first black Mayor since the 80s results in African Americans turning out at a higher rate than whites Foxx will win. But black turnout has tended to lag in local elections and if that turns out to be the case Lassiter is the likely winner," PPP's Tom Jensen says on his organization's blog.
PPP has done work for Democratic candidates, but was not hired by the Foxx campaign and has had one of the better track records among polling organizations over at least the past year.
A lot more information and analysis is available at PPP's blog.
Cornerstone, a GOP-leaning firm in Raleigh, has not been hired by either campaign either. Its poll showed Lassiter winning about 25 percent of likely black voters. More on that poll is available here.
Posted by Taylor Batten

Friday, October 2, 2009

Triage for high school 'dropout factories'

The nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education called this week for policymakers to do "legislative triage" on low-performing schools they dub dropout factories. Those are schools that represent slightly more than 10 percent of the nation's high schools, yet they produce more than half of the nation's dropouts, the Alliance said.

In a brief released Thursday, the Alliance said data from Johns Hopkins University and calculations by the Alliance show there are 79 dropout factories in North Carolina alone, representing 21.2 percent of high schools and educating 20.1 percent of high school students. With the nation in the midst of a dropout crisis that costs more than $335 billion in lost wages for each class of dropouts nationwide, the Alliance says lawmakers must devote attention to the lowest-performing high schools and immediately improve or replace the most severely “injured” schools.

“When emergency medical personnel arrive at an accident scene, they immediately deliver treatment to the most severely injured, said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Similarly, the nation must focus its attention on the lowest-performing schools with the largest number of ‘victims’ in the national dropout crisis. The fact that these schools are so widespread and contribute so greatly to the national dropout crisis dictates making them an essential focus of any federal effort to improve the graduation rate.”

Contrary to a common misconception, not all dropout factories are located in urban areas - half are located outside of city limits in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas. There are nearly 2,000 dropout factories in the United States, which educate 15.7 percent of all high school students. The brief, Prioritizing the Nation’s Dropout Factories: The Need for Federal Policy That Targets the Lowest-Performing High Schools, calls on federal lawmakers to take every available opportunity to address this issue. It specifically cites three upcoming opportunities to address this national problem:

1) The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Federal policymakers should distribute stimulus funds in a way that would enable and support states’ and districts’ efforts to address schools with abysmally low graduation rates;
2) The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Federal policymakers should make reauthorizing ESEA a priority and ensure that it targets needed resources and attention towards the improvement of dropout factories in a way that the current version does not; and
3) The Budget and Appropriations Process: Federal policymakers should ensure a steady and significant stream of federal funding that is targeted towards improving these schools

Census: N.C. household income takes a hit

It's bad enough that the recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans nationwide, according to Census data released this week. But the nonprofit N.C. Public School Forum gleaned these additional troubling N.C. tidbits from the info:

"Median household income in North Carolina has declined more than $3,500 over the past eight years, according to newly released census figures. The data also indicate the percentage of households below the poverty line increased by 2.3 percent during that period. The Office of Management and Budget defines the poverty threshold based on the Consumer Price Index.

"In 2008, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four was $22,025; for a family of three, $17,163; for a family of two, $14,051; and for unrelated individuals, $10,991. More than 12 percent of North Carolina residents are living in poverty, the figures show.

"The U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey includes social, housing demographic and select economic data collected throughout 2008 for areas with populations of 65,000 or more. The median household income statewide in 2008 was $46,549, down from $50,155 in 2000. Both figures are in 2008 dollars."