Thursday, March 31, 2011

GOP convention in N.C., too?

What better way to offset any gain Democrats get in North Carolina by having their convention in Charlotte than to have the Republican convention in the Tar Heel state too?

South Carolina's Republican chairwoman is suggesting exactly that today. Karen Floyd sent a letter to national party leaders saying the GOP's convention planned for Tampa should be moved out of Florida if that state doesn't back down from its current plan to hold its primary on Jan. 31, 2012, which would put it ahead of South Carolina and other traditional early states. Floyd suggests a few places Republicans should consider for their new convention site, including North Carolina. It's a battleground state, she says, and Democrats could get a boost here from their Charlotte convention.

We love the idea, and North Carolinians of all political stripes should too. But don't hold your breath. The chances of the GOP moving its convention from Tampa are almost nil. Floyd is just maneuvering to try to put pressure on Florida to back its primary date up and keep South Carolina's early-state stature.

Republican rules would require that. But it sure makes sense to have Florida vote early. A candidate who performs strongly in Florida is more intriguing than one who can just woo folks in Iowa or New Hampshire.

-- Posted by the Observer's editorial board

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Poll: 'No' to private school vouchers, public school cuts

A new NC Policy Watch poll finds N.C. voters favoring no cuts to public education funding, opposing private school vouchers and skeptical of legislative moves to exempt charter schools from oversight. The poll was released at a Crucial Conversation lunch hosted Wednesday by NC Policy Watch reveals. Among the findings from those polled:

  • Most (56 percent) oppose taxpayer-funded vouchers for parents to send their children to public schools (39 percent favored).

  • Most (66 percent) favored maintaining tax revenue at current levels to avoid cuts in public education.

  • Most (55 percent) supported maintain revenue for Smart Start and More at Four, the state's early child education programs.

  • Most (52 percent) said charter schools receiving public funding should be required to provide free and reduced price lunches like traditional public schools (38 percent opposesd).

  • Most (64 percent) said charter schools should be required to hire certified teachers (28 percent opposed).

  • The public was spit on requiring charter schools to provide transportation (48-45).

  • The poll was done from March 21 to 23, and surveyed nearly 700 registered voters throughout North Carolina regarding their attitudes on some of the high-profile issues currently before the General Assembly – including charter schools, the requirements placed upon them, and governance issues. The poll also gauged the opinions of voters on proposed cuts to education, preservation of current state taxes and the participation of non-public school students on public school athletic teams. Full results of the poll are available online at:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Benghazi to Charlotte: Are we world-class now?

Were you paying attention to President Barack Obama's Libya speech Monday night? Really? If so, you got to hear this: "At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gadhafi declared that he would show 'no mercy' to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi - a city nearly the size of Charlotte - could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world." That's right. Tucked down in that speech, Obama mentioned the Queen City! And without N.C. attached to it. World-class, here we come!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Duke study: N.C. preschool programs pay off

The nonpartisan Public School Forum of North Carolina pointed our way to a new Duke University study on the value of early childhood programs. The study released March 16 proclaims that "N.C. Investments in Early Childhood Programs Pay Off."

This information comes as N.C. lawmakers consider big cuts to both the state's early childhood programs, More at Four and Smart Start.

According to Duke researchers in a press release, "North Carolina third-graders have higher standardized reading and math scores and lower special education placement rates in those counties that had received more funding for Smart Start and More at Four when those children were younger.

"These findings provide the most rigorous evidence yet that investments in these early childhood initiatives generate substantial benefits for all the children in the counties that receive these funds, even children who were never enrolled in the early childhood programs," said Helen Ladd, the Edgar T. Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and a professor of economics at Duke.

The release said that "for an average third-grade child whose community had received Smart Start or More at Four funding, the expected savings in special education and instructional costs is at least equal to the cost of those programs, researchers said.

"By the time the children grow up, we expect the investment will have yielded large payoffs in lower special education and remedial costs," said Kenneth Dodge, the William McDougall Professor of Public Policy and director of Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy.

Smart Start provides state funds for high-quality child care and services for health, cognitive and social development from birth to age five. It was initiated in 1993 in pilot counties and then expanded statewide by 1999.

More at Four provides funds for high-quality preschool for at-risk four-year-olds. It was first implemented in 2001 in pilot counties and then expanded statewide by 2004. More at Four spending has averaged about $1,250 for every four-year-old child in a county, and Smart Start spending has averaged about $250 per child per year for children ages 0 to 5.

For additional information and to access the full report, click here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gadhafi loyalists release ex-N.C. photographer

You might be unaware of this North Carolina connection to the conflict in Libya. A former Wilmington Star News photographer, Tyler Hicks, was among the four New York Times journalists "detained" by Libyan forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. They were held captive for six days and released today (Monday), according to the Times.

The three others were Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid, Beirut bureau chief; Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2009 and rescued by British commandos; and photographer Lynsey Addario.

Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, said in an ABC News interview with Christiane Amanpour on Friday that the four had entered the country illegally and were arrested in the city of Ajdabiya.

Hicks left the StarNews about 12 years ago to cover war-torn and disaster-hit sites around the world. In 2002 Hicks was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, along with James Hill, also with The New York Times, for images from the war in Afghanistan. In 2009, he was among Times staff members who won a Pulitzer for covering the U.S.’s challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a message to the Times staff today, executive editor Bill Keller wrote: "We're overjoyed to report that our four journalists missing in Libya since Tuesday morning are free and have arrived safely in Tunisia."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Budget deficit? Yawn. Let's make money!

First-term N.C. Rep. Glen Bradley apparently doesn't think the General Assembly has enough work to do. Tackling that $2.4 billion budget deficit, and strategizing to save teachers' jobs and protect other essential services must not be weighing on his mind that much. He's got time to focus his energy, and the energies of others on a bill to develop a plan for an alternative state currency.

That's right. The GOP lawmaker warns that the federal dollars in your wallet could soon be little more than green paper backed by broken promises, so North Carolina should have a plan to issue its own legal tender backed by silver and gold. His bill would set up a study committee with 14 members to consider alternative state currency "in the event of a major breakdown of the Federal Reserve System."

Lest you think Bradley is wacko (an N.C. State economics professor called it outlandish) for giving this matter so much time and attention, he joins lawmakers in at least six other states - Virginia, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire and South Carolina - who've introduced or plan to introduce such legislation. And yes, states can actually do this as long as officials don't coin actual money. Local alternative currencies are already used in some U.S. cities, i.e. Berkshires, Mass., has the BerkShare, Ithaca, N.Y., has the Ithaca Hour and here in North Carolina, Pittsboro reportedly has the Plenty. Who knew?

Still, small cities using bartering scrip for small transactions is a whole lot different from whole states setting up alternative state currency systems. That would be a much more complex matter requiring a lot of financial expertise, we'd think. So far, the General Assembly hasn't shown that much expertise in handling the legal tender we use now. We'd prefer they spend more concentrated time on that before they try to figure out an alternative.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Perdue's budget - good and bad, says group

The N.C. Justice Center's Budget and Tax Center weighed in on Gov. Bev Perdue's budget this morning, and gives the governor good marks for "avoiding deep personnel cuts in education and health and human services" (report from the NC Budget & Tax Center finds). But the group pans the budget plan for costing thousands of jobs while backing an ill-advised corporate tax cut.

Calling their assessment "comprehensive and balanced," the group said that “several key recommendations of this budget deserve praise,” particularly the governor’s "appropriate and fiscally sound use of one-time savings to reestablish the Mental Health Trust Fund ($75 million) and replenish the Rainy Day Fund ($150 million)."

The group said the state sales tax "remains a disproportionate burden to low-income North Carolinians, [but] the governor’s decision to extend the current state sales tax at 5.5 percent also provides the boost in revenues needed to sustain key state services and avoid even deeper cuts in education and health and human services.”

The report knocked the Perdue’s corporate tax cut proposal and widespread elimination of jobs.
“Corporate tax cuts are unlikely to spur significant job growth,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, BTC director and one of the report’s authors.

Perdue’s budget also eliminates up to 5,800 state positions – some vacant and some filled – as well as cuts funding to local governments that could result in the elimination of as many as 4,100 non-teacher positions in North Carolina public schools. That's not good, the group said.