June 28, 2018/Press

Newspapers: NC GOP Constitutional Amendments Put Partisan Politics Before Public Schools

Raleigh – Republicans have repeatedly shown that their priorities lie with desperately trying to hold onto their supermajorities and not with our students, teachers, and public schools, editorial boards and columnists around the state agree. Republicans are pushing vague and undefined changes to our state constitution that make it harder to vote, handcuff future generations ability to invest in public schools, and undermine the balance of powers all because they’re afraid of losing this November. North Carolina needs to vote down these constitutional amendments and break the supermajority to bring new legislators to Raleigh who put schools before power.

News & Observer: Don’t worry. As school buildings crumble, our kids will get 6 constitutional amendments!
By the Editorial Board
June 27, 2018

What a strange time it is in our legislature. Anger, acrimony and accusations abound. It seems as if there are no significant issues on which Republicans and Democrats could work together.

But there are — plenty of them. Among them is improving the poor condition of K-12 school buildings across the state. Compounding that challenge is the legislature’s mandate for smaller classes, which increases the pressure to add classrooms.

Legislators from both parties recognize this problem. Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican leader on education issues, told teacher (and columnist) Justin Parmenter: “We have many school buildings that simply cannot support or even allow for modern teaching techniques or the application of much-needed technology. They are cramped, in need of basic repairs to walls, roofs and floors. Sanitation and even infestation is a constant challenge. These conditions severely impact both student and teacher.”

The state Department of Public Instruction compiled a list of projects totaling $8.1 billion. That led to a legislative proposal to ask voters in November for their approval to borrow $1.9 billion for school upgrades. Voters last approved statewide school bonds in 1996.

The proposal initially met with broad support, The News & Observer’s T. Keung Hui reported recently. Legislation calling for a November 2018 school bond referendum had both Republican and Democratic sponsors when it was filed in spring 2017.

This is a measure that could have made our schools better places to learn. It also could have been the rare piece of major legislation supported by a substantial number of Republicans and Democrats. It could have shown that lawmakers are capable of setting aside differences and of working together to solve our biggest problems.

But it’s not going to happen. The legislature’s Republican leaders decided against it.

As for that mandate to lower class sizes, school boards and county commissions are on their own to figure that out. Trailers, anyone?

Poor Craig Horn. He hasn’t received the memo. He keeps trying to build consensus and solve problems (imagine that!) but his hyper-partisan legislative leadership team won’t let him.

Instead, Republicans are going to ram six proposed constitutional amendments through in this last week of the short session. Six!

Bad process leads to bad policy, and this is a constitutional train wreck waiting to happen. Any attempt to amend the state Constitution should be deliberate. In the last 20 years, the legislature has taken seven constitutional amendments to voters. These legislative leaders are rushing through two decades’ worth of proposed amendments in one week.

This is the same leadership team that embarrassed itself last month by approving a revised 2018-19 budget without allowing for amendments in committee or on the floor. The revised budget was assembled behind closed doors and then presented for an up-or-down vote. This was the first time in the state’s modern history such an approach was used. Even the Republican leadership’s typical allies, such as the conservative Civitas Institute, called them out for that.

Rank-and-file Republicans know they shouldn’t operate this way. When they were in the minority, Republicans said if they ran the place, they’d be open and inclusive. But their leaders have, once again, let them — and the state — down. Meanwhile, real problems fester.

Read the full editorial here.

News & Observer: We need to upgrade our school buildings. The legislature blew it.
By Justin Parmenter
June 26, 2018

When the General Assembly’s short session began last month, proponents of public education were eagerly waiting for lawmakers to take up a proposed $1.9 billion school bond for inclusion on November’s general election ballot. The bond was the result of a broad grassroots effort which mobilized after the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s 2015-16 Statewide Facility Needs Survey identified $8.1 billion in capital needs. It also followed the subsequent passage of a class size mandate which will soon require many additional classrooms across the state but provides no funding for those classrooms.

State legislators openly acknowledge the desperate condition of North Carolina’s schools. As Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, told me, “We have many school buildings that simply cannot support or even allow for modern teaching techniques or the application of much-needed technology. They are cramped, in need of basic repairs to walls, roofs and floors. Sanitation and even infestation is a constant challenge. These conditions severely impact both student and teacher.”

Despite rank-and-file support in both parties and in both chambers, the Public School Building Bond Act of 2017 was rejected by a powerful gatekeeper. Sen. Phil Berger’s move to block the public from determining whether it’s in our children’s best interest to relieve overcrowding and renovate crumbling schoolhouses is just the latest example of our state distancing itself from its constitutional duty to ‘guard and maintain’ public education and requiring counties to carry more of the burden for funding it.

Though the school bond has been derailed, a constitutional amendment to cap the state income tax rate at 5.5 percent, which is supported by the Koch Brothers’ advocacy group, looks likely to be added to the November ballot. If the measure passes, any efforts to increase school funding in the future likely will rely chiefly on sales tax increases, which disproportionately impact low-income taxpayers.

Other constitutional amendments proposed by GOP lawmakers appear to be a bald-faced attempt to drive conservative voters to the polls and stave off a looming threat to the Republican super-majority. Berger himself faces a challenge by former 3rd grade teacher and current UNC-Greensboro professor Jen Mangrum.

One measure would require photo ID of N.C. voters, despite last year’s State Board of Elections finding that only one out of nearly five million votes cast in the 2016 general election would have been prevented by such a law. Another would “forever preserve” the rights of N.C. residents to hunt and fish, but actually would change nothing in the law. On the other hand, public education propositions bring Democratic voters to the polls, and that’s very likely one reason the bond was ultimately denied.

The rejected school bond is a missed opportunity for lawmakers to serve those constituents by simply allowing them to decide whether their own tax dollars should be used to provide the facilities needed for a 21st century education.

Justin Parmenter is a language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte.

Read the full column here.

Greenville Daily Reflector: Business leaders should stand against tax cap
By the Editorial Board
June 28, 2018

Those who run North Carolina’s largest and most successful businesses know they need flexibility to deal with an uncertain future. Placing artificial limits on revenue sources is bad business, irresponsible and poor management.

The results of the N.C. Chamber’s going AWOL are significant: under-funding public schools; failing to expand Medicaid to more than a half-million citizens without health coverage; missing opportunities to narrow the state’s growing rural-urban divide; attacking the independence and integrity of the state’s judicial system; neglecting the environment, diminishing concern for the quality of life; exploiting LGBT citizens; ignoring public safety needs.

BEST NC (Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina) was formed out of the Chamber’s lack of focus on public education. Amid its silence: public education funding is threatened as cities are allowed to create and fund their own charter schools; federal money meant to boost early childhood education is shifted to other needs; increased security for public schools is neglected; much needed money for additional school nurses, counselors and psychologists isn’t available; teacher and school administrator pay lags; and there continues to be an unconscionable lack of transparency and accountability for a private school voucher program that allows money to go to schools that discriminate in admissions.

Make no mistake this amendment will harm the state’s financial health — including public education — in the future.

It is time to get some backbone and take a stand. Our state needs your leadership.

Tell the General Assembly the proposed State Constitutional amendment is unnecessary, wrong, bad business and will hurt North Carolina’s future.

Tell legislators if they persist in passing it, your organizations will vigorously campaign against it in the fall election.

Read the full editorial here.

WRAL: Voters need to reject rushed, fatally-flawed Constitutional amendments
By the Editorial Board
June 28, 2018

The people of North Carolina have learned very little about what is really in the unprecedented bundle of proposed amendments to the State Constitution.

It’s not their fault.

The little that is known gives every voter good reason to oppose these amendments and reject each one when they go to the polls in November.

The fatal flaws are significant and strike at the fundamentals our Constitution is supposed to uphold.

  • The amendments were concocted in secret.
  • There’s been too little time for public examination, distribution of information and debate of changes that carry such permanence.
  • Amendment advocates have been deceitful and dishonest.
  • The Constitution is not a playground for partisan manipulation.

These amendments have worked their way through the legislative process in a flash–less than 14 days. None of these involve ANY emergency. There is no indication from anyone that there would be ANY immediate harm if these amendments just disappeared.

At times, it was difficult to listen to legislators’ disingenuous and dismissive explanations of the amendments. For example, one amendment will ask voters: “FOR (or) AGAINST: Constitutional amendment to establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and election laws, to clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and the Judicial Branches, and to prohibit legislators from serving on boards and commissions exercising executive or judicial authority.”

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee, said it was just a little clarification of the powers and duties of the governor, legislature and courts.

In reality, the fine print of the bill – that the voters do not see – says: “The legislative powers of the State government shall control the powers, duties, responsibilities, appointments and terms of office of any board or commission prescribed by general law.” Those 27 words take away he governor’s appointment powers, an outrageous idea that deletes one of the key checks-and-balances in state government. Why not just abolish the office of governor?

More than anything, this raft of constitutional amendments along with other laws being shoved through the legislature, seem to be acts of partisan desperation.

Although the state has been severely gerrymandered and election laws rigged to keep Republicans in power, there is a ground swell of speculation that many Republican incumbents could lose their seats this November.

Vote against all of the amendments and the legislators who pushed them.

November can’t come soon enough.

Read the full editorial here.

Charlotte Observer: First the legislature proposed a blatant power grab. Now it wants a hidden one, too.
By the Editorial Board
June 27, 2018

Raleigh was buzzing Tuesday over a proposal that would overhaul the state Board of Elections. Almost lost in the debate was a separate provision in the bill that eviscerates the balance of powers enshrined in North Carolina’s constitution since 1776.

For 242 years, Article I, Section 6 of the constitution has declared that “the legislative, executive and supreme judicial powers of the State government shall be forever separate and distinct from each other.”

That bedrock survived multiple rewrites of the constitution over the centuries. Now the legislature is poised to erase that separation of powers with one swift kick.

In other words, the legislature has all the power; the governor has none. It would effectively eliminate the separation of powers North Carolina has observed since the state’s founding. It would also make it impossible for the governor to carry out another requirement put upon him by the constitution: to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” He can do so only through the people he appoints to execute them.

The public’s opposition to this should not be grounded in partisan concerns. This amendment will stand in perpetuity, while the parties controlling the executive and legislative branches will come and go. Rather, opposition should stem from the essentiality of checks and balances.

It’s all part of a larger cynical strategy: Put a half-dozen constitutional amendments on the November ballot to gin up Republican turnout and stem the losses they expect to incur in a Democratic-friendly election. If it causes great damage to the state, so be it, they think; at least it preserves their power for a little long.

Read the full editorial here.