January 8, 2018/Press

Special Session Focused on Judiciary Changes – Not Class-Size Fix – Reveals GOP’s Wrong Priorities

Raleigh – The General Assembly returns for a special session this week to continue to debate plans to insert legislative control into the judiciary and rig our courts. Noticeably absent from their schedule is a fix to their unfunded class-size mandate that’s causing chaos and forcing school districts to make deep cuts to public education. Republicans are revealing that they’d rather rig the system to grab power instead of helping our public students and teachers.

The judiciary changes – specifically, the “purple plan” – amount to a legislative power grab and “merely puts window dressing” on legislative control over the judiciary, according to independent expert Douglas Keith of the Brennan Center for Justice:

“The even larger problem with the Purple Plan is that it appears to merely put window dressing on a legislative appointment system. And by giving the legislature all of this power, this plan opens itself up to all of the problems South Carolina and Virginia have seen with their legislative appointment systems: nepotism, self-appointment, judicial applicants and their allies lobbying legislators, etc.”

“The purple plan presents a twist I haven’t seen before, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that the legislature is still proposing to give itself nearly all of the power when it comes to judicial appointments.” [NC Policy Watch, 1/4/17]

Meanwhile, school districts across the state are facing steep cuts and drastic changes – including eliminating art, music, and physical education courses – to abide by the General Assembly’s unfunded mandate to reduce class size:

Local school districts are still waiting for the $293 million needed to avoid the slashing of arts and physical education programs that may be required to adhere to the unfunded mandate.” [News & Observer, 12/26/17]

“In Wake, school leaders say the changes will require them to find space for the equivalent of 559 classrooms and 9,200 students.” [News & Observer, 12/26/17]

“In [Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools] alone, the estimated cost for 353 more K-3 teachers is $23 million – money that has to either be added to the 2018-19 budget or shifted from somewhere else, such as eliminating other teacher jobs.” [Charlotte Observer, 1/4/18]

The move could lead to packing kids into trailers and reassigning teachers:

“Instead, [Superintendent Clayton Wilcox] said, the most likely response is to pack more kids into fourth- and fifth-grade classes, buy trailers to expand school capacity and reassign teachers, possibly including some who are now working in middle or high schools.” [Charlotte Observer, 1/4/18]

Yet Republicans have signaled they won’t fix this issue in this week’s special session:

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union): “We’re going to resolve this, (but) probably not in January.” [Charlotte Observer, 1/4/18]

Educators agree: the General Assembly needs to fix this unfunded mandate now before they do lasting, serious damage to our schools and teacher employment:

School board member Bill Fletcher: “So whatever decision the legislature makes, now is the time to make it, because recruiting another 400 teachers between now and July who don’t know we have positions available is really an issue.” [News & Observer, 12/26/17]

“[Superintendent Clayton Wilcox] said a quick decision is crucial because CMS is preparing its 2018-19 budget, which must be presented to county officials by May 15.” [Charlotte Observer, 1/4/18]

“This week’s special session reveals exactly what motivates our Republican legislators: how to rig the system to get more power, not how to best serve the interests of our state and our public schools,” NCDP Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds said. “Republicans must drop their attempts to politicize and control our independent judiciary and instead fix the chaos they forced onto our schools and teachers.”