Editorial: Fair representation and accountability for private education dollars are top legislative priorities
Posted January 11
A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017; Editorial# 8109
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
As the North Carolina General Assembly convenes today, two high profile news items point out priority issues that legislators must address quickly.
- A court order to fix the state’s gerrymandered legislative districts and conduct new elections was put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court.
- 40 percent of the graduates of the Kestrel Heights charter school in Durham didn’t earn the diplomas they received.
DRAW NEW, FAIR DISTRICTS NOW, IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO
While the Supreme Court put on hold the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the state’ gerrymandered legislative districts are racially segregated, must be redrawn and new elections held this year -- that doesn’t mean everything’s OK.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland – both lawyers – are wrong in their conclusion that the high court has “quashed” and “rejected” the appeals ruling.
In fact the court’s action is merely a temporary stop to imposition of the Appeals Court order. The eight Supreme Court justices will consider whether to take up the case during their Jan. 19 conference. Most important -- the court has not yet made any determination concerning the merits of the case.
It doesn’t take Solomon to conclude the legislative districts are unfairly drawn. Because of it, North Carolinians don’t have a truly representative government.
In the 2016 elections for the state House of Representatives, 52 percent of the votes went to Republicans and 48 percent to Democrats – which in fairly drawn districts should mean Republicans get 62 seats and Democrats 58. Yet, because of the gerrymandering, Republicans won 74 seats to the Democrats 46.
In the Senate, 55 percent of the votes went to GOP candidates while Democrats received 45 percent. But gerrymandering gave Republicans 35 seats instead of 28, while Democrats won just 15 seats instead of 22.
Regardless of what the court does, the current legislative districts deny North Carolinians fair representation and need to be fixed. The legislature, on its own, can and should fix this.
It should create a non-partisan panel to draw fair district maps this legislative session and establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission to handle the required development of new congressional and legislative districts every 10 years.
WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY, CHARTER SCHOOL AND VOUCHER ISSUES WILL BECOME A CRISIS
It is almost beyond comprehension that, from 2008 to 2016, a taxpayer-supported school in North Carolina could issue 40 percent of its diplomas to students who didn’t meet the most basic requirements to graduate.
But that is what happened at Kestrel Heights charter school in Durham. Charter schools in North Carolina are funded by taxpayers, just like typical public schools, but they are exempt from many of the typical rules and regulations and don’t have the same oversight.
The alarming situation at Kestrel should be a loud warning to state leaders. The lax oversight of the state’s 167 charter schools just begs for more problems. Similarly, the lack of transparency and accountability in the state’s taxpayer-funded private school voucher program is an invitation to abuse.
Students, parents and communities deserve assurances that students who get diplomas have earned them – no matter what schools they attend. Taxpayers need to be assured that their dollars are used to provide the quality education North Carolina’s Constitution requires.
Fair representation and elections; accountability and transparency in spending tax dollars, particularly for education -- these basics are must-do items for the 2017 legislative session.