Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Category: Education (page 1 of 2)

NC GOP are outlaws, podna

Daily Planet, 9/2014

November 2, 2010– the day the voters of North Carolina turned the town over to outlaws.

Of course nobody knew they were outlaws on Election Day. We didn’t find that out until they took power.

And then we knew. Oh, did we. The outlaws tossed aside their cloaks, and their eyes took on a tell-tale greedy glint.

Very soon after they gained power, the outlaws made certain that they wouldn’t lose power. They didn’t ban elections. They drew boundaries of legislative districts so that a majority of Republicans would win easily. So in most of the state’s districts, the outcome of the election would never be in doubt. Voters would feel they did their democratic duty by voting, but their votes would be meaningless.

Then they went to work on the election process itself. Outlaws tend to scoff at elections. For decades, Democrats had made voting more accessible, so more citizens could vote.   Republicans reversed all that and added more obstacles to voting by seniors and minorities (who vote Democratic).

Interesting how a person reveals his character when he gets power. Republicans showed greed and arrogance.

For decades the minority Republicans – not yet outlaws – had begged Democrats for more power-sharing in state government. But when they got power themselves, sharing wasn’t on their minds.

They came with far-reaching legislation that changed the lives of all North Carolinians, from schools to tax structure, and they did it with no proper debate or deliberation. Laws whooshed through the General Assembly, often with inadequate time for reading, sometimes in the middle of the night.

They were advised, over and over, “You can’t do that. It’s unconstitutional.” To which they replied, “Didn’t you see the results of the election?”  Verbatim Tom Tillis quote. (Interpreted into Outlaw language: “Constitution? We don’t care ‘bout no stinkin’ Constitution.”)

In fact, they couldn’t do that, not lf they wanted to live by the state Constitution. But that’s the way of an outlaw, isn’t it? They work outside the law.

Is this constitutional ignorance? At the takeover in 2011, it’s true that none of the Republicans had experience in leading government.

No, I think this is just a deeper level of arrogance. Anybody or anything that gets in their way, including the state Constitution, they ignore as “obstructionist.”

Then last month, their arrogance reached unprecedented heights and depths. As the Raleigh News&Observer reported: “After passing laws imposing new conditions on abortions and elections, taking away teacher tenure and providing vouchers for private school tuition, Republican state legislators have seen those policies stymied in state and federal courtrooms.

“So they have passed another law, this one making those kinds of lawsuits less likely to succeed when filed in state court. Beginning in September, all constitutional challenges to laws will be heard by three-judge trial court panels appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.” (Note: the chief justice is a very partisan Republican.)

As a townsperson, I don’t want outlaws running my town. I don’t like rich guys getting richer at my expense. I want my vote to count. I want the best education for my neighbors’ kids. I want good people running my town again.

Vote, people! Vote! Whatever else you do this November, VOTE!

Misinformation: easier than truth

Daily Planet, 2/2014

I don’t read Daily Planet’s “Candid Conservative” for self-improvement. The world he wants is not mine. When I read the column, it’s to try and put some kind of meaning into what the Republicans are doing to us in Raleigh.

The C.C.’s a fine source because he’s on the board of directors of the John Locke Foundation, a think-tank funded by Art Pope.   Who is Art Pope? He’s the super-wonk of conservative right-wing theory in North Carolina, our governor’s brain. The C.C. drinks deep at the fountain of what’s happening.

Most C.C. columns are predictable reruns of last season’s shows. Occasionally there’s new light on Republican Raleigh, like in the most recent offering.   The subject was gun control, but C.C. strayed off into places I think he’d have corrected if he’d indulged in editing.

Where is that? Into the loonies.

Here’s one quote: “Behind the guise of public safety, the mission of removing guns from private ownership is a defined platform of socialistic power brokers who apparently fear a well armed [sic] citizenry.”

(A “power broker” of course is someone who influences others, not someone who holds power himself. But let’s give him slack on that. He’d have caught the flub if he’d edited.)

In broad overview, the quote tells us what we already know about GOP election strategy: they misinform voters who don’t make the effort to educate themselves.

Here the misinformation is about “removing guns from private ownership.” Elsewhere in the column he uses “disarm the populace” and “disarming America.” We can understand why. There’s a lot more punch in “disarming America” than in “regulating gun ownership,” the actual Democratic policy proposal.

Saying that “removing guns from private ownership” is a “defined platform” is a lie, and they know it’s a lie. If you read the Democratic Party platform on guns, you’ll find statements like, “Rights to own firearms are subject to reasonable regulation.” Regulation, not disarming. Check it out:

I believe this kind of twisted propaganda is intentional. It’s the same kind of political cynicism we get in our mailboxes just before every election.

By contrast, the “socialistic power brokers” part is something different. It’s insanity – somewhere between paranoia and fantasy prone personality (FPP).

Assuming C.C. intends “socialist” as equivalent to “liberal” – food stamps, universal healthcare, etc. – think about it, folks.   Liberals have led every campaign through history to EXPAND rights of the people: women’s voting rights, civil rights, workers’ rights, on and on. Liberals don’t take advantage of weakness; they want the people ever more empowered.

The world’s strongest democracies are countries far more liberal than America: Scandinavian countries, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands.

And when it comes to suppression of the people’s rights, which group is famous for that, left or right? We got our voter suppression laws in North Carolina from extreme-right Republicans. It’s the right, not the left, who use tricks to hold power. Liberals work to maximize democracy.

So “disarming America” is intended to deceive gullible voters. It’s part of the GOP election strategy of Boobeyman Liberal. It’s an old-time GOP strategy, one that even otherwise devout Christian Republicans embrace because ends justify means.

“Socialist power broker” on the other hand, is more symptom than strategy. It says Republicans are irrational. They see liberals everywhere. Their mission as a party is to counter, to reverse liberalism. Public schools and universities are seen as liberal, so they must be cut down to size, privatized, reoriented into conservative philosophy.   They see liberals sneaking about everywhere, as in gun control, seeking advantage, grabbing more power. Again, this ain’t liberalism, in theory, practice or history.

(It’s possible the C.C. is using “socialist” more like Rush Limbaugh’s technical definition: “governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” If so, the C.C. is even farther out. This is totalitarianism – coincidentally the topic of my next column, North Carolina totalitarianism.)


For whom opportunity knocks?

Daily Planet, 1/2014

My last column on this page was about American exceptionalism: how we aren’t necessarily. This column is about American exceptionalism: one way we still are, so far.

The one thread that runs through American history from Jamestown to now is Opportunity. America has always been the “Land of Opportunity,” a special place for people who have had the courage to start over.

My people came from Ireland and scratched out a living in southwest Georgia. Other Irish lived in big-city slums or went underground in coal and copper mines.   Life was an outrage for all of them – but better than Ireland. They persevered. They were free, after all; they weren’t being humiliated and starved by the English.   America gave them opportunity, and they took advantage of it. My great-great-grandfather learned to farm, and his sons started businesses. My father graduated from Georgia Tech.

So it is today. We offer economic opportunity to immigrants far beyond anything in their home countries. Doctors retrain as nurses to qualify for jobs here.

America – the Land of Opportunity for the immigrant.

For the immigrant. Hmmm. What about for our own people? Is America the Land of Opportunity for my grandchildren? Yes, it is, but….

But not as it once was. We all know people in WNC who grew up poor in remote hollows, who now are successful in trades and professions. Most of these people I know, if not all, say they’re where they are because of public schools – first grade through high school and even state universities and community colleges.

Education. That’s why I wrote “exceptional, so far” above. America as the Land of Opportunity – for our own people– is teetering.

It’s my habit to encourage young people I see working in places like Ingles. I ask what their future plans are. More and more of them now say they can’t afford to continue beyond high school.   Some are discouraged; some see the military as default. The ever-rising cost of higher education has priced them out.

And then we hear from Raleigh about budget cuts to education at all levels, pre-school to university. For whatever reasons – ideology (government must spend less) or ideology (public schools are “socialist”) or greed (for-profit schools spend big for lobbyists) – Republicans in the General Assembly are dismantling North Carolina’s great legacy of state-funded education. And in so doing, they’re limiting our children’s future opportunity.

As we look around the developed world, the tight-fisted North Carolina approach is the exception. In most advanced countries, education through university is free to all, some even including graduate study.

These countries do this through taxation.   North Carolina Republicans would rather have low taxes than a well-educated population.

We can’t have both low taxes and quality universal education. Children of the well-educated will be well-educated. In recent generations, the door has been open to everybody. Now we’re heading for a day when Opportunity knocks only at doors of the elite.

More jobs in trades!

Daily Planet, 6/2013

Mike Rowe made a whole bunch of money with his TV show “Dirty Jobs” and as spokesman in Ford commercials. The show’s canceled, and now he’s focusing on something he really has a heart for: raising the status of working people. Specifically he wants to see millions more people trained in skilled trades, to claim the THREE MILLION jobs now going unfilled because there aren’t enough welders, electricians and the like. He testified before a Senate committee to push for infrastructure spending that would open up even more jobs. My hero.

Now let’s look at the attitude of one of my old clients. I had signed on to rename a financial services company. In my interview with the CEO, he said he’d like me to interview some employees. I said I could gather a group in the company cafeteria. He snorted: “I said employees, not Indians!”

Not Indians. I didn’t ─ and still don’t ─ understand his “Indians” metaphor, but his attitude was clear: ordinary working people are unimportant, interchangeable, disposable. I did the naming project, but under protest in my mind.

Of these two, Mike Rowe is right, and my client was wrong. Right?   Yes, right. Not theologically ─ that everybody’s equal in God’s eyes. We all know that’s true. And I don’t mean politically ─ that everybody should have the same chance in life.

No, I’m speaking professionally. It’s a simple matter of RESPECT. Everybody should be respected for WHAT THEY DO, if they’re faithful in their profession. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever known had very little education.   They know how to solve problems, figure things out. I’ve had assistants who, with no training, had incredible insight into people and business strategy. I’ve hired small-project building contractors who could face a problem they’d never seen before and bing! they’d devised something entirely new and wonderful, even doing calculations in their heads. I’m in awe of people who restore cars and other things. It’s possible that the smartest man in WNC might be riding on a utility truck.

By contrast, some highly paid colleagues over the years knew nothing but the narrow slice they’d learned in college and repeated over and over. And they get the big bonuses ─ and, yes, the prestige.

Mike Rowe thinks people aren’t being trained in blue-collar trades because the work isn’t glamorous. It’s like a self-image thing. People see their work as their identity, and they don’t want to be a plumber.   I don’t know whether Mike’s idea is true or not, but I do know that a four-year college education isn’t for everybody. I say, as Mike Rowe does, that more young people should seek out careers in skilled trades ─ and hopefully get the prestige they deserve from society.

That brings us to community colleges and their intense effort nowadays to offer training in high-demand occupations.   It’s a fabulous vision for our day.   Our daughter completed the medical lab tech course at A-B Tech and has a terrific job, at several times minimum wage and with high job satisfaction.

Now…what I’m going to say next will shock and astound anybody who reads this column regularly. Here it is: The Republican budget for 2013 does something really good. It adds $32 million over two years for vocational and technical training, just the skills Mike Rowe wants to see people pursue. They’re pressing community colleges to expand programs and make money available so more people can get this valuable training. The budget stinks to high heaven in many other areas, but in this area, (cough, wheeze) they’re dead center. May Republicans see the good of this program and do more for ordinary working people.

Art Pope’s tyranny

Citizen-Times, 10/2012

Art Pope has deeply-held beliefs about economics, government and politics ─ “classic libertarian,” he calls it. And Pope’s goal is for all of us to live under his beliefs. And Pope has a plan to make it happen. And Pope has the millions to make his plan happen. And it’s happening.

Art Pope is the guy who funded most of the surprise-attack TV ads and mailers that defeated so many Democrats in 2010 and brought on the Republican General Assembly we’ve just experienced. And he’s a big part of the legislation passed in the General Assembly over the past two years.

Pope’s family money comes from bargain retail stores (Roses is most familiar locally). He served in the General Assembly twice, but his ideas weren’t accepted…so he found better ways to push his beliefs.

It’s a simple plan. He and colleagues set up “institutes” and think tanks to write studies on issues like education reform, health care, transit, tax and regulatory reform, local government. Through a family foundation (that has more than $100 million) and groups he and colleagues founded (with names like Real Jobs N.C. and Civitas Action), Pope gives massive sums to help elect friendly legislators ─ reportedly $2.2 million in 2010.   They targeted 22 races and won 18.   Then once these legislators take power, the think tanks guide them on legislation. It worked in 2010 ─ an especially important year because that was the year of the census, when redistricting is done for General Assembly districts and U.S. congressional districts. (For detail on Pope, his plans and methods, Google “state for sale pope mayer.”)

Pope’s vision is long. He takes great interest in education ─ where generational change takes place. He likes charter schools. And control of the General Assembly means huge influence on the UNC system.

Everything Art Pope does is scrupulously legal.   That’s not the issue. And neither is the issue of big money influencing elections. The Supreme Court gave us that. The issue for us in N.C. is this: Do we want our state government dismantled in a libertarian takeover, including public education and programs to help the poor move to middle class? This is a case study in how minority beliefs can become law of the land for everybody. Is that what we want? I say, No.

From now to Election Day, we should all read the fine print on mailers and TV ads. Anything that looks like outside money coming into our districts ─ like Real Jobs or Civitas ─ probably is outside money. Especially if it makes bizarre attacks on the Democratic candidate.   It won’t have Art Pope’s name on it, but you can hear the jingle of his money.


For-profit schools

Citizen-Times, 3/2012

Public schools have been the center point of community life in N.C. for over 100 years—for sports, music, lunches for needy children, and most of all, where dedicated teachers have encouraged, challenged and loved generations of local people.  All run by local, elected boards of education.

That’s what made the General Assembly’s actions last year so strange to so many.  Their budget cut $459 million from K-12, leaving N.C. 49th in the nation in per-student spending. Their Midnight Override slapped public school teachers. They increased charter school competition with public schools. Odd behavior–until you look around at other states.
Wisconsin passed legislation (search “Wisconsin S.B. 22”) that takes charter schools away from school districts and puts them under a statewide, politically-appointed board. And Wisconsin also established virtual (online) charter schools where teacher-student contact is mostly by email. Indiana strengthened private and charter schools’ ability to compete with public schools. Michigan proposes outsourcing teachers to for-profit staffing companies. Ohio cut education spending by 16.4 percent.
I don’t much believe in coincidences—and this ani’t one. All these states elected Republican governors and legislatures in 2010. They all got their boilerplate legislation from the same place (search “ALEC legislation”). And they are funded by the same clutch of billionaires, especially the Koch and DeVos families.
Taken together, two words come to mind: privatization and profit. This is not really about education. It’s free-market ideology. Education is just one front in the Republican war on government, right along with privatizing Social Security. And since K-12 education is the largest budget item in all 50 states, Republicans salivate over private-sector alternatives to public education. We saw this attitude in a recent AC-T guest column titled “Schools Must Compete,” where the author saw schools through a business model. A questionable direction, you’d think, since graduates of for-profit colleges earn less, have more debt and are unemployed longer than graduates of public and non-profit colleges. But ideology is ideology.
Now we can understand last summer’s repeal of the one-cent sales tax. When William Friday on “North Carolina People” asked speaker pro tempore Dale Falwell why Republicans hadn’t kept the one-cent tax to support schools, Falwell just wandered around. The real answer quite likely is they welcomed the resulting budget shortfall because it gave them rationale to be good Republicans.
N.C.’s constitution reads, “The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools .” So we are not as vulnerable to ideological mischief as some other states. But our public schools won’t really be safe until the General Assembly is completely free of Republican experimentation.

Presnell & early education

News-Record, 9/2012

This letter examines two views on early-childhood, preschool education ─ that is, Smart Start (“coordinates programs with local partnerships and other entities with the goal of all children being healthy and ready for school”) and More at Four ─ now known as N.C Pre-Kindergarten Program (“provides high-quality education to at-risk 4-year-olds to prepare them for kindergarten”). One view is held by Michele Presnell, the Republican challenger to Ray Rapp, our representative in N.C. House District 118. The other is held by Rapp.

When The Smoky Mountain News (Waynesville) asked various candidates for their positions on preschool education for low-income children, Presnell responded: “I am aware of all the opportunities it provides. But right now, it is very expensive, and we have very little money. When the economy improves, and I am sure it will, maybe we can afford it a little bit better.”

The words that leap off the page are the slippery words, “maybe” and “little bit.” Her whole response screams LOW PRIORITY!

Her response is also evidence that she’s following the line put forth by GOP think tanks in Raleigh. The Herald-Sun (Durham) wrote this: “The groups Art Pope has funded also have targeted Smart Start and More At Four. They argue that the benefits of the early childhood-education programs have little lasting influence on academic achievement as a child ages.”

Interesting. And bogus.   Studies show the opposite to be true.   The Charlotte Observer reported last year: “Earlier this year, a UNC study found that poor children who participated in More at Four had better language/literacy and math skills than nonparticipants. Also this year, a separate study by researchers at Duke University found that children exposed to Smart Start and More at Four had higher reading and math scores in standardized tests in third grade and were less likely to need special education services.”

The Republican think tank ideas are driven by politics and ideology, not by fact ─ but Presnell buys into them.

If Presnell’s response above was surprising, it’s nothing compared to another of her sentences in The Smoky Mountain News survey (reproduced here as it appeared): “A lot of if falls back on because we have so many single parents, they are just using it as free babysitting.”

The first half of that sentence is a grammatical blur, but the second half is clear. It’s a shameful slam against struggling parents who enroll their children in preschool programs to improve their chance of success. And again, she’s joining with Republicans, from local school boards to Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who use “babysitting” in their attacks on education programs for the poor. There’s even a whiff of Mitt Romney’s freeloading 47 percent.

That’s Michele Presnell’s view. Here’s how Rep. Ray Rapp answered The Smoky Mountain News question: “We need to set about trying to find the money to make sure this globally recognized program continues to be supported.”

Hise & Education

(submitted to several, 9/2012)

During his successful campaign for state Senate in 2010, Ralph Hise wrote, “I will be a strong supporter of our public schools and community colleges. I understand that long term economic development is not possible without their ability to grow, improve, and provide greater opportunities for education.”

Problem is, he didn’t do it. When Hise arrived in Raleigh, he came face to face with choices. His party, the Republicans, gained control of the General Assembly in 2010, and their agenda was, shall we say, not very supportive of public schools and community colleges. They crafted a budget with massive cuts in education at all levels.   Would Hise remember his promise to us and strongly support public schools and community colleges, or would he go along with the crowd and support the Republican budget? On June 2, 2011, and again on June 15, he voted for House Bill 200 that slashed funding for the schools he promised to support.

Hise’s support of that budget defies logic. He represents farmers, so he votes to cut Cooperative Extension services.   He represents young people with ambitions to compete in a modern workforce, so he votes to cut community college funding. He represents struggling families, so he votes for massive cuts in Medicaid.

And they didn’t have to do it. They could have extended the one-cent sales tax and balanced the budget with half the pain that their budget caused. They could have taken any number of temporary measures to keep us well positioned to wait for economic recovery.

We have representative government, and Ralph Hise hasn’t represented us well in Raleigh.   On the campaign trail, it’s easy to say, “I’m for public education. I’m for jobs.” Well, he’s on the campaign trail again right now ─ and he’s opposed by an extraordinary Democrat, Phil Feagan. That combination ─ Feagan and Hise’s record in Raleigh ─ means that Hise will probably find Spruce Pine at the end of this year’s campaign trail, not Raleigh.


Natural selection & the poor

Daily Planet, 6/2011

I read the May Planet in my wife’s hospital room. I was humming along in the letters when I came to Carl Mumpower’s “Mother Nature is a conservative.” I said to my wife, “Baby, I think we’ve got a Smoky Mountain Limbaugh.” Here’s the paragraph that stopped me:

“There are no rights in nature, only responsibilities. Nature provides boundless opportunities, but offers no assurances on outcomes.”

“No rights in nature.” Sound familiar? Sure it does–high school biology. It’s called natural selection. All organisms have the same chance, but individuals that are more “fit” have better potential for survival.

Mumpower is drawing an analogy between nature and American society as he would like it to be. Survival of the fittest. And we all know who the “fit” ones are in our society. Not poor kids with ambition who believe they can do great things but need an education. Not the single mom crying in frustration over a sick child. Not the small farmer who depends on Cooperative Extension services.

When Mumpower talks about “no assurances on outcomes,” he’s not talking about the privileged people in our society. They do have assured outcomes. They will be educated and live well. They will never need food stamps or Medicaid. Their children will never need Smart Start. Down through history, privilege has always tilted toward those who already have privilege.

But America is different. America’s greatness is seen not only in the few people who claw their way to success, through hard work, luck and advanced degrees (even if they’re quickie online Ph.D.s). No, the greatness of America lies in equality. America was born with this promise and she blossomed in the 20th century. Ordinary people go to college today because of government help. Labor gained a voice through fair labor laws. We no longer fear poverty and ill health in old age because of Social Security and Medicare.

Mumpower writes, “Conservatives–real ones–recognize the important difference between harvesting and pillaging.” This scary-liberal straw man is a Limbaugh leftover of course. But it’s really the way these “real conservatives” think. It’s not hyperbole or metaphor. In their world, everything since Franklin Roosevelt is “pillaging.” But ordinary Americans–whether they’re ordinary conservatives, ordinary liberals or ordinary in-betweens–don’t see things that way. They appreciate the safety net that “real conservatives” despise. Living life with a measure of security, in our definition, is not “pillaging.”




For-profit schools

Citizen-Times, 6/2012

Julie Ball wrote an excellent article on virtual online schools in N.C. (June 11). As a reporter, she gave the facts.   She didn’t tell the dirt and scum behind those facts.

She wrote about “N.C. Virtual Academy,” the entity that wants to begin operation this year. Google them and you get the web site of K12 Inc. ─ the for-profit, publically-traded corporation they’ve contracted to actually run the schools.   Privatization, you see, needs a nonprofit front.

Ball quotes the Buncombe County school board chairman: “There are just a lot of issues to be clarified.” Clarified? Is he kidding? Hasn’t he seen the New York Times’ months-long study of K12 Inc.? (Google “nytimes k12 profits questions” ─ but have a barf bag handy.)

They take tax dollars like traditional public schools, but because they have no buildings, buses, etc., they have a big slush to spend on advertising to recruit students and on lobbying state legislatures.   They increase profits by dumping additional students on underpaid teachers. Their CEO makes $4 million a year. School or scam? Read the Times.

Media, school boards, Democrats in Raleigh ─ protect our schools. Send K12 Inc. home to Washington, D.C.

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