Help make the North Carolina General Assembly great again–VOTE!!

The general election is tomorrow, and both voters and nonvoters will decide whether the Republican party’s supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly continues for another two years.

Thanks to extreme gerrymandering in our traditionally purple state, North Carolina Republicans currently hold 74 seats to 46 Democrat seats in the House and 35 seats to 15 Democrat seats in the Senate.  As a result, they can pass any bill they want and override Governor Cooper’s veto. This lack of balance has led to a far-right agenda since 2010 which includes the de-prioritizing of public education, unprecedented and illegal racial gerrymandering, a consistent lack of transparency and healthy debate, and so many power grabs they barely constitute news any more.  It’s been ugly, but that could be about to change.

In order to break the supermajority, restore the Governor’s veto, and bring back some semblance of balance and normalcy to our democracy, Democrats need to add either four seats the House or six seats in the Senate.  That’s completely within their means, but it depends 100% on who votes.

Preliminary indications from early voting are largely positive for Democrats.  Ironically, that could be a problem.

Travel back in time two years to the run-up to the presidential election of 2016.  Prognosticators were declaring Hillary Clinton the first female president of the United States and chiding Donald Trump for the inflammatory campaign rhetoric that had supposedly cost him any real chance at winning the presidency.  

Now remember sitting in front of your television on election night, watching states turn red one by one on the map.  Ohio. Florida. Pennsylvania.  Wisconsin. Michigan. Recall the nauseating sense of horror you felt as the reality of a Trump presidency settled in.  Reflect on the last two years of that presidency and what it has meant for our country and the world. The horrible cabinet appointments.  The Muslim ban. Charlottesville. The transgender military ban. Constant demonization of the press and resulting violence by his supporters.  Migrant family separation. Weekly embarrassment on the international stage. The list goes on and on.

I have bad news for anyone who sat out the 2016 election:  You are just as responsible for the Donald Trump presidency as those who voted for him.

This summer, Pew Research released a very thorough survey of the 2016 electorate.   The survey looked closely at demographics of registered voters who did not participate in the presidential election.  Results show clearly that nonvoters were made up more heavily of folks who, had they voted, would have been likely to lean away from Donald Trump (young people and nonwhite voters, for example).

There may have been a lot of different reasons why people didn’t vote in 2016, but one of them was no doubt a sense of media-fueled overconfidence leading to the belief that Clinton already had the presidency in the bag and there was no need to get out and vote.

Fast forward to 2018 in North Carolina.  For months, Democrats and their supporters have been talking about an impending blue wave sweeping our state.  Turnout in early voting is up substantially over the 2014 midterm election, including among voters ages 18-29.  But at the same time, there’s still a danger that the overconfidence that kept voters away from the polls two years ago could strike again on election day and preserve the GOP supermajority that has turned North Carolina into a national caricature.

Please do not take the results of this year’s election for granted.  If you did not vote early, look up your polling place’s address by visiting this convenient link.  Make your plan for when you’re going to vote tomorrow between 6:30 AM and 7:30 PM.  Vote before work. Pack a sandwich and go on your lunch break. Stop by on your way home in the evening (anyone who is in line at 7:30 will be permitted to vote).  But, whatever you do, please, please, please, do not sit this one out.

Help us make the General Assembly great–or at least not a total disaster–again.

 

(Hat tip to my friend John deVille for the custom hat!)

Fatal shooting at Charlotte school brings underfunded support services back into focus

note:  a shorter version of this post appeared in the Charlotte Observer

To be honest, it felt like just a matter of time until it happened.  Our nation’s school shooting epidemic finally reached Charlotte this week, as 16 year-old Butler High freshman Bobby McKeithen was shot and killed by a classmate after a fight in a school hallway spiraled out of control.

Families, friends and educators are left to grieve and wonder what they could have done differently.  That question is impossible to answer with any kind of certainty. But one thing is clear: our students need better conflict resolution skills and ways of coping with their emotions.  In public schools, our school counselors, psychologists, and social workers form the front lines for helping students develop those skills that will provide them with the foundation they need to be socially and emotionally healthy and allow us to maintain safe and productive environments for all.

This past February, the Parkland, Florida school massacre ended the lives of seventeen students and staff members.  In the wake of that horrific tragedy, North Carolina legislators created the House Select Committee on School Safety to explore what measures could be taken in our schools to keep our students safe.  Unsurprisingly, they found that current student support services staffing ratios are far below what the industry sets as standards.  For example, the nationally recommended ratio of students to school psychologists is 1:700, but our state average is 1:1857.  

To its credit, the House committee recommended that North Carolina public schools increase their number of support staff to meet national standards.  It’s a great but also expensive recommendation requiring legislators who deeply value public education and want to do right by all children.  Former North Carolina General Assembly Fiscal Analyst and current Justice Center Senior Policy Analyst Kristopher Nordstrom puts the price tag for increasing instructional support staff ratios to recommended levels at $640 million.  Unfortunately, this summer our General Assembly budgeted only $10 million for increasing mental health support personnel and made schools apply for grants in order to get those funds.  That’s not a typo, our state lawmakers gave us 1.6% of what they acknowledged we need.  The funds are non-recurring, meaning there is no guarantee those positions will be funded for more than one school year.

It’s not the first time our General Assembly has balked at paying for desperately-needed social-emotional student supports.  In 2017, my own state representative John Autry noted Republicans were adding another $20 million to the private school voucher program despite the fact that existing voucher funds hadn’t been fully spent.  Autry proposed an amendment which would have taken that $20 million and used it to hire additional public school personnel such as school counselors, nurses, and psychologists.  That amendment was tabled by House leadership so they wouldn’t have to go on the record as voting against it.

Here in Mecklenburg County we’ve been fortunate to have the support of our local government to help fill the gaps for what the state refuses to do, but it’s still not nearly enough.  Last school year our support services ratios in CMS schools were far worse than the state averages (our ratio of school psychologists was 1:2112, for example). Our school district asked for and received $4.4 million in additional funding from the county which will provide 10 psychologists, 33 school counselors, and 17 social workers.  Those additional staff members will make a difference, but it’s a drop in the bucket in a district that serves nearly 150,000 children.

 

We have no way of knowing if counseling or peer mediation could have prevented the devastating events that took place at Butler this week.  But as we struggle to turn this loss of life into meaningful action, let’s focus on what concrete steps we can take to help students develop the social and emotional well being we know they all need to be successful in school.  Let’s break with the mentality that has us perpetually accepting as fact that public education is all about making do with less than we need and take bold steps on behalf of kids who need us now more than ever.