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Deadline for Voters — April 11

Your-Vote-Counts

There’s an election in the offing, and over the next few weeks candidates and their allies will be ramping up the rhetoric. North Carolinians settling in to watch some television might want to buckle their seat belts while they ride out the onslaught of campaign commercials. This year, though, there’s a catch. To vote in the May 6 primary, people who aren’t already registered with their county board of elections have to meet a deadline of Friday, April 11, to sign up. Otherwise, they’ll be out of luck – no…

Scrambling for the Bench

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Are judges politicians? And why – even in a state such as North Carolina, where judges are elected by the public – does the concept of judges who also function as politicians seem curious, if not troubling? Beyond honesty, intellect and knowledge of the law, perhaps a judge’s most important characteristic is a commitment to being impartial. Rulings must go where the law leads. They must not be geared to curry favor with voters, to advance a policy agenda or to please campaign contributors. The problem, of course, is that anyone…

Registration Now Open for 2014 Critical Issues Seminar

Public School

Pre-registration is now open for the NC Council of Churches’ 2014 Critical Issues Seminar, which will focus on public education from pre-K through college. This daylong event will be held at United Church of Chapel Hill on Monday, June 16, from 9:00 – 3:45 (with check-in beginning at 8:15). The cost is $25 ($15 for students and for pre-K through college educators), which will include arrival snacks and lunch. The keynote speaker will be Mike Ward, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction for NC from 1997-2004. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward…

Crossroads for Teacher Pay

Education

The gory details are right there, laid out in columns of cold hard data compiled by the National Education Association. Each year, the national teachers’ group provides a comprehensive, state-by-state look at the financing of public education, with a focus on funding for public schools. Not that it comes as much of a surprise, but North Carolina’s performance as shown in the latest report can fairly be described as mediocre. Here’s the overall picture, drawn from census and budget statistics: North Carolina shapes up as a state with below-average wealth, below-average…

Teacher Pay: Leaping, then Looking

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He hasn’t put it quite this way, but what Gov. Pat McCrory seems to be saying – and who among us hasn’t offered the same excuse? – is that it sounded like a good idea at the time. Sure it did, for those who want to see our underpaid public school teachers forced to scrabble like lab animals for a few extra dollars, while the lucky winners have to surrender their modest degree of job security. Now, though, McCrory appears to be having second thoughts. Pushback not only from teachers…

Faithful Activism — Part 2

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In an earlier blog, I noted a congregation’s questions about becoming a partner with HKonJ. If you haven’t seen that blog, please click here. It contains information that will be relevant to what follows and addresses the question of whether such participation would threaten a non-profit’s tax status. In addition to the question about tax-exempt status raised within the congregation, a second question was about the separation of church and state. This broader church-state question may be harder to explain than the tax-exempt question, but it is equally clear. The…

Two Churches Talk About Race

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A newcomer to Raleigh sooner or later comes up against a riddle: How can the city have two First Baptist Churches? Here’s a non-surprise: The answer is rooted in the history of a community in which, just as elsewhere throughout the South, white citizens did not mix on equal terms with their black neighbors, whom they regarded as their inferiors. Indeed, for long decades most of those African-Americans were enslaved. Today, the two First Baptist churches of Raleigh see themselves in some sense as a unified congregation, although they maintain…

Election Law’s Racial Twist

Vote

It’s easy to imagine the response from legislative leaders to a new scholarly look at the impacts of North Carolina’s recent election law changes: “Get over it!” Those same Republican legislators would be hard-pressed to argue that the changes won’t hold down vote totals among people who these days tend to vote Democratic. What the new study does is crunch the numbers to describe the disproportionate effect on voters who are African-American. To many, including civil rights groups that are suing to try to block the changes, the study will seem…

The Stakes with Teachers’ Pay

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Whether anecdotal or empirical, the evidence is clear: North Carolina has done a poor job of furnishing its public school teachers with adequate salaries. By “adequate,” we should mean pay that’s good enough to attract competent, motivated people into the teaching profession, to convince them to work in our school districts – even districts in less well-off, rural counties – and to stick with their career choice through the inevitable rough patches. Sadly, the trends these days point in the wrong direction. A shortage of qualified, committed teachers threatens the…

Seeking Smooth Elections

Your-Vote-Counts

The election law changes approved last year by North Carolina’s General Assembly face court challenges on grounds of voter suppression and racial discrimination. However the courts rule, it’s hard not to conclude that the changes will have the biggest impact on groups tending to favor Democratic candidates – racial minorities, the elderly, the young, the poor. Which is why the new rules were so popular at the Republican-controlled legislature. Although the changes are sweeping, the centerpiece is a new requirement, taking effect in 2016, that in-person voters show a government-issued…

Boosts for Voters, Protestors

Photo by Flickr member twbuckner

By the time last year’s edition of the NC General Assembly finished its work, it was as though the laws and policies by which this state is governed had been run through a conservative wringer. Taxes and budgeting. Health care. Unemployment benefits. Public schools. Environmental protection. In these key areas and others, the Republican-controlled legislature put its stamp, in accord with the conservative belief that when it comes to government, less is better. Smaller government, though, can lead to the neglect of what should be public responsibilities to look out…

Voting Rights and Faith

EARLY-VOTING

Elections in the United States must be carried out in line with rules meant to ensure honesty and accuracy, and to expose candidates to timely judgments about their merits. But those rules cannot be used to set up unreasonable barriers to the polls – barriers that serve the rule-writers’ purposes by making it unnecessarily hard for certain voters to help choose their leaders. Strangely and disappointingly, North Carolina in the 21st century’s second decade finds itself entangled in a new web of voting laws that undermine what we all should…

A Year of Setbacks, Pushbacks

Photo by Michael Burns

At the close of a momentous year for politics and public policy in North Carolina – a year that challenged many people of faith to act on their beliefs — we again might find ourselves wondering whether things have to get worse before they can get better. That “things” got worse for many of the state’s residents during 2013 there’s little doubt. They are the people who, for example, found their unemployment benefits unnecessarily chopped, or who are sending their kids to schools where teacher assistants have been laid off….

District Lines and Lions

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The “peaceable kingdom,” where lions lie down with lambs amid other unlikely combos, turns out to be not so far-fetched when it comes to one of North Carolina’s most vexing policy challenges. While there are holdouts who enjoy their status as predators – or who don’t want to risk becoming prey –many conservatives and liberals agree that the state’s redistricting procedure is a mess that needs fixing. Which group represents the lions and which the lambs? Well, let’s say that’s in the eye of the beholder. Anyway, the outlines of…

Momentum, Maybe, on Teacher Pay

Public School

Perhaps they’re hearing footsteps – the footsteps of all those teachers who have turned out in recent months to call for better pay and more generous overall support for North Carolina’s public schools. Perhaps they’re anticipating the footsteps of thousands of teachers, teachers’ family members and teachers’ friends who next year might want to take out their frustrations at the polls. Whatever their motivation , let’s be glad that key members of our General Assembly seem to be coming around to the conclusion that they really do need to do…

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2014 Critical Issues Seminar on Public Education Register Here