House Bill 13 tries to make healthier N.C. schools but raises the hurdles for children getting in to schools

A new school health bill coming out of the General Assembly in Raleigh would require all new students in N.C. public schools to get a health assessment. Current law only requires kindergarten students to have the assessment, which includes a record of vaccinations.

On the surface, the goal of making sure all N.C. students are healthy is a civic good, hard to oppose. However, House Bill 13 fails to provide more funding to county health departments or schools to support parents new to North Carolina, navigating a confusing and overburdened health care system.

Imagine moving to North Carolina with three or four children and having to get appointments with a local doctor to fill out yet another form amid the stack of new-school paperwork and moving chores. Imagine that school nurses serve an average of 1,177 students each, which is 57 percent more students than the federal recommended ratio of 1 nurse per 750 students. Imagine that you have 30 days to comply before your kids are kicked out of school. Imagine that it can take several months to get appointments once you find a doctor or locate the county health department (PDF from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools). And imagine that you make too much money to qualify for Medicaid or the N.C. Health Choice program to help pay for the exams.

That’s not a thought exercise. That’s the reality in North Carolina. Counties like Mecklenburg have made a local funding commitment to more school nurses, but other counties don’t necessarily have the funds to supplement the funding they get from the state.

Private schools and home schools are exempt from the new requirements in the bill.

Without accompanying funding to support more certified school nurses or to pay for more support from county health departments, the new bill just raises the hurdles faced by families who want their children to get a sound basic education in North Carolina.

The bill’s primary sponsor is Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston (a border county). The bill, House Bill 13, has a fiscal note attached estimating any increased costs to the state, specifically public health departments. It says “any impact to local health departments would be negligible.” (PDF of the fiscal note). For counties like Mecklenburg with a large influx of newcomers, that estimate doesn’t represent reality.

The bill has passed out of the House Committee on K-12 Education. Other sponsors include Rep. Bert Jones, R-Caswell, a dentist; Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus; and Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Polk (another border county). You can follow the bill’s progress here.

As it stands, the bill is an unfunded mandate for county health departments, especially those with large influxes of newcomers. Those aren’t necessarily just big counties like Mecklenburg. The N.C. governor recently touted a new chicken processing plant for Robeson County (a border county), which had a child poverty rate of 47.8 percent in 2012. Some of those new chicken-plant workers will likely come from out of state, with children who will need help staying healthy and getting access to education. Increasing the hurdles they face for school without increasing the funding to help them get health care is wrong.

Thundering voices in North Carolina, including Susan Ladd of Greensboro

Sunday papers in North Carolina had lots of strong thundering voices today, and John Robinson has his good Sunday roundup, including stories about open government to mark Sunshine Week. One fact stands out: It’s been 19 months since the Associated Press requested records of emails from N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory’s first public safety secretary. The department’s nine public information officers just don’t have the time to get to all of the public information requests.

But one N.C. columnist worth noting goes softer this week: Susan Ladd of Greensboro marks the departure of the ACC basketball tournament from Greensboro for a few years. She’s even kind to the Fighting Irish.

Ladd’s now the lead columnist for the newspaper in the middle of this big state, and she’s willing to speak her mind on justice and fairness, including minority and women’s rights. She lays it out in her introductory column from March 8 .

She’s already had the expected blowback in letters to the editor and opposing columns, including one from Charles Davenport questioning her credentials.

Put me firmly in the camp that is glad to hear Ladd’s opinionated, strong voice on justice and fairness.

Given an overall lack of women’s voices on the opinion pages of traditional media in North Carolina,  I’m happy to see her new title of lead columnist and hear her independent voice.

The FCC releases its argument supporting municipal broadband in North Carolina

Map of broadband availability in and around Wilson, N.C., from the FCC's ruling pre-empting state law limiting its growth.

Broadband availability in and around Wilson, N.C., from the FCC’s ruling pre-empting state law limiting its growth.

Here it is: 116 pages in PDF.

Here’s the FCC’s full page with statements from all FCC commissioners on the issue.

Here’s the Times Free Press in Tennessee on their part of the issue.

Here’s Multichannel News on what happens next for muni broadband.

Short version: North Carolina’s law limiting town broadband expansion is bad law (it was House Bill 129 from 2011).

And arguments that criticize existing muni broadband in Davidson, Morganton, and Salisbury as examples of the dangers of muni broadband are hogwash. See pages 34-36 in the PDF.

Crossing the streams: N.C. politics (and sometimes media) on Flipboard

Flipboard screenshotFor an easy way to see curated stories on N.C. politics and civics, check out my Flipboard magazine.
Frequency of posts is fairly high, almost every day.

For less-frequent media curation, see my Flipboard magazine on that topic, ranging from net neutrality and drone journalism to N.C. media moves.

Land grab: wrong numbers for Mecklenburg County on Republican voting strength

Bill James, a longtime Republican member of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, suggests in a Facebook post that the voting districts and at-large system in Mecklenburg unfairly penalize Republicans. His comments come as the N.C. General Assembly is pushing bills that could change the rules in Greensboro and Wake to give Republicans more power at the local level in urban areas.

He says the GOP represents about 45% of Mecklenburg voters.

He’s wrong, based on recent election results.

I see numbers that show the percentage of GOP voters is 35 to 40%, based on non-presidential year results that tend to be more conservative.

Here are three county-wide votes from 2014 to illustrate:

N.C. Senate: former Sen. Kay Hagan received 59% of the votes in Mecklenburg, and Sen. Thom Tillis received 38%.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners at large: Democrats received 65% of the votes cast for at-large candidates.

N.C. Supreme Court (which is nonpartisan in name only): Cheri Beasley received 59% of the vote versus her challenger, Mike Robinson, who was supported by Republicans.

Check the numbers yourself at the N.C. Board of Elections.

A letter to the UNC Board of Governors

Dear members of the N.C. Board of Governors,

As a resident of North Carolina for almost 30 years, I’m registering my dismay at recommendations to close the University of North Carolina’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. I’d also like to register my dismay at plans to shut down the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University and calls for limiting the mission of the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

Poverty center

In addition to being a longtime resident of North Carolina because I believed in its commitment to education, I’m also a veteran journalist who has watched the dwindling of information about North Carolina as a whole. Traditional for-profit news organizations in the state depend on declining advertising revenue. They now have limited resources and are structurally unable to cover stories that do not appeal to populations without money to spend. That flaw in the marketplace leaves a hole in the state’s information ecosystem that is partially filled by the poverty center. The center’s mission and funding should increase, not decrease, at a time when poverty and lack of opportunity remain stubborn problems that the state needs to address. For an example, please see the website created as a joint project with the poverty center, Low Wage NC.

Criticisms of the center include ad hominem attacks on Gene Nichol, claiming he and the center are partisan. I ask that board members look directly at his actions and words, and the products of the poverty center at its website, rather than at the partisan attacks calling him partisan. If, at times, his words have felt too directly aimed at current legislative leadership, perhaps that issue is separate from a wholesale dismantling of a valuable center that serves a useful educational and civic information function.

In addition, the center has been criticized for hosting a conference on poverty in which some groups apparently felt excluded. Please look yourselves at the invitation list for that conference and weigh whether this list was inappropriate for its purpose. The list included the nonprofit N.C. Justice Center as well as mostly academic representatives. It appears partly that the partisan attacks on the center are designed to shut out a nonprofit center whose mission includes economic justice from future discussions with academics. Please consider the impact on free speech and philanthropy for the state if the board acquiesces to such attacks.

N.C. Central’s Institute for Civic Engagement

Again, as commercial sources for information about civics dwindle, a center whose mission is encouraging people to vote and to get involved in the civic life of our state is crucial. Its role and funding should be increased, not decreased.

UNC Center for Civil Rights

Criticism of this center focuses on its advocacy role in certain lawsuits. It’s particularly hypocritical that the criticism comes from a private lawyer on your board as well as from a University of Tennessee law professor and prolific blogger (Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit). Reynolds, in particular, works at a law school in a competing state which has long offered its own legal clinics that give law students practical experience. His desire to limit the UNC Law School’s ability to do the same, via his claim that UNC was “whoring out,” is not only offensive but also deeply hypocritical – and transparently an attack on a rival law school.

By law, the center represents people who could not afford lawyers of their own. The state of North Carolina has recently been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawsuits that do not represent my will as a state taxpayer – against equal marriage, against easy voting access and even soon perhaps against municipal broadband. To begrudge a tiny amount of my taxpayer dollars to be spent on poor people, often people of color, for access to legal representation is criminal and unfair. It creates a society in which justice only goes to those who can afford it. I’m not a fan of state money being spent on lawyers instead of solutions to problems, but sometimes the only access to fair treatment is through the courts. The center for civil rights helps level the playing field.

Association with UNC

These centers get outside funding for much of their work, but their associations with the UNC system enable them to involve students in their activities and use UNC facilities, providing strong educational value and interdisciplinary collaboration. A direct look at the Center on Poverty’s website – through your own eyes, not filtered by partisan pundits – can show you how the center serves the state by contributing to the education of new leaders as well as plugging holes in civic information. The Center for Civil Right’s role in training young lawyers through practical experience while serving poor people who cannot afford private lawyers is a double benefit to North Carolina. Clearly, at least one representative of a law school in a competing state (Glenn Reynolds) would be happy for UNC to dismantle practical learning opportunities for young lawyers. Please consider the motivations of those who would like to limit the center’s functions. And at N.C. Central, a center that advocates voting is crucial to the future of our democracy. An educational institution is an appropriate place to teach civic responsibility.

The least of these

As you weigh your decisions, please think of Bill Friday and Dean Smith. In particular, please remember Kristen Smith’s speech about her father where she said he was inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, and the admonition to serve “the least of these.” Know that many longtime taxpayers like me are glad to fund such centers – even in small amounts by simply providing access to university facilities for meetings and providing students access to special projects. I am proud to have these centers associated with UNC campuses, and my pride in North Carolina’s commitment to education has kept me as a longtime resident and taxpayer. That pride extends throughout my family.

Thank you for your time.

Andria Krewson

Supporting N.C. journalism through public notices and legal ads

So far, 15 bills mentioning the word “newspaper” have appeared in the N.C. General Assembly this session. They range from bills honoring the Rev. Billy Graham to bills allowing cities and counties to publish public notices digitally.

Legal advertisements and public notices, required by law, have been a little-noticed subsidy of local newspapers since Ben Franklin’s time. In the last few years, talk has increased about eliminating the requirement of placing some public notices in newspapers because of the cost to government and the dwindling reach of newspapers. Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute wrote a good roundup about legal notices a year ago. I wrote about legislative bills affecting legal notices in North Carolina in 2011.

Some N.C. towns have already eliminated required print legal ads. This year, more towns (Greensboro, Morrisville, High Point) and counties could join them. With the changing face of journalism, including new digital startups, enhanced TV station websites and pay models at established media outlets, North Carolina should rethink how we write laws that require public notices. Our government’s goals should be leveling the playing field, supporting strong independent reporting regardless of the source, and providing government transparency about how legal ads and public notices get placed. The original intent of the ads – notifying people efficiently about government actions that affect their jobs and lives – must remain a key goal. Government websites cannot reach that goal alone.

The word “newspaper” appears 310 times in North Carolina’s general statutes. Rules requiring public notices grew organically over time, lack uniformity and tend to favor established newspapers. Sometimes, another news organization has broader reach, more reporting resources or more local reader engagement. In many cases, the rules allow non-elected officials to choose winners from among news sources, possibly fostering a spoil system that erodes trust.

The North Carolina Press Association keeps its eye on legislation affecting newspapers, and it has opened its doors to new journalism startups including the nonprofit Carolina Public Press in Asheville and the Raleigh Public Record. It must consider its own members’ interests and will likely lobby for rules that continue existing subsidies through legal notices to newspapers, especially newspapers of a certain size. While that support could erode this year, that issue shouldn’t be the only question on the table. Figuring out how to foster the growth of new news startups should also be a consideration in the General Assembly.

Federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are studying how to preserve journalism as old business models fail. Journalism school deans from across the country, including the University of North Carolina’s Susan King, have written a statement urging the IRS to quickly approve nonprofit status for emerging news sites as a way to foster innovation in journalism.

At the same time, our N.C. General Assembly members should bring independent, thoughtful approaches to encouraging quality, local reporting, from for-profits and nonprofits.

Steven Waldman, writing in a special report, “The Information Needs of Communities,” for the FCC in 2011, made one suggestion:

“One possible solution that would benefit all parties would be for governments to save money by hosting public notices on their own websites and paying a lesser amount to run banner ads on other sites about the notices and linking back to the government site. The municipality would be able to spread information about the public notices to a broader range of audiences than they would by just publishing them in a particular newspaper. They would generate more traffic for their own websites, provide ad revenue for local news operations and advance the cause of government transparency.”

Posting public notices and legal ads on town and county websites furthers open government. But to reach people in our fragmented information age, using multiple methods (including print for some areas), at lower costs, seems like the right solution. Our new laws should be fair, encourage innovation and provide flexibility as technology and news sources change.

Here are some samples of the words in existing bills filed this legislative session in the N.C. General Assembly:

“The County shall advertise a notice for interested parties to submit qualifications in such form as the County may require for possible selection as the private developer or private developers in the public‑private project in a newspaper having general circulation within the County.”

“Advertise the sale by publication in a newspaper having general circulation in the county in which the property is situated. [AND] Make the following information about the property being sold available to the public both on its Web site and by mail. …”

“…sealed bids shall be solicited by advertisement in a newspaper widely distributed in this State or through electronic means, or both, as determined by the Secretary to be most advantageous… .”

“The secretary‑treasurer shall annually, at a time and in a law magazine or daily newspaper to be prescribed by the Council, publish an account of the financial transactions of the Council in a form to be prescribed by it.”

“The Charter Board shall distribute information announcing the availability of the charter school process described in this Part to each local school administrative unit and public postsecondary educational institution and, through press releases, to each major newspaper in the State. … ”

Disclaimers: I am not employed or paid by any of the news organizations in this post. I’m a former employee of the Charlotte Observer, and I’m working on a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina in digital communications. These words are my own.