Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NCGOP E-Letter - December 10, 2008

Professionalize DOT

Winston-Salem Journal
December 7, 2008

North Carolina's loss of $25 million in federal transit funds -- temporary though it may be -- demonstrates that Gov.-elect Bev Perdue must appoint professional managers to head the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The Federal Transit Administration told North Carolina officials in November that they would not receive the funds because an audit found the state deficient in more than half of 21 areas of state responsibility regarding the money. …

The federal administrator's letter implies that the money will be distributed once DOT is better organized to receive it. And the state's DOT official responsible for the program, Roberto Canales, says the state is moving quickly to comply with the federal requirements.

Canales' assurances aside, this incident should be the final straw for North Carolinians vexed by DOT's repeated troubles. The department's problems go back decades, especially within its Division of Motor Vehicles.

North Carolinians know why this one department has had so much trouble. It is a dumping ground for political patrons.

Governors have filled the top spots in the department and most of the seats on the N.C. Board of Transportation with the people who helped them raise campaign funds. …

This is no way to manage such a large amount of public money.

There's a better way, and Perdue can look to the same pool of candidates spied by every town, city and county in North Carolina that needs a manager. The work force is full of professionally trained public administrators. Many of them have long careers working in transportation. Through education and experience they know how to run a government agency. …

Perdue says she will drastically reduce the political power of the Board of Transportation. But, without a corresponding move to professional management, that reform could actually be harmful. A political hack without a board to oversee him or her could cause a lot of damage.

To date, Perdue has not indicated her choice. We can only hope that she is poring over the resumes of real pros, not a list of campaign donors.

Click here for the full article…

Charters Deliver For At-Risk Students

By John Hood
Carolina Journal Online
December 8, 2008

RALEIGH – In a revealing example of Alexander Pope’s observation that “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” some left-wing politicians and activists in North Carolina seem to believe that because family structure and income exhibit a persistent correlation with student achievement, significant education progress is impossible without massive social programs or income redistribution. …

Recognizing that the old simplistic model of “dollars in, scores up” wasn’t panning out, many public educators and their defenders fell back on the almost-as-simplistic notion that public schools can only accomplish so much given cultural and socioeconomic conditions beyond their control.

Sure, studies show that demographics matter. All other things being equal, students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to score lower and finish school less often than do those with stable home environments and household incomes near or above the median. But demography isn’t destiny. Socioeconomic explanations of test-score data tell us how the current system operates, and perhaps even that reformers of all stripes should avoid the temptation to overpromise. But they obviously can’t explain variances in school performance among students of like circumstances, or what results we could expect from an educational system featuring greater choice and competition. …

Consider the recent performance of two Southeastern NC charter schools run by the Roger Bacon Academy, a creation of entrepreneur (and John Locke Foundation board member) Baker Mitchell. Charter Day School in Leland and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville combine proven, phonics-based methods of teaching students of all backgrounds with firm discipline and a broad, classical curriculum. The two schools currently serve about a thousand students between them, and they do it at a lower cost than the public schools (because charters don’t get capital funding from Raleigh or their counties).

When the state’s 2007-08 test scores came out, there was a great deal of confusion and consternation across North Carolina, because the percentage of students deemed “at grade level” was so much lower than had been reported in the past. Though justified, the reaction overshadowed the lessons to be learned by comparing student scores across school types. As JLF’s Terry Stoops observed, the state's charter schools outperformed district-run schools on all but one measure.

At Mitchell’s charter schools, the lesson is unmistakable. Statewide, 56 percent of students passed the reading test and 70 percent passed the math test. At Charter Day School, the passing rates were 62 percent and 82 percent, respectively. But was this just because the charter school attracted students more likely to perform well?

Not at all. Among students eligible for free or reduced school lunch, North Carolina public schools as a whole posted dismal results in 2007-08: only 40 percent were proficient in reading and 57 percent proficient in math. But at the Roger Bacon charter schools, 56 percent of disadvantaged students were proficient in reading and 78 percent were proficient in math.

In other words, at Charter Day and Columbus Charter, the disadvantaged students matched or exceeded the average statewide performance of all public-school students. Is school reform possible without spending more money or redistributing family income? Absolutely. If you want to know how, take I-40 east.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

A deadly mess

The News & Observer
December 9, 2008

The numbers are nothing less than frightening. Since the start of 2000, 580 people in North Carolina have killed someone while they supposedly were under the watch of the state's probation officers. That's right -- people who were supposed to be under that watch represented 17 percent of all convictions for intentional killings.

How can that be?

Let it be said that these criminals make their own bad choices, for which they themselves ultimately are responsible. But a properly functioning probation system would prevent a good deal of this mayhem. As things stand, the system, under the state's Department of Correction, has been poorly run. Too many of the officers apparently just aren't doing their jobs. There aren't enough officers and it's difficult to fill the ranks because salaries are low. And the tracking system that's supposed to be a tool to keep up with those on probation either doesn't work or hasn't been used properly.

Robert Guy, who's in charge under Correction Secretary Theodis Beck, offers a pitiful excuse for some cases. He says his chain of command has let him down. Beck says he's surprised by the numbers. Governor Easley said in a statement that more probationers need to be in jail, but he declined a request to be interviewed on the subject by The News & Observer. The N&O's Joseph Neff, Sarah Ovaska, David Raynor and Anne Blythe worked on the report. It is sad that the governor, even with just a month to go in office, would not be fully and publicly engaged in addressing this most serious problem.

Beck is leaving office on his own, retiring. Guy, who has held his job since 1997, looks like a good candidate for replacement after Gov.-elect Beverly Perdue takes office next month. And perhaps a few of those folks in the alleged chain of command need to go as well, because it appears to be a chain with many weak links. …

We are not talking here about some minor bureaucratic snafu. When the probation system doesn't work as it should, people die. The state must have a way of effectively monitoring those who are on probation and who may have tendencies to commit other crimes. Probation officers must keep up with them on a regular basis, and get involved.

At the same time, judges need to more closely consider whether probation is appropriate. Certainly in some cases it is, and it's far cheaper than stockpiling people in the state's ever-expanding prison system. But it's almost self-evident that, with more diligence on the part of the probation system, more people would be identified who ought to be in jail.

If more officers are needed, the General Assembly should provide the money for them. If salaries need to be raised, even in these tough times, so be it. If standards need to be higher and those who aren't getting the job done need to be given walking papers, so be that, too.

And so, incoming Governor Perdue, likely to face a huge budget shortfall and pressed to straighten out a troubled mental health care system, now also must make a priority of fixing a system of probation that has put the public at grave risk. …

Click here for the full editorial…

Who has backbone to say enough's enough?

Charlotte Observer
December 5, 2008

The State Lottery Commission wants to drag North Carolina even deeper into the gaming muck by pushing lottery tickets specifically on Latinos. That's wrong.

The chief reason? The lottery law prohibits targeting specific groups with advertising – and with good cause. Yet unless someone on the commission develops a moral conscience or somebody with clout says “Enough! Stop!” the state may be headed in that direction.

How about it, Gov. Mike Easley? Governor-elect Bev Perdue? Now would be a good time to step up and put a stop to this unseemly plotting before it goes any further.

Tom Shaheen, the lottery's executive director, says the state is missing out on dollars because some 200 of the 5,900 retailers that sell lottery tickets are in communities where at least half the people don't speak English. He wants to work up radio and print ads in Spanish, so those folks can get in on the fun. The ads would promote specific games or tickets.

First, Shaheen's crew will have to get around this edict, written clearly in the state lottery law: “No advertising may intentionally target specific groups or economic classes.”

Why is that clause there? Think exploitation. Think decency. A lottery is state-sanctioned gambling dressed in Sunday clothes. It preys on people who can least afford to lose their money, and it encourages gaming addiction. We need rules that keep manipulative advertising from suckering vulnerable populations, whether it's senior citizens or the poor.

You could argue that not running lottery ads in Spanish is discrimination against the state's residents who don't speak English. It isn't. It is refusing to exploit residents that frequently come here from poor communities, have cash to spend and may be more susceptible to the lure of easy money. …

How about it, Gov. Easley, and soon-to-be-governor Perdue? Who has the backbone to say enough's enough?

Click here for the full article…

Who Will "Fix" Our Economy?

By Brian Balfour
Red Clay Citizen
December 8, 2008

Not government.

Government cannot "fix" an economy - they can only break it. The only government action that can help matters is shrinking government's role and intrusion into the market. That's the prevailing theme of this article by Sheldon Richman.

"An economy is people pursuing their preferences by engaging in endless varieties of exchanges with others while coordinating disparate plans founded on unspoken expectations. It’s an amazingly orderly process — when it is allowed to operate in peace and without government intervention.

Unfortunately, governments rarely let it operate in peace. Government planning is power, and with only a few exceptions, most people attracted to top government jobs want to wield power. While they are incapable of fixing an economy — if that means restoring it to its consumer-serving function — they are capable of skewing it to their own purposes."

The massive power grab we are seeing now in DC will likely only get worse, and as government power over our economic affairs grows, our liberty recedes.

Click here to read the full post…

Berger, Stam retain Republican leadership posts

By Mark Binker and Jeri Rowe
Greensboro News & Record
December 8, 2008

Sen. Phil Berger, an Eden Republican who represents parts of Guilford County and all of Rockingham County, will serve a third two-year term as his party's leader in the Senate.

Democrats hold a 30-20 advantage in the chamber next session, so Berger will once again be minority leader, leading the opposition in a chamber his party hasn't won for the past century.

"We're going to try to do those things we've been successful at," Berger said after the election. "One of them being, we are communicating our position."

Berger said that Republicans would sharpen their message this year and provide specific counterproposals to what they see as missteps by Democratic leaders.

With Republicans next year only holding two of ten state offices elected at large - commissioner of Agriculture and Labor commissioner - Berger is one of the most prominent GOP voices in North Carolina.

Sen. Harry Brown of Jacksonville will be the Republican's deputy leader. Sen. Jerry Tillman, who represents Randolph and Montgomery counties, will be the Republican whip, a position responsible for counting votes.

Senate Democrats have not chosen their leaders for next session yet. However, Sen. Marc Basnight of Dare County told Scoop recently he planned to run again, and his chances of retaining his post are considered very good. Basnight has led his chamber's Democrats for 16 years and is widely regarded wielding influence rivaling that of the governor. …

Meanwhile, in the House,

Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, a Wake County Republican, retained his post as House minority leader. Rep. Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County will be the Republican whip. …

Click here for the full article…