GCS needs $60 million to see what teaching looks like

I almost wish this were some sort of Friday follies spoof, but unfortunately it’s real life–N&R reports Guilford County Schools will apply for a $60 million grant to replace tapped-out Mission Possible funds. And what would GCS hope to do with $60 million?

A sample of key recommendations include:

Developing a clear definition of what excellent teaching looks like.

Strategic recruitment to build a more diverse applicant pool.

Screening for teachers and principals who can identify and acknowledge their own potential knowledge gaps and blind spots when it comes to students from different backgrounds than their own, and who will have high expectations of all students, regardless of race, culture and other factors.

Hiring earlier in the year.

Start planning for “significant shifts” in pay and career ladder opportunities to reward highly effective teachers and principals to serve in high-needs schools and/or help mentor others.

Wait it gets better–the grant application cites a 2005 reports that presents statistics proving that “nearly 60 percent of a school’s impact on student achievement is due to the effectiveness of teachers and principals.”

Student achievement has to do with the effectiveness of principals and students? Who knew?

Bertie County Schools financial crisis

Because the entity in question is not a private or charter school, don’t expect the News & Observer or WRAL to say a word about it.  But the Bertie County Schools has a full-blown financial crisis on their hands.

According to an article published in the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, representatives from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the N.C. Local Government Commission visited Bertie County commissioners this week to discuss options for closing an operating deficit of well over $800,00 for the current school year.  According to the News-Herald,

Bertie County Schools (BCS) first came before the Commissioners last fall alerting them to a budget shortfall they were facing that had been caused by excessive spending. When BCS’ latest (2016) audit was finally made available earlier this year, it revealed that what may have been first considered a leak had now become a deluge.

It shows the prior year’s General Fund balance for the system is a negative number: $704,955 in the red; clearly a violation of state statutes which require school systems to have a balanced budget.

Now, it’s been further revealed that the current year’s operating budget is reporting a deficit of $838,379. Because of the shortfall, the school board has been using restricted food service proprietary funds to meet its current payroll, a further violation of the law.

Unless significant budget reductions occur, the resulting budget deficit for fiscal year 2016-2017 will be a figure ranging from $800,000 to $1,000,000.

Curiously, there was no mention of former BCS superintendent Elaine White, who led the district from 2012 to 2016.

Just to recap, an audit revealed that the district failed to perform mandatory budget functions, is in the red, and is breaking multiple laws.

Charter schools have been shuttered for less.

“The Death Row Basketball League”

The latest Criminal Law News Roundup posted by UNC School of Government covers an unusual sporting event: Raleigh Central Prison’s annual “Ball ‘Til We Fall” tournament in which the players, the coaches, and the referrees are all death row inmates. Here are some highlights from a tournament summary written by one of the players, Lyle May:

[We] did not have a strong season. The Nubians were 4-9 for the year, and it was widely believed we would lose in the first round of the … tournament. Not that our starting five of condemned prisoners were incapable of playing well; they just spazzed out at the worst possible moments and struggled to function as a unit.

In one game, we led by seven points over the number-one seed, the Dream Team, when their point guard pushed Toni. A yellow-jerseyed ref … blew his whistle, catching Toni’s retaliation. Foul.

“How you gonna call that b******t on me?” he said. “That s***’s crazy, yo! Who the h**l paid you off?”

Toni continued to melt down, getting in the face of the ref, a man easily twice his size and on death row for a murder in another prison. During the tantrum, the other team scored enough to regain the lead and ultimately win the game.

Another teammate of ours, named J-Roc, frequently threw his water bottle at the fence or kicked over a chair. Tyreke, our coach … screamed at all of us from the sideline, often drawing a technical foul. … 

The second time we played the Dream Team, we lost by 30 points. … Coach drew a tech for walking onto the court. By the end of the game we were re-named the Cellar Dwellers. … Tyreke was in the hole for 15 days, so we were without a coach; nobody asked why he went, because Coach went to lock-up so often that it meant nothing.

May occasionally digresses to talk about prison life outside the context of the tournament:

I began playing a few years ago when the free weights on the yard were confiscated after two guys got into a fight and one used a dumbbell as a club and bludgeoned the other into a coma. Everyone believed he was going to die, but six months later he was back and as obnoxious as ever, a zig-zag scar spanning half his head like a zipper. …

I’d first gotten started with the activities on the yard when Harvey, a middle-aged black man with a gap between his front teeth, got me lifting weights twice a week. We didn’t talk much and focused on the tasks of moving weights, running, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. …

One day, Harvey and I were doing squats on the yard when he was called to the office. He returned nearly an hour later, his movements jerky, eyes glazed. Mumbling something about getting a date, he grabbed his towel from the bench and left. It took a moment for me to realize that my friend’s final days had come. …

May’s focus, however, is the tournament itself, which seems to have been taken very seriously by everyone involved despite the death sentences hanging over them:

The chatter before the start of the … tournament was how the Dream Team would use the Cellar Dwellers for a warm-up before beating the other teams. Their point guard, the “Phenom,” was the best baller on death row, and averaged half of his team’s score by himself.

But in the first quarter of our playoff game against them, it was obvious we were a different squad. J-Roc led the way, draining threes from a yard beyond the arc as if he’d done it the entire season; Pit controlled the paint, made (most of) his layups, and snatched rebounds. Our team looked like a team. We won.We played the Blazers next, a fast and savvy team with good shooters. The game began slowly, and they took the lead, but we came back and overtook them. Toward the end, the Blazers lost the ball, we recovered and played keep-away for the remaining seconds.

We had made it to the championship round! …

All we had to do was win one game: the championship. It would be the first upset in the “Ball ’Til We Fall” tournament’s 14-year history. Energized by back-to-back playoff wins, the Cellar Dwellers talked trash to the opposing team. We were so certain of victory, we didn’t bother to practice. We were not ready. The wait stole the energy from our previous wins. Our starters were sluggish, mouthing meaningless reassurances to one another. We lost. But there is a desire in us that cannot be walled off, or drained by the expectation of an execution date. Maybe it will lead us to victory next year.

May’s a pretty good sportswriter. He’s also also a convicted murderer who’s awaiting execution for killing a mother and her 4-year-old child!

Targeting the federal calorie labeling rule

Elizabeth Harrington of the Washington Free Beacon highlights a plea from small business owners to the Trump administration.

Small businesses are pleading the Trump administration to delay an onerous Obama-era regulation requiring calorie labeling on menus, violations of which can carry jail time for mislabeling food.

Trade organizations representing pizza chains, supermarkets, and convenience stores are asking for common sense to prevail before the rule goes into effect May 5.

The regulation, buried in Obamacare and written by the Food and Drug Administration, requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to list calorie counts on every food item, including items on coupons and advertisements. The final guidance for the rule, which has been delayed twice already, included a 171-word definition of the word “menu.”

Associations representing grocery stores and gas stations say the FDA does not even know what the regulation requires, including whether a store could face criminal penalties for serving different sizes of fried chicken. The unwieldy government mandate could lead to $1 billion in costs for supermarkets and stores being sued for mislabeling calorie counts on potato salad.

“We want to eliminate some of the more onerous, and frankly ridiculous, pieces of the legislation, which is that there is a criminal element to the menu labeling act right now,” said Tim McIntyre, an executive vice president of Domino’s Pizza.

The regulation carries criminal penalties for “misbranding” food, including a maximum $1,000 fine, one year in prison, or both. McIntyre said this could mean jail time for putting too much pepperoni on a pizza.

Panning the carbon tax

Thomas Pyle piles up the arguments against a carbon tax in a National Review Online column.

Conservatives have long been the voice for limited government, lower taxes, free markets, and individual liberty. But recently, a small but persistent group of Republicans are trying to persuade conservatives to abandon these principles and embrace a national energy tax.

The idea of taxing carbon isn’t new. Bill Clinton and Al Gore tried to pass a BTU tax in 1993. Its defeat helped usher in a Republican-controlled Congress for the first time in nearly 40 years. In 2009, Barack Obama proposed a cap-and-trade plan that was rejected by a Democratic-controlled Congress. The Democrats ended up losing the House in 2010. More recently, Hillary Clinton’s campaign policy team was reportedly considering a carbon tax.

What is new, however, is that some Republicans are attempting to pass off a carbon tax as a conservative policy. The most recent attempt is from the Climate Leadership Council, a group led by James Baker and George Shultz. The group recently met with the Trump administration to encourage the adoption of a $40-per-ton carbon tax.

My organization, the American Energy Alliance, joined with several conservative leaders in opposition to the Climate Leadership Council’s proposal. In response, Shultz and Ted Halstead, another member of the Council, took to these pages to try to convince conservatives that their proposal is a “free-market” approach to addressing climate change. There is nothing free-market about their massive new tax hike, no matter how they dress it up.

A carbon tax would punish users of natural gas, oil, and coal, which make up 80 percent of the energy we consume. This means that all American families would face higher electricity bills and gasoline prices. In fact, it’s estimated that the Council’s carbon tax would hike gasoline prices by 36 cents per gallon. While everybody will pay more, these hikes would have a disproportionate impact on poor and middle-class families, who spend a higher percentage of their income on energy. It also means Americans would pay more for goods and services across the board.

Want better art? Dump NEA funding

Kevin Williamson of National Review Online explains why the National Endowment for the Arts ought to be defunded “for art’s sake.”

Of course we should kill the National Endowment for the Arts — not because we don’t care about art, but because we do. The ladies and gentlemen of the NEA are the Medicis of mediocrity, and the sooner we are done with them the better.

The case against the NEA is not that abolishing it will save the federal government a tremendous amount of money. It won’t. The NEA’s budget is, relatively speaking, chickenfeed — $148 million this year. (Which is literally less than Tyson spends on chickenfeed, if you were wondering.) We are not going to balance the budget on cuts — even cuts of 100 percent — to the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and foreign aid. About 80 percent of the federal budget is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other health-care programs, national security, and interest on the debt. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t pay attention to the little things, but our fiscal problem is far larger than the NEA and similar programs.

And there is nothing wrong with spending money on cultural programs in principle. …

… The case against the NEA is that it is bad for art and bad for artists.

It helps to understand what the NEA actually is and what it does. The National Endowment for the Arts has relatively little interest in art — or, if you must, “the arts” — per se. It spends a great deal of money not on art but on the artsy and the art-ish: community-development programs with an arts component; educational initiatives that touch art, music, or theater, however tangentially; partnerships between municipal agencies and politically connected nonprofits that function as a way to shunt federal funds into the coffers friendly mayors’ offices and those of their allies.

Putting Putin in perspective

Christopher Caldwell explains in the latest issue of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis why Russians support strongman Vladimir Putin more than they support democratic capitalism.

Russia retains elements of a kleptocracy based on oligarchic control of natural resources. But we must remember that Putin inherited that kleptocracy. He did not found it. The transfer of Russia’s natural resources into the hands of KGB-connected Communists, who called themselves businessmen, was a tragic moment for Russia. It was also a shameful one for the West. Western political scientists provided the theft with ideological cover, presenting it as a “transition to capitalism.” Western corporations, including banks, provided the financing.

Let me stress the point. The oligarchs who turned Russia into an armed plutocracy within half a decade of the downfall in 1991 of Communism called themselves capitalists. But they were mostly men who had been groomed as the next generation of Communist nomenklatura­—people like Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. They were the people who understood the scope and nature of state assets, and they controlled the privatization programs. They had access to Western financing and they were willing to use violence and intimidation. So they took power just as they had planned to back when they were in Communist cadre school—but now as owners, not as bureaucrats. Since the state had owned everything under Communism, this was quite a payout. Yeltsin’s reign was built on these billionaires’ fortunes, and vice-versa.

The recent conflict in Ukraine demonstrated major differences between American and Russian perspectives.

According to the official United States account, Russia invaded its neighbor after a glorious revolution threw out a plutocracy. Russia then annexed Ukrainian naval bases in the Crimea. According to the Russian view, Ukraine’s democratically elected government was overthrown by an armed uprising backed by the United States. To prevent a hostile NATO from establishing its own naval base in the Black Sea, by this account, Russia had to take Crimea, which in any case is historically Russian territory. Both of these accounts are perfectly correct. It is just that one word can mean something different to Americans than it does to Russians. For instance, we say the Russians don’t believe in democracy. But as the great journalist and historian Walter Laqueur put it, “Most Russians have come to believe that democracy is what happened in their country between 1990 and 2000, and they do not want any more of it.”

This weekend on Carolina Journal Radio

Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger offered contrasting views of the State of the State during a public address this month. Rick Henderson sifts through their comments for the next edition of Carolina Journal Radio.

Terry Stoops addresses Cooper’s public praise for a Raleigh school teacher who spends money from her own pocket to pay for school supplies. The governor did not mention the teacher’s $65,000 annual salary.

Duke professor Richard Salsman battles myths about American Founder Alexander Hamilton’s political philosophy. William Lassiter of the N.C. Department of Public Safety touts the potential benefits of the Raise the Age campaign, which would shift nonviolent 16- and 17-year-old criminal offenders from adult courts to the juvenile justice system.

Plus you’ll hear the N.C. State Board of Education’s reaction to the state’s latest school dropout report.