Free and Proper Elections

NCFPE Poltical Blog and News Tracker

Free and Proper Elections - NCFPE Poltical Blog and News Tracker

North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections

Welcome to the North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections Political Action Committee. There are two questions that we would like you and every other citizen of the great Tar Heel state of North Carolina to ask themselves. First, is the right to vote your conscience one of the citizens’ most basic rights inherent in our Republican form of government? Second, can any level of government rightfully abridge or deny it’s citizens the right to vote specifically based on political affiliation?

As a grass-roots group of concerned citizens in North Carolina, we feel that the answer is obvious. We believe that the right to vote one’s conscience is a valuable and inherent right that our servicemen and women have died to protect over the past two and one half centuries; the right to choose who represents you. So, in return, we strongly believe that that no level of government has any authority to abridge the citizen’s right to vote based on political affiliation. Yet, that is exactly what has continued to happen for over one hundred years now by our state’s policy makers.

In 1901, the state of North Carolina enacted the first ballot access law, along with the implementation of the state printed ballot (called the Australian Ballot). This first ballot access law was simply the definition of a political party recognized by the state. Yet, North Carolina started off with a bang, requiring parties to have garnered at least 50,000 votes in the 1900 General Election to remain a ballot-recognized party in the state, automatically establishing a Republican-Democratic duopoly from the beginning of the state-printed ballot.

Now, over 100 years after the implementation of the state-regulated ballot, North Carolina has revised its laws regulating who can and cannot get on the ballot numerous times and still we do not truly have free elections as required by the North Carolina State Constitution which reads in Article I Section 10: “All elections shall be free.” We ask ourselves why our representatives do not represent us, why they promise one thing on the campaign trail and then deliver nothing in office, why can we not trust them. We at the North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections, believe that it is a result of the unfair and restrictive ballot access laws which nearly ensure that only the two major parties have an equal chance on election day by making it nearly impossible to gain access to the ballot, allowing the two major parties to run unopposed by third party or unaffiliated candidates in most elections.

What people forget, and neglect to understand, is that in pre-1900 America, elections where generally free and equal; third political parties had a chance and they undertook important, meaningful roles in early-American politics. They served as agents of change and progress, ensuring that issues such as women’s suffrage and the abolishment of slavery were on the table, whereas the two major parties would have otherwise failed to act. Yet, since those grand old days when the citizens and political parties printed the ballots themselves and were able to vote their conscience, things have changed, but regretfully, not for the better.

Please help us to spread the word across the state of North Carolina about these unconstitutional statutes which deprive the citizens of their basic right to vote. The North Carolina citizen needs to be made aware of the problem of ballot access restrictions that have plagued freedom, and real political progress since 1901. We encourage everyone to look around the website, learn more about the ballot issue, and see what you can do to make North Carolina free again. For without freedom we are but pawns and slaves to government, and without the right to vote there is no freedom, just a privilege with the illusion of freedom.

The North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections is a Political Action Committee which will work to:

-Educate the people of North Carolina about the state’s unconstitutional and burdensome restrictions on third political parties and unaffiliated candidates.

-Push for change and progress in the North Carolina General Assembly and US Congress to free the ballot and level the playing field for all candidates.

-Inform the people of where their candidates for elected office stand on the ballot issue.

Federal Court Strikes Down Gerrymandered Districts

Late Friday Federal Court Ruling Strikes Down Gerrymandered Districts Late Friday, three federal appellate judges threw out congressional voting maps the Republican-led General Assembly drew five years ago, ruling that two districts were gerrymandered along racial lines. Judges ordered state lawmakers to redraw the maps within two weeks. As WRAL reported, “the three-judge panel ruled […]

The Follies (of the A-F grading system)

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest seems to want to have it both ways on the state’s stigmatizing A-F grading system for public schools. The News & Observer reported that Forest’s recent appearance before the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce was dominated by questions from business leaders about education, with the grading system a primary concern. The grades for schools are based on a formula that counts performance on standardized tests as 80 percent of the calculation of the grade and growth in test scores as 20 percent. That means that most schools with high percentages of low-income students that start behind other schools have virtually no chance to receive a high grade, no matter how much they improve. In the first two years of the grading system, roughly 97 percent of the schools that received a D or an F were low-income schools, making the grades more an indicator of poverty than a measure of academic achievement. One Johnston County business leader pointed out to Forest the great things happening at one local school that received a D grade and another said the stigma of a low grade hurts the community overall. Forest said that “not all F schools are created equal.” That’s exactly the point but what does Forest, who’s fond of making slick political videos on controversial issues, plan to do about it? He is on the State Board of Education after all and recently appeared in a video extolling the virtues of school choice. Not much it appears. Forest also told the local business leaders that any grading system depends on “how the state communicates it to the community,” that he wants all schools to be A schools, and that “maybe we could cook the books a bit and make F schools look like D schools and D schools look like C schools” but that wouldn’t be a good idea. Interesting that even many conservatives believe that the formula used to determine the grades needs to be changed to give more weight to growth in student achievement, which would give low-income schools a much better chance to receive a higher grade. That’s not cooking the books, that’s rewarding schools for helping students make significant gains instead of branding the students and the teachers and the schools a failure. Forest didn’t mention the proposal to change the formula. And in case folks think that the stigma of the low grades for schools is not a problem, a recent television news story in Charlotte painfully proves otherwise. WCNC was covering the sketchy plan by Rep. Rob Bryan to convert some low-performing schools to charters which could be run by out of state for profit companies. It’s an idea that has failed in Tennessee but Bryan is pushing ahead anyway with what amounts to the latest piece of the school privatization agenda. The story about Bryan’s proposal included a quote from a parent of three children at Druid Hills Academy in Charlotte that received an F and were looking for another place to send their kids because of the grade. They told the reporter that the grade meant students were not learning anything at all in the school. That’s not what the grade means of course. It means that the kids at the school, where 97 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, are not doing as well on standardized tests as students at more affluent schools. And it doesn’t matter if they improve dramatically every year. They are still not likely to get a higher grade with the current formula. It also doesn’t mean that the teachers are not working hard. The school was featured on ABC News and public radio earlier this year for the innovative methods teachers are using the help kids improve. There appears to be plenty of learning going on at Druid Hills. But all the broader community sees is the F on the door. It’s hard not to think that’s the point. The folks trying to dismantle public education need to convince people that schools are failing whether it’s true or not. That’s why the stigmatizing grading system is so important to them. Maybe Forest can explain it all to us all in another video.

Could raising the state’s dropout age save more “at-risk” students?

Education advocates examine raising the age to 18 Aron Gabriel, assistant superintendent of Newton-Conover City Schools, hears the arguments against raising the dropout age in North Carolina from 16 to 18. Why waste resources on students who don’t want to learn? What’s the cost for local school systems already stretched thin by state budget shortfalls? And should students acting as family breadwinners be forced to sit in a classroom every day? Gabriel hears it, but now that his school system has tested the model for almost two academic years, there’s a clear choice to him. “Morally, professionally and ethically, this is the right thing to do,” says Gabriel. Gabriel’s system is one of two, including Hickory Public Schools, in North Carolina participating in a two-year pilot program to test the model. After launching the program, both Hickory and Newton-Conover school systems, located in western North Carolina in Catawba County, reported increases in 2014-2015 in their four-year cohort graduation rates, an analysis of high school completion that factors in students moving in or out of the school system. Newton-Conover’s rate, exceeding 95 percent in 2014-2015, was the highest in the state’s history, say school administrators. The results in Hickory are somewhat harder to see at this point, given the limited amount of data available. Hickory’s graduation rate, at 83.9 percent, falls just short of the statewide rate of about 85.6 percent, but that’s a slight improvement—about 1 percentage point—from the previous year. Yet the two school systems’ interim report in January to members of the State Board of Education came and went quietly, just as discussions of the dropout age often do in North Carolina, one of just 16 states in the U.S. that still maintains a minimum dropout age of 16. N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County and former school administrator who specialized in racial achievement disparities, co-sponsored bipartisan legislation last year to raise the dropout age statewide, although the bill stalled in the House education committee. Meyer balked at any reticence on the proposal last week, although he could not say whether he expects the issue to be revived this year. Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Wake County and a member of the Senate education committee, said he’s never even heard the idea mentioned on the Senate side of the legislature. “I can’t take it seriously if someone thinks we should keep the dropout age at 16,” Meyer said last week. “That just means they’re putting money in front of children’s lives.” Just how much money is a clear question: Supporters of the program in Hickory and Newton-Conover had no figures to go along with their presentation last month, but as most education advocates note, schools are funded on a per-pupil allotment. Thus, the larger the school system, the more per-pupil funding is available to address the problem, although most education advocates will point out the state’s per-pupil funding ranks a dismal 46th in the country. In Newton-Conover, the system reassigned one staff member to act specifically to lead the dropout prevention program, Gabriel said. Otherwise, he said the change required the investment of mostly time and effort. Gabriel added that his system did become considerably more targeted with its use of funding budgeted for “at-risk” students. Still, following last month’s report, the state board’s vice chairman, A.L. Collins, groused that there needs to be an “awful lot of discussion” on the program before leaders raise the dropout age statewide. Collins, who did not respond to interview requests from Policy Watch, pointed out both Newton-Conover and Hickory school systems are relatively small school systems during last month’s state board meeting. Indeed, the two Catawba County school systems combined serve a population of less than 8,000. Fitting the model to a larger school system, such as Wake County, which serves more than 153,000 students, is a different challenge, he said, one that Gabriel openly acknowledged. But Gabriel said the program has been a rousing success in his district, with a network of local juvenile justice officials, educators, counselors and members of the community banding together to help push students through school. “In my 20 years, I’ve never seen that many parties sitting around the table talking about anything,” he said. And while Newton-Conover possessed a relatively high graduation rate before the program’s inception, about 87.4 percent in 2012-2013, the school system is reporting unprecedented levels of success in graduating students. Additionally, while North Carolina dropout data lag behind the graduation rate data, Newton-Conover’s dropout rate for grades 7-13 was a paltry .62 percent as school officials began notifying students of the new program in 2013-2014. Meanwhile, the state rate, which has plunged prodigiously since the 1990s, lingers at about 1.52 percent. With the pilot program expiring this year, school leaders in Hickory and Newton-Conover say they are hoping for an extension, or, if the state constitution allows, for the program to remain in perpetuity, with or without the rest of North Carolina. “We’ve changed the conversation,” said Gabriel. *** To June Atkinson, superintendent of public instruction in North Carolina, there are two choices: Pay now or pay later. As Atkinson points out, past studies pegged the cost to society for each dropout at about $1 million. Dropouts are more likely to be incarcerated, require social services and struggle to find unemployment. They’re also more likely to face long-term health problems. “I look at each child graduating from high school, regardless of what is needed to help them graduate, as an investment in our future,” Atkinson told Policy Watch. “While there may be a cost on the front end of providing extra help and assisting, while a student may need an alternative environment to be successful, in the end that investment reaps great rewards.” It’s a long-running debate in North Carolina, and in many states. Yet North Carolina is one of just 16 states in the U.S. that maintains a minimum dropout age of 16. Lawmakers have lobbed the idea with little traction in the past, Atkinson notes, but it wasn’t until Hickory and Newton-Conover schools petitioned state leaders to raise the dropout age in 2013 that the proposal gained some steam. Legislators agreed, and since then, school administrators have been leveraging their somewhat modest resources to propel more students toward graduation. Along with permission to test the pilot program, school leaders were also granted the flexibility to offer some students the ability to attend school part-time to acquire their diploma. It’s necessary, Gabriel said, with a greater number of students taking on the role of financial breadwinner in their homes since the 2008 recession. “If they don’t make that money, they have nowhere to sleep, or nothing to eat,” he said. “It’s tough.” Meanwhile, Gabriel points out that while his school system deals with a relatively small population, the pilot program was not predestined to succeed in his school system. Seventy percent of the system’s students receive free or reduced lunch, and roughly half of the population is made up of minority students—students who, statistically speaking, tend to struggle academically in North Carolina. “To me, this is very common sense legislation,” says Meyer. “There is no good reason to let kids drop out of school just because they’ve turned 16 years old. We should expect every child to graduate from school. It should be the expectation in the 21st century.” Atkinson said the proposal, statewide, would require greater flexibility for school systems to adjust their calendars and hours to meet those students with time constraints. She said it would also require buy-in from parents and communities, perhaps the most difficult factor to manage. But Atkinson said she believes it’s worth it. “Do we pay now, a smaller amount or do we pay big time later? I vote for paying a smaller amount today.” Gabriel would agree. “Every day there’s another rock we turn over and say here’s another way we can help another kid get across the finish line.”

Low-income students need more support, not an achievement school district

The public rationale for many of the efforts to dismantle traditional public education with various privatization schemes almost always includes the claim that it is all about helping students do better, most often low-income and minority kids. Supporters of the sketchy North Carolina voucher program say that often, that it’s all about helping poor kids. The program, euphemistically called opportunity scholarships, currently has income eligibility limits, though they have already been increased once and the long term plan is to make vouchers available to thousands of more students. The same is true of the state’s current experiment with unproven virtual charters, one run by K12, Inc., a company embroiled in scandals in other states and run out of Tennessee. The online for profit charters will help kids who are struggling in traditional public schools. That’s the line anyway. There’s no real evidence that any of the privatization plans actually help low-income kids achieve more academically, but it’s easier to build support for dismantling a popular and successful public institution talking about poor kids than it is making a purely anti-government ideological argument. And it’s especially effective when low-income students are struggling in public schools whether it’s the schools fault or not. The scene is playing out again in the latest school privatization battle in North Carolina, the debate over something called achievement school districts. The idea, proposed by Rep. Rob Bryan, is to convert a certain number of low-performing schools into charters which may be operated by for profit companies who keep popping up to capitalize on the school privatization frenzy. Never mind that school turnaround efforts by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction are showing some promising results despite the lack of resources provided by the General Assembly that makes it impossible for DPI to focus on all the schools that need extra help. Some lawmakers who seem to be warming up to Bryan’s proposal—which has failed miserably in neighboring Tennessee—are understandably frustrated that schools with a high percentage of low-income students are not performing as well as more affluent schools and are constantly branded as failing by the state’s absurd A-F grading system. But there’s another way to address that problem, by helping the students and their families before the kids show up at school. No one can deny the correlation between education and poverty. That doesn’t mean that low-income kids can’t learn. It means that they face extraordinary hurdles that most other students do not, and many of the problems are difficult for schools to solve. But it’s not impossible. It just takes policymakers and education officials working together. They need to talk to Tiffany Anderson, the former head of the schools in Jennings, Missouri who recently accepted a job to run the schools in Topeka, Kansas. As reported recently in the Washington Post, Anderson turned around the overwhelmingly poor schools in the Jennings School District not by supporting privatizing them or converting them to charters. She did it by helping the students and their families by setting up a food bank and medical clinic at the high school. She installed washers and dryers that parents could use if they volunteered at the school. She even started a shelter for homeless teens. She started a Saturday school and reinstated arts programs. The results were dramatic. The school was in danger of losing its accreditation but is now fully accredited and the students have made huge progress with many kids now considering college for the first time. The lesson seems pretty obvious. One of the best ways to help poor kids do better in schools is to address the challenges they face because of their poverty. If Rep. Bryan wants to help low-performing schools, maybe he should fight to make sure that all the at-risk four year olds have access to NC PreK so they show up at school ready to learn. Maybe he should support expanding Medicaid so the parents of low-income students can get regular medical care when they need it. Maybe the real innovations lawmakers should consider are the things that Tiffany Anderson did, providing support services at the schools and help for students’ families in the community. Converting a public school with lots of low-income students to a for-profit charter won’t make it any more likely that a third-grader with an abscessed tooth can afford to see a dentist. We don’t need achievement school districts and for profit charters to help poor kids do better at school. And we don’t need vouchers either. We need a commitment to help the students and their families with the things that make it harder for them to succeed. It may not accomplish the philosophical aims of the privatizers, but it would transform the lives of low-income kids in North Carolina.