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Judge Rejects N.C. Liberals’ Effort To Deny Low-Income Families Educational Freedom

A major victory today for those of us who believe parents should have the choice to send their kids to the school they’ve determined best meets their individual needs. The state’s Opportunity Scholarship program is on! This victory is despite a huge effort by elitist North Carolina liberals who are doing everything they can to deny low-income parents this choice. Carolina Journal’s Barry Smith reports.

About 2,400 children taking part in the state’s fledgling Opportunity Scholarships program know they will receive money to help pay tuition, letting them attend private schools this fall.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood denied an effort by plaintiffs in the case to prohibit distribution of the Opportunity Scholarships before he rules on a motion for summary judgment in the case.

“The money is going to go out around Aug. 15,” said Renee Flaherty, an attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which is helping parents of the students seeking the vouchers. “All the kids [who] were awarded scholarships for this year are going to get their scholarships and attend private schools.”

Hobgood also allowed House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, to intervene as defendants in the lawsuit and help defend the program, which the General Assembly approved last year.

“This is very good news,” Flaherty said.

Wednesday’s order is in stark contrast to one Hobgood issued in February, when he imposed an injunction blocking implementation of the Opportunity Scholarships program.

In May, the N.C. Supreme Court lifted that order.

Flaherty said Hobgood’s refusal to block distribution of the scholarships was consistent with the N.C. Supreme Court’s order.

“I think Judge Hobgood felt like the Supreme Court sent him a signal that the program is constitutional,” Flaherty said.

The ruling comes just one day before the state’s chief champion of the Opportunity Scholarship program, Wake County Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, is scheduled to deliver Milton Friedman Freedom Lecture, titled Opportunity Scholarships: Perils and Promise. Details of Thursday’s speech at the John Locke Foundation can be found here. 


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Thursday at JLF: Rep. Paul Stam To Discuss Opportunity Scholarships

You’re invited to JLF Thursday to hear Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Wake County give the The Milton Friedman Freedom Lecture, titled Opportunity Scholarships: Perils and Promise

July 31, 2014 would have been Milton Friedman’s 102nd birthday. To honor his vision and the impact he has had on our society, we have collaborated with policy groups from around the world to hold events in his honor.

Milton Friedman’s contribution to 20th century economics is indisputable. But economics isn’t the only area where he had a vested interest. Friedman had a vision for transforming education through free market principles.

Representative Stam has been an unwavering supporter of school choice for students and parents in North Carolina for over three decades.

Event details are here. 

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Not Just A Big Pay Hike, But A Reform Package

JLF’s John Hood makes an important point about the 2014-15 General Fund budget plan presented Tuesday by Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis. It’s not just about pay, it’s about reform. 

The provision attracting the lion’s share of attention is an average teacher pay raise of 7 percent, which will cost about $282 million. It works out to roughly $3,500 per teacher, on average. Under different circumstances, I and other fiscal conservatives might have questioned the wisdom of such a large hike in a single year. In the past, politicians have oversold the premise of North Carolina’s underpaid teachers — using national rankings without any attempt to adjust for variances in cost of living, years of experience, and the value of non-wage benefits. They’ve also tended to pour more money into a broken compensation system that put too much emphasis on longevity-based salary schedules at the expense of offering competitive starting salaries and paying teachers more for high performance or challenging jobs.

But in 2014, the circumstances are different. During the lean budget years of the Great Recession and its aftermath, teachers received only a single across-the-board pay raise (in 2012). Even after adjusting for relevant factors, North Carolina’s compensation package has clearly become less competitive. It needed attention this year.

Moreover, legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory didn’t simply propose to hike average pay. They proposed a comprehensive, multi-year effort to reform how we pay teachers — an effort that the 2014-15 budget advances significantly. The outmoded 37 steps of the statewide salary schedule will shrink to six. Early-career teachers will receive an average 14 percent boost over two years. The stage is now set for the legislative and executive branches to continue the reform process by differentiating teacher pay in relation to student performance gains, hard-to-fill jobs, and hard-to-staff schools.

Reform — it’s a recurring theme of the Republican-led General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory. And it’s a very welcome theme following decades of government growth, tax hikes, bloat, inefficiency, and failure to prioritize.

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Wake County Set To Break 10,000 Mark For Home-Schoolers

Thousands of Wake County parents have taken control of, and responsibility for, the education of their children — opting for home-schooling.

JLF’s Terry Stoops, posting at sister blog The Locker Room, gives us the data.

Last year, there were an estimated 9,559 homeschool students in Wake County. Wake had the largest five-year enrollment increase in North Carolina, adding 5,788 students, and is poised to become the first county in the state to enroll over 10,000 homeschoolers. Interestingly, Wake’s homeschool enrollment beat Mecklenburg County by well over 2,000 students.

Read Stoops’ entire blog for data on other parts of the state.

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Who Are Conservatives Eyeing For 2016?

Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at National Review, explains why he believes conservatives should unite behind a single 2016 presidential candidate early in the election process. Geraghty offered these comments during a July 28, 2014, speech for the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society.

Geraghty talks about Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio.

Bonus: Geraghty is hilarious.

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Unions Hope For Ruling To Make Franchisees Easy Targets

From the Washington Examiner comes the story of  Big Labor’s hope for an NLRB ruling that would make franchisees easy targets.

An upcoming National Labor Relations Board case involving complaints against McDonald’s may fix that problem for unions. The NLRB might decide that both the parent corporation and the local franchises are in fact joint employers.

Such a ruling would make no sense, the fast food industry contends. In a recent Hill op-ed, International Franchise Association President Steve Caldeira noted that all legal filings related to the employees, like their IRS identification numbers, are done by the franchises.

“Franchisees process their own payrolls and hire and fire their own employees. They also determine wage rates, benefits and work schedules,” Caldeira said. Franchisees and corporate parents file their taxes separately too.

Changing that understanding would be a tremendous win for Big Labor though, allowing it to focus its organizing efforts on a single corporate entity rather than the piecemeal approach it has been stuck with.

Independent franchisees be warned: if this ruling goes against you, your independence could disappear.

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Stoops: Taxpayers Expect Credible Research, Not Political Activism, From UNC Profs

Is it political activism, or is it research? That’s the heart of the issue addressed in this column by Dr. Terry Stoops, JLF’s director of research and education studies. He analyzes several ‘research’ projects produced by UNC System professors and concludes they fail to meet accepted standards for credible research. For example:

About a month later, UNC-Wilmington education professors Robert Smith and Scott Imig published results from their survey of more than 2,300 residents of North Carolina. They reported that North Carolinians overwhelmingly disapproved of Republicans’ education reform measures. In fact, an astonishing 94 percent of their respondents agreed that public education in North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction.

Mainstream media outlets and public school advocacy groups enthusiastically disseminated the survey findings. But these articles and commentaries ignored a serious methodological problem.

At minimum, survey researchers should have selected a sample that mirrored the population from which it was drawn. Smith and Imig failed to do this. Rather, their online survey bounced around from person to person and from website to website, likely attracting respondents who completed the survey to air their grievances.

In May, two other UNCW researchers got into the act. Megan Oakes, a graduate student in the Department of Public and International Affairs, and education professor Janna Siegel Robertson co-authored a survey of teacher attitudes regarding evaluation and merit pay. They found that only 1 percent of the 800 respondents believed that performance pay was beneficial, while a whopping 89 percent objected to the use of performance pay.

Similar to the dubious approach adopted by Smith and Imig, Oakes and Robertson used Facebook, email, and word-of-mouth to disseminate their survey to teachers, many of whom were formally or informally tied to teachers unions, public school advocacy organizations, and the Democratic Party.

If professors wish to express their opposition to Republican education reformers in the legislature, they have legitimate ways to engage in the discussion, as every North Carolinian does. To use so-called ‘research’ to further their views is offensive.


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Boomerang Teachers

What is a boomerang teacher? It’s just one of the questions answered in the most recent edition of the Education Newsletter produced by JLF’s Terry, Stoops, director of research and education studies. Below you’ll find a summary of his newsletter, along with summaries from other JLF analysts. These newsletters are an outstanding way for you to stay abreast of the latest  developments in policy debates on issues closely watched by JLF.

To sign up for free weekly newsletters, click this link and you’ll be in business. 

Meantime, here’s a summary of the latest newsletters, which you can access here.


Education Policy
Terry Stoops, Director of Education Studies, wrote in his newsletter this week about charter schools and how they’re proving to be a good investment. Indeed, in terms of productivity, or bang for the buck, charters are doing better than their district counterparts. On the blog, he wrote about boomerang teachers, the cursive comeback, and slanted WRAL coverage of education. He also suggested some alternatives to government for addressing the problems facing NC’s kids, and shared an update on NC’s Race to the Top grant.


Economics and Environmental Policy
Roy Cordato, Vice President for Research and resident scholar, used his weekly newsletter to share some informative and entertaining videos about free market economics. These are definitely worth watching and sharing with your kids. On the blog, he shared a tribute to John Blundell, who died this week. He also wrote about Michael Moore, a “Land Baron Bolshevik,” and shared an argument for the constitutional rights of corporations.


Health Care Policy
Katherine Restrepo, Health Care Policy Analyst, wrote about this week’s two significant court rulings related to Obamacare subsidies. These have probably set up a future Supreme Court case, and they affect some of the most fundamental elements of Obamacare, so they’re hugely significant. She blogged about the rulings, their potential impact on Obamacare, the media’s response, and evidence supporting the plaintiffs’ case.


Regulatory Policy
Jon Sanders, Director of Regulatory Policy Studies, shared some interesting theology from Rev. William Barber on the blog. He also blogged about the ending of government subsidies for renewable energy in Australia, pay-raise scams, reaction to the Halbig case, and a top Obama advisor’s bizarre claims about a “typo” in the Obamacare legislation that you have to see to believe.


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The Free Market Unleashed!

Looking for fresh meals delivered to your home? No problem. Innovative entrepreneurs are responding, as the Wall Street Journal reports. As is the case when the free market is unleashed, you and I are the winners as we enjoy a new service and more people are hired. This story is a really fun read, giving us all a peek at what it takes to start and operate a business that’s breaking new ground.

By staying focused and keeping a close eye on details and customer experience, the meal-kit companies and their investors are hoping to avoid the fate of dot.com era food industry failures such as Webvan and Kozmo.com and more recent fizzles, like gourmet food delivery startup Pop-Up Pantry.

Survival depends on more than just avoiding spoiled tofu. The businesses must also manage their growth ahead and fend off competition from online grocers such as Fresh Direct and AmazonFresh, both of which offer meal kits.

The businesses are positioning themselves to capitalize on Americans’ willingness to order even fresh food online. Each meal kit includes a dinner recipe and all the premeasured ingredients needed, from chicken to thyme to miniature red and yellow peppers. Customers prepare the dinners, typically at a price of $10 to $12 a person a meal. Delivery is handled mainly by a third party, a move that reduces capital investment, but puts a key part of the customer’s experience in outside hands.

And, here’s a really interesting tidbit.

Some key aspects of the businesses don’t easily lend themselves to technology: Blue Apron’s data team labored fruitlessly to create an algorithm that would predict a recipe’s popularity based on the underlying ingredients, but found they couldn’t quantify the magic of how those ingredients come together.

Now let’s hope government bureaucrats stay out of it and let these creative risk-takers thrive.


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Will Legislature Protect Wake Taxpayers From Local Sales Tax Hike?

Sam Hieb reports on legislative action that could protect local taxpayers in Wake County from a possible sales tax hike.

The General Assembly may have gummed up the works for tax-hike supporters in the state’s two largest counties, Wake and Mecklenburg. The state Senate passed a bill capping local sales tax levies at 2.5 percent, which is Mecklenburg’s current rate. If the House — which passed a different version of the bill — goes along with the Senate’s version, and Gov. Pat McCrory signs the measure into law, Mecklenburg would have to cancel its sales tax referendum.

Meantime, in Wake County, commissioners have not decided whether to ask voters for a quarter-cent hike on top of the current 2 percent rate. Even if the commission puts the 0.25 percent raise on the November ballot, the tax cap bill could preclude Wake from joining Orange and Durham counties in creating a regional transit system, heavily reliant on fixed rail, because the county would have to impose a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transit to join the regional system.

Stay tuned.

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