Civitas Capitol Connection
MARCH 2014 VOL. 6, NO. 3
MONEY PRIVATE SCHEMES
Inside Progress in Unemployment — p. 4 —
Software Scandal — p. 8 —
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— See p. 5 —
Emails reveal partisanship at Poverty Center
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BY francis de luca A public records request filed by the Civitas Institute confirms that the UNC Poverty Center continues to use publicly funded resources for blatantly political activities in ways that are inappropriate, violate UNC policies, and are possibly illegal. Email records show that the center – formally the UNC Center for Poverty, Work, & Opportunity – hosted an invitation-only conference
in November 2013 of top liberal activists and organizers. Details on the conference come from 1,180 pages of email correspondence grudgingly provided by the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill. We requested six weeks’ worth of email correspondence by Poverty Center Director Gene Nichol in October 2013. Our request was met by foot-dragging and a firestorm of political outrage from the UNC law school and its allies. A group of liberal professors led by Duke professor Nancy MacLean compared us with Nazis, newspapers across the state accused Civitas of intimidation, and the university did everything possible to stonewall our request. At the time, we were mystified by the sudden liberal opposition to transparent government. But after reviewing the results of our request, it now seems clear why there was so much pushback from Nichol and his friends: They had something to hide. In Sept. 2013, UNC faculty at the Poverty Center began
UNC law professor Gene Nichol at the “Moral March” on Feb. 8 in Raleigh.
planning a conference that would ultimately be titled “Poverty, Partnerships, and the Public Good.” From the start, the event was highly partisan in nature. In the first draft of the event description, UNC School of Law professor Joe Polich wrote: “Poor people … face a legislature that is making sure the resources they depend on to help make ends meet are drying up.” This language was toned down in later revisions. The final “save the date” email, sent September 19, read: On November 25th, the UNC Poverty Center and
the Program on Public Life will convene a set of intimate discussions to explore obligations, strategies, and opportunities for various North Carolina advocates, service providers, institutions, programs, universities and funders – private and public – to address the challenges presently faced by poor and low income North Carolinians. At Nichol’s direction, the Poverty Center began soliciting participants and invitees for the conference. Dan Gerlach of the Golden LEAF
Foundation expressed concern about the political tone of the invitation: “I would be cautious about attending given my Board makeup if this turns into a political fight against the current regime.” In his response, Nichol reassured Gerlach that there would be no such “political fight.” But in correspondence with Tim Tyson, a Duke professor, Nichol’s tone changed sharply. Tyson wrote that he would “come holler at the panel … [and] tell folks … [to] run McCrony[sic]-Pope CONTINUED ON page 7
March 2014 Civitas Capitol Connection
Are Work Requirements a Good Idea?
BY JIM TYNEN North Carolina may have an opportunity to require able-bodied people to work, look for work, or get training if they want to receive food stamps. It’ll be interesting to see if the state does so. Most Americans think it’s OK to ask people getting government help to be at least looking for work. A 2013 poll by Oklahoma State University found that 73 percent of respondents favored requiring food stamp recipients to work or look for work. And food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) once had a work requirement. But that was suspended as part of the infamous stimulus bill. The Obama administration then gave 46 states waivers from the requirements. Not surprisingly, participation in food stamps doubled from 2009 to 2010. Today 47 million Americans — one in seven — get food stamps. Many are not poor. In 2010, more than half of the people in the program had incomes above the official poverty line; a fifth lived in households earning at least twice the poverty-line amount.
Now, however, there is an opportunity to reform the system in North Carolina. The new federal farm bill (H.R. 2642) passed this year includes authorization for a threeyear pilot effort for up to 10 states to work with the federal government to set up work requirement pilot programs for food stamps.
those with small children. There are exemptions for those who are disabled, too old, or otherwise justifiably unavailable for work. What’s most important, advocates say, is that a work requirement channels people into the workforce, not only for the benefit of the state’s economy, but for their own benefit. This is all about incentives. Everyone, including you and me, needs a rational
work skills and habits sharp. If you housesit for a neighbor, call yourself a residential maintenance consultant. If you walk her dog, you’re a canine fitness coach. A job, any job, leads to more jobs. That’s what work requirements do: They give people another rational reason to pursue work. In the long run, that benefits them and all of us. Work helps people start climbing the career ladder. When they do, their
The template is the work requirement for welfare. Food stamp recipients would have to spend a certain amount of time working, looking for work, or getting job training. The time requirements are lessened for
reason to work. In the long run, mandating that people work to get SNAP benefits helps the people involved. Employment experts always tell people who are out of work they should do something, anything, to keep
productive endeavors enrich the wider community. It’s a win-win situation. The 1996 reform of welfare included work requirements. Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation, writing in the Washington Post, has said,
From the Editor
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“Those work requirements were the heart of the reform’s success: Welfare rolls dropped by half, and the poverty rate for black children reached its lowest level in history in the years following.” There’s plenty of reason to think restoring work requirements would also benefit food stamp recipients. In at least one other state, efforts are underway to take advantage of this opportunity. Eighteen members of Congress have already urged the Texas Workforce Commission to take part in the pilot program. As Lone Star State Republican Randy Neugebauer said, “This pilot program includes work requirements and employment training to create opportunities for Americans to move off food stamps. I would be proud if my home state could be a forerunner in demonstrating the success of these reforms.” You might think North Carolina politicians would also be eager to try such an experiment. So far, however, there are few public signs the Tar Heel State is ready to jump on the bandwagon. Perhaps the move is being prepared behind closed doors. In any case, it will be interesting to see whether state officials push ahead on this promising idea.
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March 2014 Civitas Capitol Connection
Judge Halts Opportunity Scholarship Program BY bob luebke When you can’t win at the ballot box, enforce your will through the courts. That’s a well-known tactic of the left, and that’s exactly the strategy on display in North Carolina when it comes to school choice. In February, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood granted an injunction that halted implementation of the Opportunity Scholarship grant
program. The program, approved by the legislature last session, sets aside $10 million to provide up to $4,200 in scholarship assistance to eligible families who enroll their children in private schools. Lawyers representing taxpayers, the N.C. School Boards Association, and some local school boards said the scholarship grants violate the state constitu-
DON’T MISS OUT!
MAR. 28-29, 2014 RALEIGH, NC
tion by providing funding for parents to pay private K-12 school costs. Defenders of the grants said the complaints were about policy, not the constitution, and that the grants provide families with a chance to get better schooling for their children. News reports said up to 4,700 applications had already been received for the program.
Although no decision has been made, the injunction puts the grant program in limbo. It will likely be appealed, however. Also, Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) told the news media he thinks the legislature can fix supposed problems with the grants in the upcoming session and the program might be able to proceed this year. I hope Rep. Stam is right. If not, will the bevy of at-
torneys who argued against Opportunity Scholarships please go and address the 4,700 families who were hoping to give their children a better chance at an education? Please tell them why it’s best that their educational prospects continue to be determined by family income, being in the right ZIP code, or being lucky enough to win the lottery and get accepted to a charter school.
NC Voter Petition for the
Opportunity Scholarship Program Parents should be able to direct where their children attend school. There are many good public schools. However there are schools that are troubled and failing. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides up to $4,200 to low-income parents to allow their children to attend a private school. It’s a program that expands educational opportunity and makes a quality education possible for those in need. Over 4,700 applications have already been received for the program. We ask that the General Assembly do all it can to ensure the Opportunity Scholarship Program moves forward and helps to provide expanded educational opportunities for students in North Carolina.
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March 2014 Civitas Capitol Connection
In 2013, Great Strides on Unemployment BY lee brett It is difficult to overstate the tremendous improvement in unemployment that North Carolina made in 2013. At the beginning of the year, North Carolina trailed far behind the national average. North Carolina had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 9.5 percent in January, while the national unemployment rate was 7.9 percent. But North Carolina’s unemployment rate plummeted over the course of the year. By December 2013, the state’s unemployment rate was 6.9 percent – just barely higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent. In July 2013, only two states had higher rates of unemployment than North Carolina. However, in December North Carolina had lower unemployment than 17 other states. The precipitous drop in
the state unemployment rate over the course of the year was the largest in the country, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Every single one of North Carolina’s 100 counties experienced a decrease in the unemployment rate during 2013. Dare County, Swain County, and Graham County had the largest decreases, of 10.7 percentage points, 9.3 points, and 8.2 points, respectively (not adjusted for seasonal fluctuation). Counties with major metropolitan areas like Wake and Durham County had smaller decreases over the course of the year, but that is likely because metropolitan areas tend to have lower unemployment rates overall. Each of the Old North State’s 14 major metropolitan also saw decreases in their unemployment rates. From January to Decem-
ber, the largest change happened in the Hickory-LenoirMorganton area, which had a seasonally adjusted decrease of 3.3 percentage points. It’s worth pointing out that the unemployment rate decreased dramatically after the General Assembly terminated extended unemployment benefits. In July, North Carolina withdrew from federal extended unemployment insurance, effectively reducing the term of unemployment benefits from 73 weeks to 20 weeks. Critics alleged that the large decrease in the unemployment rate was due to a contraction of the labor force, but the contraction in the labor force actually slowed down after unemployment benefits were trimmed. All told, 2013 was a remarkably good year for North Carolina job growth.
North Carolina Unemployment -‐ 2013 10.0% 9.5%
Unemployment Reform Implemented in NC
9.0% 8.5% 8.0% 7.5% 7.0%
2013 Unemployment Rate Comparison 1-13 12-13 10
2013 - Changes in Unemployment Rates Iredell 10.4
CAMDEN gATES NORTHAMPTON -2.8 CURRITUCK VANCE WARREN STOKES ROCKINgHAM CASWELL PERSON -2.4 -4.6 -4.4 HERTfORD -4.6 -3 -3.9 -4.2 -3.8 -4.2 PERQUIMANS HALIfAX WATAUgA -4.1 WILKES gRANVILLE -3.6 PASQUOTANK -4.7 -3.9 YADKIN fORSYTH -4.3 -3.5 BERTIE ORANgE AVERY gUILfORD -3.6 CHOWAN -4.7 fRANKLIN MITCHELL-6.2 -4.5 -3.3 -2.5 -3.4 DURHAM -3.6 ALAMANCE CALDWELL NASH -3.5 -7 ALEXANDER DAVIE -2.8 MADISON YANCEY TYRRELL -3.6 -4.5 -4.5 EDgECOMBE MARTIN WASHINgTON -4 -6 -3.2 -5 -4.9 IREDELL -5 WAKE DAVIDSON -5.1 -4.5 BURKE MCDOWELL -3.9 -2.8 WILSON -3.8 RANDOLPH CHATHAM DARE CATAWBA -4.3 BUNCOMBE ROWAN -4.3 -4.8 HAYWOOD -4 -10.7 -3.1 -4.3 PITT -3.3 -3.5 -4.5 SWAIN JOHNSTON LINCOLN gREENE -3.4 BEAUfORT HYDE LEE gRAHAM -9.3 RUTHERfORD -3.1 -4.1 -3.1 JACKSON CABARRUS -3.8 HENDERSON -5.7 -4.4 HARNETT WAYNE CLEVELAND -8.2 MONTgOMERY POLK -5.5 STANLY gASTON -5.5 -3.5 -3 MOORE -3.9 -3.2 LENOIR -4 TRANSYLVANIA CRAVEN -3.8 CHEROKEE -3.6 MACON -3.9 -3.9MECKLENBURg -3.7 -4.9 CLAY -3.3 -3.4 -5.1 -6 -3 PAMLICO -4 JONES CUMBERLAND -2.9 HOKE UNION RICHMOND SAMPSON ANSON -2.7 -3.3 DUPLIN -1.7 -3.1 -4.4 -2.7 -5.1 -3.4 SCOTLAND CARTERET -5.2 ONSLOW -4.2 BLADEN ROBESON -3.1 PENDER -3.7 -4.2 -8.2 to -10.7 -3.5 ASHE -5.5
2013 County Changes in Unemployment Rates -5.2 to -8.1 -4.2 to -5.1 -3.3 to -4.1
NEW HANOVER -4.1
-1.7 to -3.2
*Data is from the North Carolina Department of Commerce Labor & Economic Analysis Division
March 2014 Civitas Capitol Connection
DR. WALTER E. WILLIAMS Economist and Commentator
BOBBY JINDAL Louisiana Gov.
North Carolina Gov.
CATHERINE ENGELBRECHT President, True the Vote
U.S. SEN. MIKE LEE (R-Utah)
March 28-29 • Raleigh, NC CLC2014.COM
March 2014 Civitas Capitol Connection
AG Cooper Should Practice What He Preaches BY ANGELA HIGHT According to WRAL, Attorney General Roy Cooper is pressing Gov. Pat McCrory to roll back “special service charges” imposed on certain requests for public records. Maybe he should first pressure his own office to do so. Under the policy, such charges are incurred “for any requests that require agency personnel more than 30 minutes to locate, copy and refile,” Cooper wrote to the governor on Jan. 28. The special charge includes both the physical costs of making copies as well as cost of the sala-
from Cooper’s office ended by saying: Please also note that we charge a copy fee with the first 20 pages free and 5 cents a page after that. I will provide you with an invoice once we know the total page count. Thank you, Noelle Noelle Talley Public Information Officer Attorney General Roy Cooper N.C. Department of Justice We sent an email back saying that we would like the re-
“When in doubt about how to interpret the state’s open records … always work to resolve the question in favor of openness.” — Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper ries and benefits of the state workers involved in making the copies. “I believe these policies violate the spirit and perhaps the legislative intent of the North Carolina Public Records Act,” Cooper wrote to McCrory. Cooper also notes that some counties have begun charging similar fees, a practice his office is discouraging. In November, the Civitas Institute asked for public records in electronic form. The response we got
cords in electronic form. The response was: I don’t think that will be possible since we will have to print emails that require redaction of nonpublic information. Thanks, Noelle Noelle Talley We replied, citing the relevant law. After other exchanges, we summed up the situation in an email: In your response on November 5, you wrote that there would be a charge
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in a particular medium shall be denied on the grounds that the custodian has made or prefers to make the public records available in another medium.” As we understand it, we have previously requested and Attorney General Roy Cooper are requesting electronic for providing copies of the versions of emails that have emails. We responded that heretofore been provided we were not requesting free of charge. Therefore, copies, only electronic verthere should be no fee sions which normally come since we are not requesting free of charge. You respondphysical copies. ed that it would not be posIn the DOJ’s “Guide to sible to provide electronic Open Government and Pubcopies, since the emails could only be redacted by making physical copies. To your contention that the Department of Justice can only redact messages by printing out the emails and then redacting them by hand, we say that the cost, by statute, may not be transferred to us. GS 132-6 clearly states that the cost of separating confidential material is to be borne by the Department of Justice. How the DOJ chooses to do that is legally of no concern to us. GS 132-6.2 holds that public records may be “obtain[ed] in any and all media in which the public agency is capable of providing them. No request for copies of public records
lic Records,” Cooper wrote: “When in doubt about how to interpret the state’s open records … always work to resolve the question in favor of openness.” We at Civitas have previously been impressed with the Department of Justice’s cooperation and assistance, but this latest exchange seems not to comply with the state laws regarding transparency and open government. We are concerned by this development and hope to resolve this matter soon. It seems that though Cooper is asking for McCrory to be more open to public records requests, he doesn’t hold his own staff to the same standards. On Feb. 7, we did finally get the records we asked for — after having to follow up every Monday asking about the status of our request.
In the next issue of Civitas Capitol Connection CLC Highlights
Civitas Action’s Ratings of NC Legislators A Look at the 2014 Election Landscape
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March 2014 Civitas Capitol Connection
Emails Reveal Partisanship at Poverty Center CONTINUED from page 1
over with the Steamroller of Love.” Nichol responded: “[T]hanks my brother. I do want you to yell a little bit. Or maybe a lot.”
• Panelists: Rev. Curtis Gatewood (NC NAACP), Leoneda Inge (WUNC), Bill Rowe (Justice Center), Pam Silberman (NC Institute of Medicine).
that is hardly anything new for the Poverty Center. The Poverty Center started as a place for John Edwards to remain visible after his failed 2004 bid for Vice President. Edwards used
invited participants, Nichol described the Poverty Center event as a “closed conference.” A draft of the official invitation called it a “small, invitation-based conference,” while
A group of academics gathered outside the Capitol to urge that Civitas’ open records request be denied.
The invitation list for the event makes it clear that the Poverty Center intended for their “intimate discussions” to be exclusively between liberals. Indeed, the list of 90-plus invitees reads like a “Who’s Who of the Left” in North Carolina. Among the groups represented were the NAACP, the North Carolina Justice Center, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the ACLU, Democracy North Carolina, and other leftist organizations. It’s not clear what exactly was said at the conference. Only one reporter, Leoneda Inge of WUNC, is known to have attended, and she took part as a panelist, not a reporter. Inge filed a story, but the story made no mention of the fact that she attended as a participant, not an observer. But an outline of one presentation by Legal Aid describes a “grim picture” in North Carolina, and calls the state’s actions a “bad direction for public policies.” Additionally, the panel titles give some clue as to the subjects of discussion: • The 2013 Legislative Session and Its Impact on LowIncome North Carolinians
• The Altered Landscape of Community Economic Development in North Carolina • Panelists: Yolanda Burwell (Rural Center), Tracey Dorsett (Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation), Martin Eakes (Self-Help), Andrea Harris (NC Institute of Minority Economic Development), Anita Brown-Graham (Institute for Emerging Issues). • Challenges and Responses of the North Carolina Philanthropic Community • Panelists: David Dodson (MDC), Dan Gerlach (Golden LEAF), Melinda Lawrence (Justice Center), Leslie Winner (Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation). • UNC, Public Universities, Public Obligations • Panelists: Professors Hodding Carter (UNC), Ferrel Guillory (UNC), Jarvis Hall (NCCU), Tim Tyson (Duke), Lynne VernonFeagans (UNC). Based on internal correspondence, the invitation list, and the event descriptions, there is no question that the event was political in nature. Of course,
the Poverty Center to remain in the public eye as he prepared for the 2008 presidential campaign. Since then, the center has repeatedly engaged in liberal activism. In 2011, the Poverty Center hosted a summit titled “Progress and Economic Justice in a Time of Crisis.” During the summit, speakers attacked “the people that control the General Assembly,” “right-wing think tanks,” and the ever-predictable chimera of the Koch brothers. Civitas’ attempts to access public records pertaining to the 2011 event were repeatedly stymied by UNC. The gross impropriety of using taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes is self-evident. But it appears that in the latest conference the Poverty Center may also have violated state law. As a public body, UNC is prohibited from holding closed meetings except in very specific circumstances. Under Chapter 143 of the General Statutes, all meetings must be open to the public at large. Public bodies must also provide advance notice of meetings. But in multiple emails to
a later draft described it as a “small gathering of select invitees.” No matter the phrasing, this was not an open meeting. Despite Nichol’s best efforts to keep the event secret, word of the conference spread in liberal circles. Duke professor
state statutes pertaining to open meetings. On Oct. 9, UNC program coordinator Mary Irvine wrote: “I … do not want to run afoul of any policy regarding events being open to the public vs. closed meeting.” Nichol responded: “Right … any response we make will need to begin with the notion that we only have 50 seats because of the room – it’s not that it’s closed – we just can’t accommodate many folks.” Irvine responded: “Unless you tell me otherwise, I’ll indicate that the room holds 50 persons so space is limited and we cannot currently accommodate additional participants ….” Nichol wrote simply: “Good ….” Effectively, these emails by Nichol and Irvine show that Nichol was aware that their event was subject to open meeting laws. Nichol told Irvine to tell interested parties that the room was full, but that was a lie. The room did become fully occupied until almost a week later on Oct.14, when Irvine wrote: “I’m concerned we are getting quite close [to full].” It all boils down to this: The UNC Poverty Center used public resources to host a closed event which was political in nature and appears to have been blatantly partisan, in violation of the state laws on open government. I suspect,
The gross impropriety of using taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes is self-evident.
MacLean sent the invitation to the entire listserv of the Duke CLASS Center, much to Nichol’s annoyance. And word-of-mouth also led uninvited parties to invite themselves. Among the groups that tried to nose in on Nichol’s exclusive conference were the state AFL-CIO, North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, the UNC American Indian Center, Stone Circles, and the North Carolina Community Development Initiative. Poverty Center staff realized that their event likely violated
given the Poverty Center’s previous activities, that this is likely the tip of the iceberg. Further review of the Poverty Center will likely show that North Carolina taxpayers have been subsidizing political organizing and activism, not higher education. The UNC Board of Governors should initiate a full investigation of the Center for Poverty, Work, & Opportunity. If the investigation confirms our findings, UNC should move to close the center or to end all public funding and support for it.
March 2014 Civitas Capitol Connection
Scandal BY bob luebke It’s an all-too-familiar story: Technology executives promise education leaders a new product will increase productivity for teachers, keep parents and administrators happy – and save time and money. Education officials write a big check. Then we learn things aren’t quite as rosy as we were led to believe. That’s an accurate description of developments surrounding North Carolina’s new student information software, PowerSchool. The software, developed by megaeducation publisher Pearson, according to the company web site is: [t]he fastest-growing, most widely used web-based student information system, supporting 12 million students in all 50 states and over 65 million countries. … PowerSchool provides the full range of features needed by administrators at the district and school level in addition to portals for teachers, parents and students. … With over a decade of experience as a completely web-based system, PowerSchool stands alone as the deepest and most flexible SIS available to meet the needs of K-12 districts. Through SIF Compliance, an open platform and the ability to share enhancements with other uses, PowerSchool allows each customer to easily tailor the system to their needs. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sounds like PowerSchool has been around awhile and is
Déjà Vu All over Again with Millions Spent on School Software not just another new product. Then why all the problems? Between December 2012 and June 2013, North Carolina paid Pearson $14.5 million for PowerSchool. The rollout has cost taxpayers an additional $7.1 million. It’s lots of money for a lot of headaches. The rollout of PowerSchool in North Carolina began on July 1, 2013 and has been less than ideal. Late last summer news reports began to surface about the system being slow and taking more time to register students than normal. Teachers also complained that student transcripts couldn’t be sent from high schools to colleges, a major problem for students seeking college admission. In fairness, Pearson said North Carolina is adapting PowerSchool in ways that hadn’t been previously utilized. Pearson has had technical and computer experts working on the problems. However, it seems that as soon as one glitch is resolved another emerges. Recent news reports said PowerSchool continued to be plagued by problems with the accuracy of student transcripts, verifying athletic eligibility of students, and reporting simple enrollment figures. North Carolina’s ADM (Average Daily Membership) headcount, usually reported the third Monday of September, still has not been reported. Enrollment figures are used to determine funding and staffing levels. In February, Philip Price, the Chief Financial Officer for the NC Department of Public
Instruction, said state officials will try to get credit from Pearson to offset the added costs.
tronic student accounting system developed in 2004 that provided student, school data
quarter-billion dollars in technology costs to serve LEAs and charter schools.
Price said it would have cost North Carolina about $2.1 million to wait another year. He also said the state could have provided more training on PowerSchool. Of course, with any statewide rollout there are always problems. However, there seems to be more than the normal level of frustration among teachers, administrators and parents. Unlike the advertising’s promises, PowerSchool has not been easy to learn, or easily tailored to fit the needs of users. Some of the most common complaints are it’s timeconsuming and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. PowerSchool was intended to replace NCWISE, an elec-
and information management capabilities. One of the selling points of NC WISE was the ability to track individual students when they left one school for another, thereby providing better data collection for graduation and dropout rates. However, what started out as a $34 million contract ballooned to $234 million by 2010 because of costs related to computer hardware, software, personnel and upgrades. Add another $20 million in costs for PowerSchool over the last two years, and you have a
The scenario – promising more than you can deliver – sounds all too familiar. Two questions emerge: Did North Carolina really make a no-bid contract for the proposal from Pearson? If so, why? Could a better, more flexible system have been found that was less expensive? We know who pays for these problems – the taxpayers. But who is accountable when things don’t go smoothly? It’s an expensive road. Do we ever learn?
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Scandal is a regular column in Civitas Capitol Connection that will explore public corruption in NC Government. Have a local corruption story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 919.834.2099.
A Civitas investigation uncovered emails showing the UNC Poverty Center uses public funding for partisan purposes. Civitas Capitol Connectio...