News: Quick Takes

CJ politics week in review, July 20-24

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s this week’s review:

School choice survey: A new survey of N.C. parents of K-12 students suggests the state’s response to COVID-19 has increased interest in school choice. In a survey conducted June 1-22, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, an advocacy nonprofit, asked 835 parents and guardians about Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan for reopening schools. The survey wasn’t fully random or adjusted for differing school settings among parents statewide. Participants responded on PEFNC social media outlets or from listservs. When asked if they backed school choice, 68% strongly agreed and 25% agreed. Those parents and guardians strongly agreeing about school choice encompassed all school types — 54% traditional public, 66% public charter, 78% private, and 92% homeschool. A majority of respondents, 77%, said they’ve become more aware of education policy as a result of COVID-19. Forty-five percent of parents said teaching at home was difficult. Another 32% said it was easy. Most parents of elementary school students, 63%, are struggling to teach from home, the poll showed. Still — if given the opportunity to choose a new school format — parents across demographics said they viewed homeschooling most favorably. 

Wells retirement: Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, is saying goodbye to the General Assembly. Wells served three terms in the Senate and one in the House. His work primarily focused on regulatory reform and fixing the state’s pension system. “He has a knack for finding regulations that have burdened businesses and the citizens of North Carolina,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a news release. “His work to remove those burdens will have a lasting legacy on the state.” Wells served as the chair of Pensions and Retirement and Aging committee, the Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources committee, and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance.

Opportunity scholarships: Berger is urging parents to apply for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which helps low income families send their children to private schools. Berger’s message comes on the heels of the governor’s announcement that schools have the option to partially reopen or deploy full-time remote learning for the start of the 2020-21 school year. “The public school establishment is failing the very children it is supposed to serve,” Berger said in a news release. “At-risk kids may be out of school from March 2020 through September 2021 — many of them don’t have a chance of catching up.” While children from well-off families can access in-person learning at private schools, lower income students are left behind, Berger said. The Opportunity Scholarship program provides as much as $4,200 to families to pay for tuition and cost of attending a private school. Ford Porter, a spokesperson for Cooper, criticized Berger’s news release in a tweet. “The Senate leader has been working to divert funds and students from public schools for years, so this isn’t exactly new,” Porter tweeted. Referring to the debate over the decades-old Leandro court decision, Porter added, “Senator Berger has argued that the #NCGA can ignore a court order to address education disparities that violate the NC constitution.” 

Mike Adams: Mike Adams, a UNC-Wilmington criminology professor, was found dead in his home on July 23, the News & Observer reported. Deputies with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office found Adams after performing a wellness check at his home. Law enforcement is still investigating the cause of death. Adams was known for making provocative statements and winning a free speech lawsuit against UNC-Wilmington after the university denied him a promotion based on his political statements. The 55-year-old professor reached a settlement agreement with UNC-Wilmington after he posted a series of controversial tweets in May, including calling Governor Cooper “Massa Cooper,” that garnered significant backlash from students, faculty, and alumni. UNC-Wilmington agreed to pay Adams a $504,702.76 settlement that includes loss salary and retirement benefits. Adams was set to retire on Aug. 1. 

Presidential visit: President Donald Trump will tour the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies’ Innovation Center in Morrisville on July 27. At the pharmaceutical manufacturing company, the president will discuss the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies is manufacturing the drug substance for NVX-CoV2373, Novavax’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the News & Observer reported. The vaccine candidate is currently in Phase 1 of clinical trials. The company is excited to host the president and show him the work they have been doing to advance a COVID-19 vaccine, Martin Meeson, the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies’ CEO, told ABC11.