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Friday Forward News Roundup

Concerns in Education Funding within North Carolina's State Budget

North Carolina state Rep. Robert Reives and House Democratic leader highlights concerns about "no-bid contracts" in North Carolina's state budget, where a few legislators wield substantial influence in determining funded projects. Examples include MyScholar, receiving $1.5 million and potentially up to $5 million, and Failure Free Reading, allocated $2 million, with $300,000 directly to the company. He underscores the need for increased oversight, proposing measures such as requiring approval from the Council of State and involving independent agencies like the Office of the State Auditor to ensure transparency in budget allocation. (Charlotte Observer)


WakeTogether Program Seeks Volunteer Tutors to Sustain Reading Success

The WakeTogether program in Wake County, designed to provide intensive reading help to struggling elementary school students, is seeking more volunteer tutors. The program, serving 1,058 students last school year, achieved significant gains in reading fluency skills. Figures indicate that by the end of the school year, 31.8% of the program’s students met end-of-year benchmarks, showing substantial progress, particularly among Black and Hispanic students, leading to the call for additional volunteers to continue the positive impact. (News & Observer)


North Carolina's State Board of Education Considers Downward Revision of Long-Term Test Score Goals

North Carolina's State Board of Education is considering revising its long-term goals for test scores, set in 2018, downward to account for the significant drop in scores following the pandemic. The proposed changes aim to reflect the new reality that test scores have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, and public input will be sought before submitting the revisions to the federal government. Current goals include raising the reading proficiency rate for grades 3-8 by 20 percentage points to 65.8% by 2027 and increasing the math proficiency rate by 27.1 percentage points to 74.1% by 2027. However, test scores, both in North Carolina and nationally, have yet to fully recover from the pandemic's impact. (News & Observer)


North Carolina's Mental Health Crisis and the Challenge of Staffing Relative to National Ratios

A state report reveals that North Carolina schools were not meeting the nationally recommended ratios of school counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, and school social workers. Despite recent increases in state funding for additional school instructional support positions and the utilization of federal COVID aid to hire more mental health staff, multiple reports and statistics from the past few years indicate that North Carolina's youth are experiencing a mental health crisis. The percentage of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased from 28% in 2011 to 43% in 2021. Moreover, the percentage of high school students seriously considering attempting suicide in the past 12 months rose from 19% in 2019 to 22% in 2021, and the percentage among female high school students surged from 15% in 2011 to 30% in 2021. A lawsuit filed by a dozen North Carolina school districts against social media companies claims that suicide rates for youth have risen by 57% over the past decade, and emergency room visits for anxiety disorders have increased by 117%. (News & Observer)

Chief Judge Donna Stroud Removed from North Carolina Court of Appeals Leadership

Chief Judge Donna Stroud, a Republican serving on the North Carolina Court of Appeals since 2006, has been removed from her position as chief judge by Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby, another Republican. The move, effective January 1, 2024, was not publicly announced, and Stroud, the most senior judge, was replaced by Republican Chris Dillon. Stroud suggested the decision might be politically motivated, recalling her primary challenge in 2022, and while Newby cited administrative reasons for the change, the lack of formal announcement raises questions. (WRAL)

Plaintiffs Withdraw Emergency Injunction Request in Challenge to North Carolina's State Senate Election Map

Plaintiffs challenging North Carolina's new state Senate election map have withdrawn their request for an emergency injunction from a federal Appeals Court. Their federal lawsuit challenges two northeastern North Carolina Senate districts, claiming unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. The plaintiffs have abandoned the request for an injunction but still hope to have the 4th Circuit issue a ruling in their appeal by Feb. 2. (Carolina Journal)

Durham City Council Reveals Finalists for Ward Three Seat

The Durham City Council has announced four finalists for the vacant Ward Three council seat: Amanda Borer, a healthcare administrator; Chastan Swain, a law and policy advisor; Chelsea Cook, an attorney; and Shelia Huggins, an attorney who previously ran for council. The candidates will be interviewed on January 8, with a public comment period on January 10, and the final decision scheduled for January 16, following the departure of Leonardo Williams, who moved to the mayor's position. (Indy Week)

Voting on Probation or Parole Remains a Crime Despite Recent Amendments

A federal judge in North Carolina has ruled against invalidating a law that makes voting while on probation or parole for a felony conviction a serious crime. Despite a recent change to the law specifying that a person must knowingly break the law by voting for it to be a crime, the judge rejected claims of racial bias and lack of legal standing by groups representing poor residents, arguing that the alteration reduces the perceived threat of prosecution. The decision comes just weeks before the primary elections in the state. (WUNC)

UNC-Chapel Hill Under Federal Investigation Amid Antisemitism Complaint

UNC-Chapel Hill is under federal investigation following a complaint of discrimination against students of Jewish ancestry. The complaint cites incidents, including remarks made during a panel on Palestine and comments by an assistant professor about Israel, leading to allegations of a hostile environment for Jewish students. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is investigating, and UNC-Chapel Hill has expressed awareness of the complaint and commitment to promoting a safe and equitable environment. (News & Observer)

Real Estate Developments Reshape the Triangle Region in North Carolina

In 2024, the Triangle region in North Carolina will witness significant real estate developments, including Raleigh's first bus-rapid transit (BRT) line along New Bern Avenue, set to be completed in 2025. Projects like the Union West development with a regional bus station, apartments, hotel, and retail space, and new apartment complexes like The Weld and Park City South in Raleigh are also underway, contributing to the region's transformation. Additionally, downtown Durham welcomes the Novus, a 27-story residential tower, and a 20-story apartment tower near Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh, while the Research Triangle Foundation's Hub RTP project aims to create an urban core in the Research Triangle Park area. (Axios Raleigh)

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