UNC study lauds importance of early education

Thumbs up to UNC researchers for their study showing the importance of investing in early childhood education. That’s what it’s all about and why I’ve made enhancing public education, from pre-school through community colleges and universities, an important part of my plank. Here’s an excerpt from Jane Stancill’s excellent article in The News and Observer, and a link so you can read the full story.

Poor children who get high-quality day care as early as infancy reap long-lasting benefits, including a better chance at a college degree and steady employment, according to a UNC-Chapel Hill study that followed participants from birth to age 30.

The latest findings, published this week in the online journal Developmental Psychology, are from one of the longest-running child care studies in the United States.

Conducted by the Frank Porter Graham Development Institute at UNC, the research is widely cited in a body of evidence that early childhood education can change the trajectory of young lives.

The findings may be cited in a court battle looming over state-funded pre-kindergarten for low-income children. For months, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and Republican leaders in the legislature have been at odds over funding for preschool for 4-year-olds.

The UNC study, known as the Abecedarian Project, began in 1972 with 111 babies from low-income families who were randomly assigned to two groups.

Half were enrolled in quality early childhood education from infancy to kindergarten; the other half, the control group, received what ever care their families arranged.

Researchers have followed the children since then. Along the way, the child care group posted better scores on reading and math tests in school.

They were more likely to pursue education beyond high school and less likely to become teenage parents.

College and beyond

The latest data from the participants, at age 30, show that those who received early education were four times more likely to earn a college degree – 23 percent graduated from a four-year college, compared with 6 percent in the control group.

There is little question that such early education can improve the odds for poor children, said Frances Campbell, a senior scientist at the institute and lead author of the study.

“That’s the take-home message, that you must not ignore the early years,” she said, “because what you do to enhance a child’s development when he is very, very young has very long-termimplications.”

The children in the early-education group also were more likely to have consistent employment and less likely to have used public assistance.

Seventy-five percent had worked full time for at least 16 of the past 24 months, compared with 53 percent of the control group……

Let’s not turn eastern Chatham into Cary

What follows is my testimony to Chatham County Commissioners during a public hearing this week on the draft Chatham-Cary land-use plan covering the eastern area of the county adjacent to where Cary has been involved in development annexations:

“Ironically, rural America has become viewed by a growing number of Americans as having a higher quality of life not because of what it has, but rather because of what it does not have.”

So stated Don A. Dillman, one of the nation’s foremost rural sociologists.

Most residents of this area and the vast majority of Chatham citizens do not want to see Cary bulldozing itself further into eastern Chatham.

The  land-use plans for this area will affect everyone in Chatham County, particularly our hard-pressed taxpayers, as well as future generations.

I have spoken on this issue before. Tonight, I have three general bottom-line concerns:

First and foremost, the elected officials of both Chatham and the Town of Cary should be guided primarily by the desires of the people who live in the affected area. Based on my direct observation and review of the joint meetings, I do not believe this has occurred since our new Chatham board majority took over these negotiations.  Residents in the affected area should be able to determine the destiny of their community.

 Second, residents of this area have clearly expressed their wish to maintain our rural character. They oppose suburban sprawl with its pollution, traffic jams, noise, and visual clutter.   They have expressly stated they do not want to become “Cary-fied” by having to rely on Cary’s urban and suburban design standards.

Chatham residents in this area want Chatham design standards in place before the plan is approved, not in 2013.

Finally, residents of this area want a direct say concerning development proposals in their community.  They want to be able to have a voice in whether “voluntary satellite annexation” or what I refer to as “developer annexation” of nearby land is allowed.  No matter how detailed this plan is, it is not legally enforceable if a subsequent Cary elected board decides to go in a different direction.

For this reason, it is imperative that Cary and Chatham come together to have the General Assembly enact a local bill that gives both boards the power to approve or disapprove a development, annexation request, or change in the plan. Without such authority, this joint land-use plan exercise is meaningless window dressing.

Unfortunately, we gave away our leverage on this issue when the current board approved the Western Wake sewer line across the county without insisting on this requirement as part of the agreement.  But now we should test Cary’s good faith and not approve this plan until they formally agree on a local bill giving Chatham equal land use authority over this area.

In closing I want to quote from 16th Century poet William Cowper:  “God made the country, man made the town.”  What he said then is true today.  Let us not destroy the country God made in order to accommodate the expansion of Cary.

–Jeff Starkweather

Don’t fast-track fracking in NC

Last week I attended a scientific workshop at Duke University on fracking, along with many concerned local citizens and officials. The evidence presented included new information about toxic water flowback and greenhouse gas emissions, which reinforced my view that the legislature should not try to fast-track fracking in North Carolina as many Republicans seem to want to do. Instead, there should be a moratorium on any legislation to allow fracking until there is sufficient experience and research to show that this technology is safe and will bring more economic and environmental benefits than costs.

I have spoken out on several occasions about the need to be very cautious about fracking, due to ongoing pressures to frack for shale gas in large tracts of Chatham and Lee counties that are part of our new state House district.

As Lisa Sorg of the Independent Weekly wrote last week about the Duke workshop: “If anyone in the General Assembly listened to the scientists at the hydraulic fracturing workshop at Duke… then any pro-fracking legislation should be dead in North Carolina.”

Scientists at the Duke workshop presented new information about the negative impact that flowback from fracking wells can have on local water quality. The flowback contains water, oil, and toxic chemicals, including barium, arsenic, lead and bromide.  Based on undisputed scientific presentations, there does not appear to be a safe way to dispose of or treat this wastewater.  Injecting it back into the ground can contaminate groundwater. Moreover, such deep underground injections can cause earthquakes, as was recently demonstrated in Ohio. Discharging wastewater in nearby rivers and streams has been shown to harm the ecosystem for up to a third of a mile from the discharge point.

At this time there are no cost-effective methods to treat the flowback. Re-use has not been proven effective either and raises concerns about storage and transportation spills and leakages.

A second new scientific finding presented at Duke concerns the impact of fracking on greenhouse gas emissions.  Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, reported that green house gas emissions from shale gas fracking are 40% greater than emissions caused by the extraction of conventional gas and oil. He attributes this to venting of methane gas during drilling and the fact that methane contains about 72 times more greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that is emitted from oil or coal production.

Susan Christopherson, professor of city and regional Planning at Cornell, reinforced what I had previously heard: There is a serious question whether a fracking resource extraction economy provides more benefits than costs, in part because it produces few jobs for local people.

Finally, I learned that the EPA’s scientific study of the potential impact of fracking on water quality will not be completed until 2012. This study will include existing data, retrospective and prospective case studies of actual fracking operations, water modeling and laboratory studies.

North Carolina should not proceed with any plans for fracking until this study is concluded and then only if it provides evidence that it can be done safely and economically.

–Jeff Starkweather

Fracking debate calls for caution, wisdom

Thumbs up to Lee County Commissioner Richard Hayes for this letter to the editor in the Sanford Herald.


“I am surprised, but not concerned, that some municipalities have taken the initiative to oppose/outlaw fracking in order to send a signal to the N.C. General Assembly, and to the shale gas industry, that they will be vigorously opposed to any quick, ill-considered, late-night legislation that gives the green light to fracking in North Carolina before it is thoroughly researched and exposed for what it is and what it is not; discussed and debated in open public hearings and possibly decided by a statewide referendum before action is taken and legislation is crafted.

“So, while I can see how this action may be seen as premature by some, it is not obviously to others. It is symbolic at this stage, showing that citizens, through their elected leaders at the local level, are concerned and willing to fight to protect their land and water from the perception and possible reality of predation on the local environment by the shale gas industry, especially after what has happened in Pennsylvania and other states where oil and gas companies have, in some well documented areas (not all), extracted the gas and left some land owners wealthier but the countryside used up and in ruins at public expense.

“I am on the side of caution — taking whatever time is necessary to learn from and greatly improve upon what other states have experienced and paid for, making every effort to understand this relatively new technology and whether it is something we want to open the door to in our beautiful state, which has always intelligently protected it natural resources.

“While this could be a source of considerable new tax revenue to North Carolina, and royalties to land owners where shale gas is extracted, we must be prudent and wise and not rush into a new enterprise based on the disarming promise of new jobs and new revenues short term, decisions which could cost our citizens and environment dearly in the long run.”

–Richard Hayes, Lee County Commissioner

My Open Letter to Chatham Democratic Women

Reprinted with permission from the Chatham County Democratic Women Newsletter, January 2012.

As a proud long-time member of the Chatham County Democratic Women, I am especially grateful to have this opportunity to tell you why I am running for the new open seat in State House District 54.

As you know, Tea Party Republicans in the N. C. Legislature have been waging a war on women, most notably with legislation to eviscerate women’s right to reproductive choice and freedom. In my view, such attacks on women hurt women, men, children, families and communities — in other words all of us.

Not surprisingly, the  Tea Party is also leading a crusade against the environment: They don‘t believe in climate change, they want to fast-track fracking before we have enough information about its long-term consequences, and they want to loosen environmental regulations on industries that pollute our air, soil and water.

Tea Party legislators have also been working against public education, which is essential for all citizens to have a fair chance to succeed in life. These politicians would rather balance the state budget on the backs of teachers and school children than invest in quality public education from pre-school through community colleges and universities.

In fact, the Tea Party crowd  in Raleigh seems to have forgotten that many North Carolinians are still out of work.  Instead of focusing on strengthening our schools, environment and infrastructure to attract good jobs, they’ve been hyperventilating about social issues designed to divide and distract us, rather than unite us.

You deserve to have someone in Raleigh from our district who is not afraid to speak out on these and other vital issues.  As a long-time community advocate, I have been speaking truth to power on the local level for years. As a “tell it like it is” newspaper editor and publisher, I promoted more open government and worked hard to give voice to all people, not just the chosen few. As a civil rights attorney, I represented the rights of workers, women, minorities and those with disabilities.

Most recently I have been working to support local businesses and attract good jobs and affordable housing as a board member for the Chatham Economic Development Corporation and Triangle South Workforce Development and a former chair for the Chatham Affordable Housing Advisory Board.

I believe that is why local Democratic leaders drafted me for this race. And that is why I would be honored to earn your support and your vote, so that we can work together on these issues in Raleigh and here at home.

Finally, I have to confess that I have a very personal reason to take the long view in running for legislative office. I want to make a difference on the issues that will affect the next generation, including my granddaughters right here in Chatham.

Thanks for all that you do for our community. Let’s keep on.

–Jeff Starkweather

Buttoning up brings big bucks to schools

We buttoned the top button of every shirt and jacket, and made sure they were hung in the same direction with each hanger facing inward. Then we straightened the books and vacuumed the rugs.  I  spent two hours on Monday Jan. 2 helping a small crew of volunteers with these clean-up chores at the PTA Thrift Shop at Cole Park in Northern Chatham. The same kind of chores my wife wishes I paid more attention to at home.

Dee and I were volunteering at the behest of my daughter, Emily Tinervin, the North Chatham Elementary PTA Thrift Shop Representative.  It’s her job to recruit volunteers. What I did not know was that the profits earned at the  Chatham PTA Thrift Shops in Pittsboro, Siler City and Cole Park are divided among the county’s public school classes using a formula where 60% of the funds are allocated based on volunteer hours (the remainder is divided equally among the schools).  So, there is a strong incentive to  recruit volunteers from one’s school.

Our crew also included Emily, North Chatham Kindergarten teacher Stephanie Orchard-Hays, and parents Tabatha Turner and Karen Howard.  Tabatha’s son, Morgan, and our granddaughter, Ryan, are both in Ms. Orchard-Hays’ class. So her class got a total of 10 hours of credit from 5 volunteers. Ms. Howard, a candidate for the school board from District One and Vice-President of the Margaret Pollard Middle School PTA, was volunteering for her son’s third grade class at North Chatham, taught by Ms. Vicki Johnston.  Karen, who volunteers on a regular basis, has divided her hours among North Chatham, Pollard and Northwood, where her four boys attend school. She told me she will be volunteering her next set of hours for the Exceptional Children’s programs.

Clearly these incentives work. My two volunteer hours are a tiny drop in the bucket of the nearly 52,000 hours contributed by volunteers last year, as of October 2011. In addition to  the kinds of chores we did,  volunteers may also pick up donations, deliver large items to customers,  empty drop  boxes, wash laundry, organize fashion shows and parade floats. Some volunteers contribute specialized services such as electrical, plumbing, welding, heating and air conditioning.   Clearly, the 30 paid employees of the non-profit Chatham PTA Shops could not provide our county schools with significant extra funding without the help of so many volunteers.

This sustainable business also provides a valuable and inexpensive service for Chatham residents of all income levels.  At the end of my volunteer duty, I purchased three quality sports coats for less than ten dollars combined.

The bottom line for our public schools is even more remarkable. Last year the PTA Thrift Shops provided about $462,000 to our schools, as of October. Since it was founded in 1983, it has provided more than $6 million to public education in Chatham.

If you would like to volunteer, you check with your local PTA . And if you’d like to volunteer for North Chatham Elementary, you may contact Emily at emilytinervin@yahoo.com.  For more information: PTA Thrift Shop.

–Jeff Starkweather

An inspiring New Year Jubilee

I started the New Year off right on Sunday by participating in the annual Jubilee Day Celebration sponsored by the Eastern Chatham Branch of the NAACP at Mount Sinai AME Church in Pittsboro. This unique service combines celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 and the Biblical concept of Jubilee — a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon as spelled out in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.

I had the privilege of being able to sing and swing along with the mass male chorus, while learning about the history of Jubilee that was not covered in my Baptist upbringing. During Rev. Cecil Wilson’s stirring sermon, I learned that the Jubilee year, during which slaves and prisoners were freed and debts forgiven, occurred every 50 years.

I was delighted to meet Rev. Anthony Davis, a new minister of Mitchell’s Chapel AME Zion Church near Pittsboro.  He urged parishioners to join the NAACP and commit to removing the barriers to economic and racial equality.  Rev. Davis said he was proud to have been an active participant in the grassroots protest last year against the attempt of the Tea Party-led Wake County School Board to re-segregate local schools. Rev. Davis even got arrested along with NC NAACP President William Barber.

NAACP Eastern Chatham Branch President Mary Nettles, who presided Sunday, encouraged attendees to participate in the Annual HK on J People’s Assembly on Saturday Feb.11 in Raleigh, to lobby on behalf of the state NAACP’s 14- point social justice agenda. I have attended past marches along with other local leaders, such as former Commissioner Tom Vanderbeck and Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller, and have been inspired to see so many others working together for positive changes.

I appreciated the opportunity to speak to the congregation Sunday about my candidacy for the state house.  I said that we needed not just a day of Jubilee, but a whole year, all of 2012. The economic game is rigged against working people and minorities, I said.  We have seen in the last two decades the elimination of several rungs of the ladder of upward mobility, making it harder than ever to reach the American Dream of health and prosperity.  The Great Recession has further widened the income and wealth gap between whites and persons of color. That’s why I want to go to Raleigh to fight for a “fair deal” for all, including an equal opportunity for achieving the American Dream.

–Jeff Starkweather