Reception Hosted by the NC Scholars Strategy Network

A reception hosted by the NC Scholars Strategy Network bringing together lawmakers, researchers, and students to discuss public policy initiatives.

I’d like to thank the NC Scholars Strategy Network for hosting a wonderful networking event in Raleigh this past week that brought together scholars and researchers from across our state with legislators and other policymakers to discuss how we could partner together to conduct research and to craft good public policies on behalf of our state. This wonderful, energetic group of scholars was passionate, committed, and interested in serving as a critical resource for quantitative data that can be used to support and craft good public policies. I would like to thank all of the distinguished scholars who came together for this wonderful event, but in particular Dr. Natalie Hengstebeck, Dr. Deondra Rose, and Dr. Lindsey Hanes-Maslow.

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Legislative Gun Control Proposal to Keep Our Schools Safe

Today, I participated in a news conference with Senator Jay Chaudhuri, Senator Jeff Jackson, Rep. Grier Martin, and Rep. Marcia Morey during which we presented a Legislative Gun Control Proposal to Keep Our Schools Safe. Our proposal included the following:

  • The enactment of extreme risk protection orders that would allow families and law enforcement to ask the courts to temporarily remove guns from individuals who endangered themselves or their community.
  • To expand universal background checks for assault-style firearms such as the AR-15 weapon used in the Parkland shooting.
  • To raise the age for the purchase of assault weapons to 21.
  • To prohibit the sale of bump stocks which are an inexpensive device that modifies a semi-automatic weapon into a machine gun.
  • Increasing funding for school psychologists and school therapists.
  • Funding a highly visible statewide anonymous tip line.

During the press conference, I spoke of the need for our State to operate an anonymous tip line statewide so that students, family members, and concerned citizens can report potential threats of violence. I also spoke of the need for increased funding for School Psychologists and School Counselors in our state. The national average for School Psychologists is 1 for every 700 students, however, in NC, we currently have only 1 for every 2,000 students. When it comes to School Counselors, the national average is 1 for every 250 students, however, in NC, we only have 1 for every 375 students. Yet there has been one common thread that is tied together virtually all of the school shootings as well as other mass murders. It is the fact that the gunman has been diagnosed with mental illnesses which went unaddressed. We need to make certain that we diagnose and intercept students with mental illnesses at the earliest possible point in time to get them help so as to avoid circumstances that could result in their using firearms to hurt themselves or others. I also spoke of the need for us to direct the Center for Safer Schools to conduct a study to determine recommended funding for school resource officers who are law enforcement officers assigned to our schools.

The package of reforms which we collectively proposed will be part of legislation which will be introduced this year. I am hopeful that we will obtain bipartisan for these common-sense measures which will represent meaningful incremental change.

A Walkout & Moment of Silence at Durham School of the Arts

Today, I joined over a thousand students at the Durham School of the Arts who joined hand in hand with teachers, administrators, community leaders, and parents who are deeply concerned about the safety of our schools and policies which do not go far enough in restricting access to firearms in our country.

The event took place at approximately 1:15 pm when student leaders began with a moment of silence to commemorate those who had lost their lives to school violence. This was followed by the reading of the names of each person who was killed during the recent school shooting incident in Parkland,. At approximately 1:30, the bells of a local church chimed 17 times in honor of those who lost their lives. At the end of this moving ceremony, students were asked to take out their cell phones and to make a call to elected officials in a call to action.

Their message was simple:

“I’m a student at Durham School of the Arts. I don’t need a response. I want to share with you my thoughts on Gun Control in the US. I am opposed to the easy access to guns. We need to have more stringent laws as well as thorough background checks to those who want to get a firearm in order to decrease gun violence in our schools. I am a student and I do not feel safe in the State of North Carolina.”

These are profound words which I hope will reach the hearts and conscious of those serving in Congress and motivate them to finally take meaningful action. 

I’ve been extremely excited by the level of student activism and engagement on issues related to gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy. It’s unfortunate that such a horrific incident was needed to bring together people all across America to understand the need for change. I have not seen such a level of engagement among students since the anti-war movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We can only hope and pray that the time has finally come for meaningful change, which is long overdue, to occur.

Durham Early Childhood Education Community Forum

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending an Early Childhood Community Forum which provided an outstanding overview of the reasons why we need to establish a universal preschool program to serve all 3 and 4-year-old children in Durham County. Presently, only 38% of children entering kindergarten in Durham are proficient in reading. Even by the end of 3rd grade, 53% of our students score below grade level in reading. Data also suggests that 12% of our preschools children come from families where there are mental health problems in the home, and 16% live in homes where the cost of housing exceeds 50% of a family’s income. 

We all realize that if students are not reading by the time they complete 3rd grade, there is a substantially greater probability that they will encounter academic difficulties in school and are more likely to be kids that will drop out from school later in life and frequently become involved with a higher level of disciplinary problems. It is a result of these factors that Durham County is embarking upon an aggressive campaign to establish universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds in our community. 

It is estimated that it will cost 14.5-15.5 million dollars simply to serve the low-income children in our community, but the goal of this ambitious undertaking is to provide high quality preschool to all 3 and 4-year-olds by 2023. Durham County is beginning a commitment to this process by appropriating 1 cent on the county’s property tax rate which would be dedicated for this purpose, however, substantially more will need to be done to make this commendable dream a reality. I’d like to thank all of those who participated in the program this past Saturday for their commitment to the future of children in our community. I will do all that I can to support this initiative since it is a wonderful vision worthy of our State and our community’s investment.