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Morning Memo: Obama visits N.C., tax deal brokered

OBAMA VISIT: President Barack Obama is expected to unveil a plan to connect nearly every U.S. classroom to high-speed Internet while he’s in Mooresville on Thursday. The plan would expand broadband and wireless access to 99 percent of the country’s schools over the next five years, the White House said. It would use money already budgeted and would not require authorization or approval by Congress. The goal is to boost graduation rates and turn out students more prepared for tech-related careers. Full story here.

Gov. Pat McCrory won't be joining the president at his visit, according to his public schedule.

TAX DEAL BROKERED: For the second straight day Wednesday, House Republicans feuded among themselves on a major tax cut measure, stalling a top legislative priority. But 10 hours after a revolt in a morning committee meeting, House GOP lawmakers emerged from a lengthy closed-door meeting Wednesday evening to say they had reached a consensus to remove language from the tax bill aimed at helping the housing industry. The move puts the House tax plan back roughly in its original form. Full story.

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for North Carolina political intel. More news and analysis below. Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

McCrory says students take too many tests

Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday that public school students take too many tests, and that he’s asked his education policy adviser to determine whether they are all necessary.

McCrory made his remarks at a State Board of Education meeting Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after state Department of Public Instruction officials defended the state’s testing regimen to the State Board of Education. McCrory said he met with a group of district superintendents last week, and they uniformly complained about the testing load, the cost, and the drain on instructional time.

As Obama heads to North Carolina, will McCrory join him?

When the U.S. president visits your state, it's not uncommon for the governor -- regardless of party -- to greet him. President Barack Obama arrives Thursday for a speech in Mooresville.

But it's still unclear if Republican Gov. Pat McCrory will join him or acknowledge his visit in any way. A spokesman for McCrory said earlier this week "it is still yet to be determined whether or not the governor will be with President Obama."

Obama will visit a school to see technology being used in the classroom and later deliver remarks touting digital learning. It's a topic near-and-dear to McCrory, too. Will we see an Obama-Chris Christie or Obama-Charlie Crist moment of bipartisanship?

N.C. Public Charter Schools Association opposes separate charter board

The N.C. Public Charter Schools Association board of advisors is adding its voice to the chorus opposing creation of a governing board for charter schools separate from the State Board of Education.

State Board Chairman Bill Cobey, one of Gov. Pat McCrory's appointees, says he doesn't want a separate board and questioned its constitutionality. Senate Bill 337 passed the Senate largely along party lines, with Democrats opposed, and now sits in the House.

The bill would set up a charter school board to review and accept charter applications and make sure the schools comply with standards. The State Board of Education could overrule charter board decisions by a three-fourths vote.

The State Board has a charter advisory board that reviews applications and makes recommendations, but the State Board has the last word.

The association appears to be changing its position on the special board. The email Monday announcing the advisors' vote said "The Association had said it initially supported…."

And on April 3, the association sent out a press release thanking the bill sponsors, praising the legislation, and detailing more changes the association wanted.

But association executive director Eddie Goodall said the association never supported a separate charter board. "I don't think I was saying that," Goodall said. "It might have looked like that."

Morning Memo: Questions for Thom Tillis, McCrory wades into tax fight

THREE QUESTIONS FOR THOM TILLIS: House Speaker Thom Tillis' decision to formally enter the Senate race and challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is not a surprise. But the timing, coming before the end of the legislative session, when Tillis said in January he would make a decision, is noteworthy. Here are three more questions about the race:

1. How long will he remain speaker? Running for the U.S. Senate is no state legislative race. It's all consuming. Does Tillis think he can manage an unruly House that is to his ideological right while campaigning? The case for staying in office: it helps to control the purse strings when you are asking for money. His allied super PAC, by coincidence or not, debuted when the House received the budget from the Senate. The case for resigning: Why have everything the Rep. Brawley's of the world propose drag you into issue fights you don't want?

2. Who will challenge him from the right? Tillis' debuted his run with an AP interview in which he emphasized his ability to work across the aisle -- a common message, but rarely heard in the primary stage of a campaign when you are appealing the fieriest partisans of your party. But it underscores Tillis' moderate tendencies and how Tillis could easily face a big-name challenger who is considered more conservative. The field could get crowded -- and Tillis isn't polling well in GOP primary surveys because he's largely unknown, despite his powerful post.

3. What will Phil Berger do? The possibility that Senate leader Phil Berger could enter the race -- and move to Tillis' right -- would add a whole new dynamic to the Republican primary field as two legislative leaders govern the state by their future ambition. It sounds less likely that he will run but even if he doesn't run, Berger can exert considerable influence if Tillis remains in the legislature by steering legislation that forces him to take positions on issues he may rather avoid.

***Read more on Tillis' Senate bid and Gov. Pat McCrory's step into the tax debate for the first time -- all below in the Dome Morning Memo, the source for North Carolina political news and analysis. ***

Cursive on its way to becoming law

A bill requiring public schools to teach cursive writing is on its way to becoming law.

The Senate, again, approved a bill requiring cursive. This time, the vote was 46-3 and there was no debate.

This makes two cursive bills the Senate has approved. The Senate passed its own identical bill last month. The bill approved Thursday is a House bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Hurley. The idea picked up a few Senate supporters in the last month

When this becomes law, school kids will be required to learn cursive starting next year.

N.C. House Dems blast voucher plan

House Democrats panned the plan to offer parents vouchers send their children to private schools, saying it was an irresponsible use of tax money and a step in dismantling public schools.

Voucher supporters are advancing a bill that would offer $4,200 a year in taxpayer money to parents of low-income children who move them from public to private schools. Supporters say poor parents deserve the same options wealthier parents have in choosing schools for their children.

But Democrats on Wednesday said that poor parents, even with vouchers, will not be able to afford the state's top private schools. Some charge annual tuition of $10,000 and more.

Morning Memo: Commerce pushes overhaul, dueling tax campaigns emerge

SECRETARY TO PITCH COMMERCE PRIVATIZATION PLAN: Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker will appear before a House panel Wednesday to pitch Gov. Pat McCrory's plan to privatize elements of the state's economic recruitment effort. Decker sent a memo to lawmakers with the talking points about the N.C. Economic Development Corporation a day earlier. She highlighted the efficiencies that McCrory's administration believes will be realized by consolidating various existing entities, including the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, some of the N.C. Biotechnology Center and the tourism and film offices, among others, in a private nonprofit entity led by political appointees. She will describe a phase-in approach in her testimony. McCrory's team drafted the outline for the private-public partnership -- funded mostly by taxpayer dollars -- before he ever took office. Tony Almeida, the governor's top economic adviser who will lead the effort, wrote a white paper, finalized in December, as a member of McCrory's transition team that laid out the vision. (More below.)

DUELING TAX CAMPAIGNS: Americans for Prosperity began airing a TV ad on cable and broadcast that touts Republican leaders commitment to a tax overhaul. Meanwhile, the Young Democrats will debut an effort Wednesday to criticize the Senate plan with a web ad highlighting the hike in grocery taxes and and a new website nctaxhike.com, which is designed to counter Senate Republicans nctaxcut.com. Check Dome later today to see both.

***More North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo -- including a rundown on the day's top stories.

Private school vouchers bill advances

AP: A North Carolina House panel on Tuesday narrowly backed a controversial bill that would give taxpayer money to North Carolina students to attend private or religious schools. The House Education Committee voted 27-21 to recommend a bill that would give annual grants of $4,200 each to students from low-income families. The bill has sparked a clash between advocates who call it a victory for school choice and opponents who say it marks the dismantling of public education.

The bill still has to go through another committee, which will discuss the financial impact, and the House floor. More here.

Morning Memo: House begins budget writing

WILL THE STATE BUDGET FINISH IN TIME? As the House begins crafting its own state budget this week, the phrase "continuing resolution" is being heard more frequently in the hallways at the statehouse. The idea is this: with the Senate's budget delay, will the House finish writing its own in time to get it approved before the end of the fiscal year June 30? And if it gets close, and House and Senate budget writers are still deadlocked in conference, will they need to find an escape plan to keep government running? House budget writer Nelson Dollar dismissed the talk in an interview last week, but House Democrats are openly discussing the possibility. "I don't see how it's going to be avoided," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a veteran Democrat. The state budget negotiations this year are complicated by House and Senate Republican leaders' attempts to imbed a tax overhaul that cuts government spending into the state budget, especially because the two chambers are so widely split on the issue.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: With money on the table, a strong lobbying presence is expected this week. A group of physicians will make the rounds Tuesday asking the House to put money in the state budget to pay for youth tobacco use prevention. House budget committees begin meeting at 8:30 a.m. Another House panel will consider the new school vouchers bill at 10 a.m. and a transportation committee will hear a ferry toll bill at noon. The House convenes at 1 p.m. but there are no bills on the calendar. The Senate convenes at 4 p.m. but will also hold a skeletal session with no action expected. Gov. Pat McCrory plays Mayor Pat again Tuesday morning in Charlotte, speaking to the local rotary club. Elsewhere, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will honor military spouses at an even in Fayetteville.

***Read more Dome Morning Memo below to get a roundup of North Carolina political news from the holiday weekend. ***

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