- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo News on the state Board of Regents and the state Legislature.

March 17

In the end, the Legislature acted wisely. Despite the furor over the Common Core learning standards, despite a flawed system for appointing members of the state Board of Regents, despite the teachers unions’ manufactured nausea over evaluations, lawmakers last week reappointed all three Regents who wanted another term. The Regent who withdrew at the 11th hour was replaced.

This was important for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the Common Core represents an urgent recalibration of expectations for students in New York and other states that have adopted it.

The second is that adoption of the Common Core was a local responsibility. Someone might want to argue that the Regents and the State Education Department could have done a better job of helping districts to adapt, but that’s not an argument for replacing Regents who support the Common Core with others who might want to weaken it.

Indeed, many school districts have thrived under the new standards, including the Western New York districts of Sweet Home, Amherst and Jamestown. This is no impossible task. What is more, if American students are to thrive in an increasingly competitive world, it is an inevitable one.

Change is often difficult and sometimes threatening. That certainly was the case as New York began testing to the standards of the Common Core last year. Grades across the state plummeted - as they did in Kentucky, which also began testing last year - and it was a rude awakening. Parents panicked and blamed Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and the Regents who hired him.

More to the point, though, was the fact that the test results were also used in the new system of teacher evaluations. While they accounted for only 18 percent of the final evaluation, teachers unions don’t want their members evaluated at all. They think taxpayers should pour billions of dollars into education with no system for determining how effectively their tax money is being used.

This is a time to hold fast and, in the end, that’s what the Legislature did. It took some doing. The system for appointing Regents requires a majority of the combined members of the Assembly and Senate, a strange arrangement. Typically, that leaves it up to the Democrats in the Assembly to make the call, but this year, with only 99 Democrats seated, they fell eight votes short.

In the end, it took some Senate Democrats to do the job, since Republican members chose instead to play to the frustration and anger of voters.

They dressed up their objections in the system used to appoint Regents and while that system really should be reformed - to the extent that it can be without further politicizing education - this wasn’t about process. It was about gaining votes in November at the expense of students whose lives will ultimately be enriched by the Common Core.

It came out well in the end, but that was thanks to Democrats who stood firm. They did right by New York’s students.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1g02hEy

The Poughkeepsie Journal on toughening the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

The state’s Freedom of Information Law is one of the most important tools at the public’s disposal to insist on a responsive, open government.

The law gives the public the right to gain access to many government records, and few things are more vital for an engaged, democratic society.

Yet New York’s so-called “FOIL” statute could be a lot stronger, and this week’s observance of “Sunshine Week” is no better time to gain momentum to that end.

For starters, penalties for flagrantly violating it should be greatly stiffened, such as forcing public officials to step down from office if it is shown they did not adhere to the statute and wrongfully denied requests for information.

For another, governments of all stripes must be constantly reminded that the statute puts the burden on them to explain why a document should be off limits from public scrutiny; the burden is not supposed to be on the public to make the case why a document should be made available to the public.

Particularly in the digital age, governments also have the ability to make public documents available in a much more timely manner and shouldn’t be waiting for someone to file a FOIL to do so.

For instance, it was good news that 96 percent of FOIL requests made to area school districts last year were approved, according to a Poughkeepsie Journal analysis of school data. But it also begs the question: Since 181 of these 188 requests were granted, why weren’t the great majority of these documents available online without someone needing to FOIL them?

Even worse, as ridiculous as it seems, government agencies that lose FOIL battles in court still have up to 9 months to make an appeal. That duration is far too long and must be tightened, and there is a good way for the Legislature to do that this session.

Legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-Westchester, and state Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, would justly require that such appeals be filed within 30 days of an agency being notified of such a court ruling. They note that otherwise in some cases the long delay “may make moot the individuals FOIL request and functionally deny them the timely access to documents needed.” They also point out that a speedier resolution reduces court costs.

There are plenty of ways for the state to bolster the Freedom of Information Law and good reasons to do it. State lawmakers should not let this session end without taking definitive action.

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Online:

http://pojonews.co/OwxHIf

The New York Daily News on the awarding of the Medal of Honor to 24 U.S. veterans previously denied the honor.

March 19.

The U.S. righted terrible wrongs on Tuesday when President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor on 24 soldiers who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Most were Jewish or Hispanic and all earned eternal gratitude for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. But they were likely denied because of their ethnic or religious heritages.

Pfc. Leonard Kravitz, of Brooklyn, died in Korea in 1951, manning a machine gun during a withering attack, killing or holding off the enemy while drawing fire to his position.

His childhood friend Mitchel Libman believed that Kravitz had been wrongly bypassed for the nation’s highest honor and waged a noble decades-long fight for proper recognition for Kravitz, uncle of the singer Lenny Kravitz, and others who had been slighted.

On Wednesday, Libman’s effort paid off with awards for three vets and posthumous awards to Kravitz and 20 others who have passed away.

Sgt. Alfred Nietzel, a son of Queens, “selflessly covered for the retreating members of his squad, expending all his ammunition and holding his post until he was killed by an enemy hand grenade” in Germany in 1944

Pvt. Demensio Rivera was born in Puerto Rico, joined the Army from New York and shipped off to Korea in 1951. When his rifle failed in battle, Rivera fought with his pistol, grenades and hand-to-hand combat.

Late as they are, the medals cleanse a stain on America’s escutcheon and pay tribute, at last, to uncommon valor.

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Online:

http://nydn.us/1j3cAuC

The New York Times on Republicans in Congress trying to curtail federal government surveys.

March 18

At regular intervals, congressional Republicans take aim at government surveys, vowing to end or curtail them for being too intrusive. The latest target is the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Begun in 2005 with bipartisan support, the survey polls about three million people a year on family configurations, educational levels, income, insurance coverage and work and living arrangements. It is used to make and evaluate decisions in public policy and business and to understand trends in society. It is also used to analyze and enforce voting rights and to fight discrimination in housing, employment and other areas.

For those reasons, answering the survey is a civic duty, which every adult must do occasionally. But that would change under a bill in the House oversight committee, led by Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican of California. The bill would make answering the survey voluntary, which would make the data less reliable and possibly useless, because fewer people would respond and those who did would not be a valid sample. The result would be a less informed public, a less responsive government and a less fair society.

At an earlier hearing, Mr. Issa was told by experts he convened that the bill was a bad idea, and he didn’t kill it. More recently, he scheduled a committee vote on the bill, only to back down after a coalition of census advocates objected. But Republicans could still try to slip the bill into the upcoming census appropriation, as they have tried in the past. A companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican. Their very existence is an assertion of ignorance over knowledge, ideology over facts and bias over rights.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1gaBiXU

The Watertown Daily Times on the House passing a bill that has no chance of being passed by the Senate.

March 17

It’s a sure bet that an election is around the corner if Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives waste time on useless items.

Last week, the House passed a bill to grease the path for congressional lawsuits against President Barack Obama for failing to enforce federal laws. The measure passed by a vote of 233-181, which is a clear victory for the art of spouting political platitudes. The issues of most concern are the numerous changes made to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, some decisions made regarding illegal immigrants and the administration’s reluctance to stick up for the Defense of Marriage Act.

The problem is that, like any bill, this measure would need to be approved by the U.S. Senate and then signed by President Obama. The odds of it making it through the Senate are, let’s say, zero.

But for the sake of argument, if the Senate suddenly became a mythical place populated by fairies and unicorns who decided to pass the bill themselves, what are the chances it would be signed into law by the president? Hmmm, let’s see. Is there are any motivation for President Obama to place his signature on a bill that would make it easier for members of Congress to sue him on the charge of not doing his job? Nope.

It’s not that the Republicans don’t have some valid points in their concerns about President Obama’s actions. The many changes made to the health care reform law are unnerving, to say the least. Whenever the administration runs into a roadblock, members announce some changes to assuage the angst of impacted constituents.

Some of these changes, however, have been put into effect through congressional action. The question remains on whether President Obama has the authority to make executive decisions or administrative revisions that alter the ACA. These are points of law that courts must decide, and we have to let that process play itself out.

As for the DOMA, the Obama administration has wisely opted not to defend it in court against legal challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court last year found its key provision unconstitutional. And since previous Republican presidential administrations have declined to defend laws that they found objectionable, the GOP House members don’t have a leg to stand on here.

Republican members of the House should spend more time improving the health care law and our immigration policies rather than passing bills that are on a road to nowhere. But that would take real work, and who has time for work when they’re in the middle of a re-election campaign?

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1gaCTNm

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