- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Feb. 11

The Gadsden (Ala.) Times on spreading the adventure at state parks:

Quick, when’s the last time you visited an Alabama state park? If the answer’s “never,” there are 22 of them sprinkled throughout the state’s most scenic terrain, from the northern mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, that are worth checking out.

Alabama State Parks (the agency) would like to offer some added motivation for those who want to go a little beyond camping, fishing, hiking and swimming for their outdoor fun.

Last year, a private vendor in partnership with the state opened the Gulf Adventure Center at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. There’s kayaking and paddle boarding, but the feature attraction is a zip line course, which allows people to glide along more than a mile of wires mounted on seven towers at heights of up to 90 feet.

The two-and-a-half hour adventure takes participants over an alligator pond and a lake, and offers impressive views of the beach scenery.

It’s been such a hit, state officials are looking for more outdoor adventure sports vendors who could set up similar operations at 10 other state parks.

Two of the sites on that list, Lake Guntersville and DeSoto, are in northeast Alabama. There’s also Cheaha, which people from this area visit regularly.

The Gulf Adventure Center has brought in a lot of first-time visitors to Gulf State Park, and state officials of course would like to see a repeat should this plan become reality.

That wouldn’t just benefit the park system, however. People will have to be hired to run the adventure centers (more jobs). Zip liners from out of town will need places to stay, places to dine and places to buy odds and ends (more money circulating in the communities near the parks).

State officials say they’re committed to ensuring any new adventure centers will blend into the parks’ terrain.




Feb. 5

Dothan (Ala.) Eagle on a pointless exercise of drug testing welfare recipients:

This legislative session, Alabama lawmakers are likely to consider legislation that would require drug testing for some welfare recipients. The idea sends some people to the point of apoplexy, as they see such a move as invasive government meddling and a violation of personal rights.

If the plan were to drug-test every applicant, that argument might float, but it would still be leaky. Government assistance isn’t a right, and it seems reasonable to apply the drug testing provision to applicants who have been convicted of drug charges before providing them with taxpayer-funded assistance that would easily be converted into cash and used for drugs.

The problem with the plan is that it likely wouldn’t work. Withholding welfare benefits from an adult would also punish children in the household, and continuing to extend benefits to children in the household would not keep the money from the adult who fails a drug test. The legislation is still being fine-tuned.

Meanwhile, histrionic opponents have suggested that any drug testing apply to anyone who pursues governmental help, including businesses seeking tax exemptions. There’s even been a call to test lawmakers for drug use, so they can lead by example. (There would be no provision for expulsion, however; those who fail would be directed to the legislative ethics committee).

That’s a ridiculous, pointless exercise. While it’s debatable whether lawmakers earn their keep, legislative pay is not welfare and “setting an example” isn’t a legitimate reason to pass meaningful legislation.

But assuming there were a provision to test lawmakers for drug use, and if that initiative were to uncover an unlikely proliferation of drug use among lawmakers, with no provision for expulsion, the costly undertaking would be meaningless.




Feb. 11

Times Daily, Florence, Ala., on investing in education:

Acknowledging there isn’t much Americans won’t disagree about these days, we find it hard to accept we can’t all get on the same page about education.

Even pre-kindergarten, in which the U.S. lags behind 27 of 38 industrialized nations, has become a legislative hot button, as various studies of Head Start programs have produced reports that appear to conflict as to its value. And the rhetoric of those championing one side or the other - those who believe pre-K education is a critical need versus those who believe it is an economic waste - has led to distortions of fact that are so often found in our political discourse.

Gov. Robert Bentley wants Alabama to continue to invest. He pushed a $9.4 million increase through a tight budget, but that only expanded pre-K opportunities to 9 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds. Too many kids continue to be left out. Those with enough financial resources can pay - upward of $6,000 - for private pre-kindergarten classes.

Bentley wants to grow it by another $10 million - to a total of $38 million - despite another tight budget this year. We’ll see what comes out of the legislative session.

Critics cite a couple of studies, including the 2010 Head Start Impact Study, that found little detectable difference in third-graders who had taken pre-K classes and those who didn’t.

Many more studies almost unanimously have found that Head Start students were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their peers.

Local service organizations raise funds in many cities around the state. In their zeal, they sometimes cite false statistics. One story making the rounds is that prison systems measure future space needs by third-grade reading scores. Politicians as far back as Hillary Clinton a decade ago have used the urban legend regarding prison space to appeal to education alarmists. State corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas said he has no idea where the rumor originates.

It’s an untruthful twist on a verifiable fact: children not reading on grade level by third grade are four times more likely to be high school dropouts, and high school dropouts are 63 percent more likely to find themselves incarcerated.

But as de la Torre and even Thomas pointed out, it might as well be true. It doesn’t take the brilliant to grasp the connection between poor education and recidivism.

We’ll see if the Legislature does.



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