- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

March 30, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Focus on reducing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, not on political points

Enough with the “War on Women” talk already.

Recent remarks by Republican Sen. Pete Kelly of Fairbanks during an interview about his effort to combat Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders have been carried way out of proportion.

The focus should be on what Sen. Kelly is trying to accomplish - bringing to an end the damage caused to fetuses when their mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy. The effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders can’t be reversed. It’s devastating and carries a lifetime cost of more than $2 million per patient.

Much of what Sen. Kelly has proposed in his multi-layered effort is consistent with recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But that’s not what some people have been focusing on recently.

What’s gotten some knickers in a knot is something that Sen. Kelly said in an interview with an Anchorage reporter about his FASD program. One part of his program is to make free pregnancy tests, paid for with public funds, available at bars and restaurants. University researchers will study the effectiveness of the effort.

The reporter asked Sen. Kelly if he would support providing free birth control at bars. He said he would not.

“Birth control is for people who don’t necessarily want to act responsibly.”

That has a bunch of people behaving like these are the end times.

If the senator is talking about drinking alcohol while on birth control and relying on the effectiveness of that birth control to prevent a pregnancy, he may have a point - to some degree. That’s because birth control doesn’t always work. Among the items the CDC lists as putting a woman at risk of having what’s termed an “alcohol-exposed pregnancy” is this: Not using contraception in a way that effectively prevents pregnancy.

So he has a preference of hoping a woman would take a pregnancy test and, armed with the knowledge that she is pregnant, cease drinking.

What his political opponents saw was an opportunity to attack.

Kay Brown, the head of the Alaska Democratic Party, proclaimed that Sen. Kelly is “going all out with the War on Women .” She expressed serious displeasure that Alaska Republicans “have not apologized for or condemned” Sen. Kelly for his comments.

If only there were as much outrage in Alaska and nationally about the harm caused by drinking during a pregnancy.

It likely didn’t get the attention this time because it doesn’t whip supporters into a tizzy - and pull money from their wallets - like a good old-fashioned fear-fest. And that’s what Sen. Kelly’s Alaska opponents and national bloggers turned his comment into.

While the uproar is underserved, the senator should know that birth control is something to be used in preventing FASD. He did say, in an interview later with a Daily News-Miner reporter, that it could become a part of a campaign if research supports it. But why not now? Along with the free pregnancy tests?

Republican men have gained some deserved criticism nationally and in Alaska for some comments about women, sex and reproduction.

What we have in Sen. Kelly’s case is nothing of the sort. Instead, we have people making a lot of noise about something that really isn’t much of anything.

People should instead be focusing on reducing and, ideally, eliminating, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.


March 27, 2014

Anchorage Daily News: Forget public funds for private schools

Alaska lawmakers, led by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, should end their drive to amend the Alaska Constitution to allow public money for private schools. They should let Senate Joint Resolution 9 die and instead work to make our public schools better.

Here’s why:

- Our public schools are not failing, broken or in crisis. The Anchorage School District, the state’s largest, educates thousands of students each year and does it well.

Problems? Every day, in every school. Individual crises? No question. That’s the norm in a school system that keeps an open door for every student. The challenge is a constant. We want the drop-out rate lower and the graduation rate higher. But the problems and the challenges shouldn’t mask the successes. The claim that Alaska’s public schools don’t work anymore is bogus — and an insult to the teachers and students who do good work there every day.

- Our public schools already provide choice. In Anchorage, it’s a rich menu of choices among charter schools, optional programs, language immersion, back-to-basics. Demand exceeds supply, as critics point out. But the solution is to increase the public school supply of choices — and to increase the range of choices available in our neighborhood schools. The solution is not to take from the public schools to support private and religious schools.

- The argument that a constitutional amendment will change nothing is another insult to any of us with even a little schooling, public or private.

First, the clear goal of this amendment is to provide public money for private schools. That’s what the sponsors of the amendment have in mind, that’s what supporters want to do. Their goal is not debate. Their goal is to open the public treasury to private education.

Second, if that’s not the case, then this exercise is pointless, because you do not amend our constitution for the sake of debate. Constitutional amendments are substantial revisions to the fundamental law of Alaska.

- Finally, the process in the Senate for consideration of the amendment was flawed from the beginning by keeping it away from the Education Committee. That’s where Sen. Gary Stevens would have asked tough questions and given the amendment a sound, skeptical vetting — exactly what a constitutional amendment needs.

That’s not what Senate President Charlie Huggins wanted. His argument — that the amendment is a question of policy, not education — was a lame excuse to keep the amendment away from Sen. Stevens and move it swiftly to the Senate floor.

Huggins and company got the bill to the Senate floor, only to be blocked by the same doubts, skepticism and outright opposition they sought to avoid by keeping the measure away from the Education Committee.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 went back to the Rules Committee, which is where it should expire as the Legislature draws to a close.

Our public schools deserve — and the Alaska Constitution requires — our lawmakers’ support. That’s where they should apply their energy and invest our public funds.

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