- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, May 17, 2014

Voter ID

Well, score one for the people of Arkansas.

At least for now.

Last year, Arkansas’ Republican-controlled Legislature approved a new voter identification requiring photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport, concealed carry permit, military ID and the like. Those without photo ID could get a free card from their county clerk’s office.

The law also allows those who cast absentee ballots to include a photocopy of their ID or documents such as a bank or utility statement that shows name and address. And if an absentee voter does not have those items, he or she can verify ID up to a week after the election at the county clerk’s office.

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the law but the Legislature voted to override and the law took effect with the new year.

It was challenged in court by those who claimed the law made it difficult for the elderly, the poor and minorities to exercise their franchise.

Last month, a state district judge threw out the voter ID restrictions.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy Fox said the law imposed voter restrictions not allowed by the state constitution, specifically focusing on how absentee ballots are handled.

He also struck down the law as a whole as being unconstitutional.

The state appealed the ruling, and on Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court, by a 5-2 vote, found that Fox had no authority to rule on the law’s constitutionality.

While the justices upheld part of Fox’s ruling on absentee ballots, it overturned his finding as to the voter ID law itself.

“The question then becomes whether the constitutionality of the act was properly before the circuit court for a ruling. Based on the record before us, we must conclude that the answer to that question is no,” Justice Paul Danielson wrote for the majority.

So the law is back on the books, at least unto the next courtroom skirmish.

What this means is that Arkansas voters should be prepared to show proper identification when they go to the polls on Tuesday for the state’s primary elections.

And the part of Fox’s ruling the Supreme Court upheld? Well, it turns out the law does not actually provide absentee voters extra time to come up with an ID. That was added by the state Election Commission, which did not have that authority. So anyone who votes by absentee ballot must submit a copy of proper ID with the ballot or the vote will not be counted.

We are strongly in favor of the state’s voter ID law. It is not a burden, but a protection of a cherished right. And we hope it still stands after all the court battles are over.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 19, 2014

Seriouser and seriouser

For years the state of Arkansas has told parents and teachers which school districts were having trouble. Financial trouble, academic trouble, you-name-it trouble. The folks at the state’s Department of Education called those troubled districts distressed. It’s probably more accurate to say that many parents were distressed over the news about their kids’ school districts.

What do you mean my kid is in a academically troubled school district? He’s doing great. And reading three levels above his grade. His teacher is tops. You should see his homework. It makes my head spin.

Well, maybe that’s because there can be some mighty fine teachers, principals, and even whole schools in school districts that aren’t in fine shape overall. Last week, the state took a step, a leap really, in an effort to clear up some of the confusion.

For the first time, the state identified schools—individual schools—that it considers to be the poorest performers. It’s about time. Past time. Happily, the state of Arkansas is getting seriouser and seriouser about public education. And about holding those responsible for its problems accountable at last.

The 32 schools listed as being in, ahem, Academic Distress can be found all over the state. At least one charter school is mentioned. And the commissioner of the Department of Education in this state—his name is Tom Kimbrell—doesn’t sound like he has much of a sense of humor about these rankings. Which is a good thing in a commissioner of education. Especially when he’s talking about schools that are failing our kids. Because that’s no joking matter.

The 32 schools on the list aren’t guaranteed more money or other help, Commissioner Kimbrell told the press. The list only “guarantees extra oversight by the state, increased oversight.” His message was clear: Get with it, schools.

And what happens if they don’t? Believe it or not, these schools - public schools! - could be shut down. The school’s staff could be reassigned. The principal could be let go. And even the district superintendent. Wow. Just like charter schools that aren’t getting the job done.

Now those are consequences. And they just might get the attention of those whose attention very much needs to be got.

This is scarcely an unwarranted step. Indeed, there probably should be even more schools on this list of troubled schools. The only thing a school has to do to stay off the list is to get more than 49.5 percent of its kids up to what educators call the Proficient level. That’s not an unreasonable request. Indeed, it’s a minimal one. Just try passing a math test by scoring a 49.5. It’s not exactly a high bar. If your neighborhood school is on the list, it needs to be. See our graphic in last Saturday’s paper for the entire list of these schools, complete and unabridged and sad.

Now what? How does the state keep on keeping on in this direction? How does the state hold more schools accountable? How improve education over and over again, never going back, never marking time, but always improving?

Here’s how: Let’s track the progress of individual classrooms in the individual schools, too, and publicize the results. Maybe on a multiple-year average. If the kids aren’t learning anything from August to May in Mrs. Smith’s class - and don’t from year to year - then the state needs to know that. So do parents.

Who knows, maybe Mrs. Smith will clean up her act - or get the message that she can’t teach, and seek employment elsewhere. Which would be a signal service to future generations of kids. We’ve shortchanged quite enough of them over the years by not paying close attention to their progress. Or lack of same.

If the state’s commissioner of education doesn’t take poor-performing schools lightly, neither should the rest of us. Let’s take the next step - or big leap.


Southwest Times Record, May 15, 2014

Telemedicine offers expanded care

Call it thinking outside the building if you like. On May 13, the Mercy medical system broke ground on a new Virtual Care Center in Chesterfield, Mo.

The center - Mercy says it is the first of its kind in the nation - will provide a hub from which 300 physicians, nurses, specialists and others can offer support and care for patients and physicians in far-flung corners of the country.

“Telemedicine will have a significant impact by letting virtual physicians and nurses be the first point of triage and care for patients in the hospital, emergency room or even at home,” Dr. Tom Hale, executive medical director of Mercy’s telehealth service, stated in a news release.

Mercy estimates that the center will participate in 3 million telehealth visits in the next five years, according to information from the system.

To bring health care to patients who cannot get to the best doctor for what ails them, the center will use in-room, two-way audio, video and computer connections. The center will be able to expedite test results and diagnoses. It even will provide care to some patients in their homes to minimize hospitalizations, Mercy says.

Doctor shortages are a fact of life in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma and in many other parts of the country. The proposed osteopathic medical school at Chaffee Crossing is one way of addressing this need locally. The virtual medical center is another.

As patients and caregivers alike grow more comfortable with what telemedicine can do, it will become an increasing part of the health-care package people experience. The change is already underway; from 2007 to 2012, the telemedicine monitoring market grew from a $4.2 billion operation to one worth $10 billion. The expectation is that will increase as the full capabilities of the system are revealed.

We are glad Mercy Fort Smith, the area Mercy clinics, and Mercy community hospitals in Booneville, Ozark, Paris and Waldron will have access to this new way of providing care in underserved areas.

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