- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Aug. 9

Mercury News on legislation addressing the overmedication of foster children:

Since 2014, this newspaper has been working to expose the harm done to foster children by doctors’ improper use of powerful antipsychotic drugs to control their patients’ behavior.

Progress has been made, but as investigative stories Sunday and Monday by Karen de Sa and Tracy Seipel reveal, much work remains to provide proper oversight. California’s top foster care prescribing doctors are still fueling the medication of our most vulnerable children at an unacceptable rate.

This abuse needs to stop. Three bills being considered by the Legislature will help rein in the practice. The Assembly and Senate should pass the legislation, and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign them into law.

On Monday, de Sa told the heartbreaking story of Tasia Wright’s experience growing up in foster care in Southern California. Tasia, who is now 27, entered a residential group home at the age of 6 after her mother developed drug problems. In the 13 years she was at the group home, she was prescribed 23 different psychiatric drugs by three psychiatrists. One of the doctors who treated her was responsible for giving two or more antipsychotics to 46 foster children for longer than two months over a five-year period.

The drugs often come with debilitating side effects for children. In Tasia’s case, by the time she left the group home at 19, de Sa reported that she was morbidly obese and had Type 2 diabetes and medication-induced tremors.

The doctors who are prescribing the unproven combinations of the drugs are engaging in a practice that is widely rejected by medical associations in other states.

The most important bill to attack the problem is SB 1174, authored by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. The legislation, which goes before the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, would require the state Medical Board to investigate doctors who inappropriately prescribe antipsychotic medications. As McGuire points out, none of the more than 8,000 complaints to the state Medical Board about doctors during the 2014-15 fiscal year was on behalf of a foster child. When California accepts responsibility for the welfare of children, it has an obligation to look out for their best interests.

San Jose Sen. Jim Beall has for years worked to improve the lives of the state’s most vulnerable children. His SB 1291 would require county mental plans to gather data and submit annual plans on how they serve foster children. The intent is to better identify problems and address them before they reach a crisis state.

Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey, is pushing to get his SB 253 through the Legislature. Monning’s bill would make doctors go to greater lengths to justify giving prescriptions before taking them to judges for approval.

The reporting by de Sa and Seipel should be required reading for every member of the Legislature. Both houses should give bipartisan support to passing the bills for the governor’s signature so that inappropriate drugging of foster children comes to an end.

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Aug., 9

Ventura County Star on water education in California schools:

With students heading back to classes this month, we want to ask a little favor of teachers, principals and other educators at public and private elementary, middle and high schools alike:

Please spend some time this school year teaching our children about water conservation, if you are not already. Because despite some mixed signals from water regulators lately, a severe drought continues in Southern California, and water education is more important than ever.

The same goes for all our local water agencies, regardless of whether they’re getting more water from the state because of a decent rainy season this winter in Northern California. You may drop mandated conservation, but your message needs to stay on point: Water is a limited resource in our state, and all of us should be trying to conserve every day.

State officials last week released a report showing Californians conserved less water in June when compared with a year earlier. What’s especially concerning is that officials were expecting the drop, because they had eased statewide drought restrictions after the heavier precipitation in the north, which supplies most of California’s water.

Statewide water consumption was down 21.5 percent in June when compared with 2013. Sounds good, except we used 27.3 percent less water in June 2015.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in 2014 and the state ordered required cutbacks of up to 25 percent compared with 2013. Since June, however, water districts that could show they have enough supply to get through three more years of drought could avoid the strict conservation orders.

The news is still generally good in the latest report. The state has cumulatively reduced water use by 24 percent over the last 13 months. But some areas are better off than others. For example, communities that rely on Lake Casitas and not state or federal water, like Ventura and the Ojai Valley, face a bleak future if the drought continues.

Wells in the Ojai Valley have run dry, and Casitas water levels have dropped to their lowest point since the lake was filled in the 1960s. The lake now stands at 38.4 percent of capacity, and we’ve got at least two more months before our rainy season arrives.

The U.S. Drought Monitor last week reported 43 percent of the state was considered to be in an extreme or exceptional drought situation. Ventura County was in an exceptional drought, the driest category.

Pete Kaiser, board president of the Casitas Municipal Water District, told The Star in April that if the drought continues, “Worst-case scenario we have a mudhole in just over four years; best case, a little bit over six years.”

The Metropolitan Water District, which sells imported water to districts in Ventura County and elsewhere, slashed deliveries by 15 percent last year but rescinded that cut in May. Metropolitan, however, is still stressing folks to “be water wise,” as we believe all water agencies should regardless of their individual drought situation.

It’s all about helping consumers develop good habits, which gets us back to our schools. A child who learns how to save water will take those habits home to his or her family, and later in life, in our increasingly mobile society, to high-drought-risk places like Salt Lake City and Nashville.

The California Department of Education points out that “schools are in a unique position as centers of community, and as educational institutions, to lead by example and to educate the public on what can be done to stretch the supply of water.”

A host of public and private groups offer a variety of water education programs for use in the classroom, including some aligned with the new Common Core academic standards and listed at water.ca.gov/education. We encourage everyone to take a look and ask how their schools are teaching water conservation.

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Aug. 9

Whittier Daily News on traffic fines and license suspensions:

Is everyone who fails to pay a traffic ticket a scofflaw deserving of extra punishment?

That’s the good question being raised on several fronts, including a bill by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg and a lawsuit contending that thousands of people are having driver’s licenses suspended unfairly by the Los Angeles Superior Court and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The California vehicle code says your driver’s license can be suspended if you willfully fail to pay a traffic fine or appear in court to contest it. The key word there is willfully. Meaning voluntarily, intentionally.

But the civil-rights lawyers who filed the suit against L.A. Superior Court last week say the fact is more than a few of the people whose driver’s licenses are suspended fail to pay fines not willfully but because they’re too poor to afford them.

They make a serious point.

In 2006-15, 4.7 million Californians had licenses suspended for failing to pay tickets. According to a report, disproportionate numbers of those suspensions came from what the Los Angeles Times, in a story about the report, called “poor neighborhoods with large percentages of black and Latino residents.” The study came from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

This matters.

It underscores how traffic fines have grown, and how the threat of license suspensions has crowded out other ways to collect. Because of surcharges added by the state to raise revenue during the Great Recession, a $100 traffic fine can grow to nearly $500 - and fees and fines for late payment can raise it to more than $800.

And it highlights how license suspensions perpetuate cycles of poverty.

SB 881, by Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and passed by the state Senate, would stop automatic suspensions of licenses for failing to pay fines for minor offenses. Hertzberg applauded the lawsuit against the Superior Court, saying: “We know that suspending driver’s licenses for people who are struggling to make ends meet can have huge negative consequences, including costing them their jobs. It’s imperative that courts take into account the severity of this action. Driver’s licenses should be suspended only when merited and not for minor missteps, such as failing to pay a traffic fine on time.”

With action in the Legislature and court, perhaps a solution is on the way.

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Aug. 6

San Diego Union-Tribune on measuring school and student performance:

This week, state Board of Education President Michael Kirst and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson sent a 10-page letter to the U.S. Education Department taking issue with how the federal government is implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a far-reaching 2015 law that replaced the oft-criticized No Child Left Behind Act enacted in 2002.

ESSA sharply reduces federal mandates that states must follow. But it includes a provision to ensure states make a good-faith effort to improve public schools: a requirement that all students’ progress be regularly measured and that states must intervene when schools rank in the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments, have more than one-third of students drop out and repeatedly have ethnic groups with poor test results.

Kirst and Torlakson object to ESSA regulations that require each school be given a single score to assess its quality. They want the federal government to accept a state assessment system now being fine-tuned in Sacramento that would rate multiple categories for each school, including high school graduation rates, English learners’ progress, test scores and graduation rates. At the least, they want federal officials to delay ESSA’s implementation from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19.

We think the U.S. Education Department should summarily dismiss Kirst’s and Torlakson’s request - because there are many reasons to question their good faith. That list only starts with the complex state assessment system the officials tout. It’s so convoluted that it appears designed to confuse parents, not inform them. This follows on the heels of Torlakson’s refusal last year to release information about poor performing schools.

It’s also in keeping with the many ways that state officials show they’re more concerned about keeping teachers happy than helping students. A 1971 state law requiring that student test scores be a component of a teacher evaluations has been ignored in much of California for decades. A 2013 law - the Local Control Funding Formula - was supposed to ensure extra funding specifically went to help English learners and foster students. In 2015, Torlakson ruled, with Kirst’s agreement, that these extra funds could be used for broad teacher raises.

If these machinations occurred against a backdrop of high-performing schools, they might be easier to tolerate. Instead, California is a national outlier, fighting President Obama’s push for education accountability. Gov. Jerry Brown has even mocked the idea of data-driven education reform, winning national headlines in 2011 for his derision.

But the most comprehensive education scorecard of all - the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) - strongly indicates that state-level reforms can work. The Urban Institute reported that when 2013 state NAEP results were evaluated and adjusted based on student demographics, three states with strong policies led the way: Massachusetts, New Jersey and Texas. California ranked 46th.

As we have written before, there is no reason California can’t follow the Massachusetts blueprint: its 1993 Education Reform Act. The law established basic standards to measure the performance of students, teachers, administrators and superintendents and added funding for programs whose effectiveness were proven by metrics.

Instead, in California, education officials want fewer standards. We’re going backwards.

When a comprehensive history is written about Jerry Brown’s second go-round as governor, it is sure to include considerable praise. But not when it comes to public education.

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Aug. 8

Press-Enterprise on making music festivals safer:

The deaths of three young adults following the HARD Summer Music Festival at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on July 30 and 31 have renewed calls for a ban on such events.

Electronic music festivals, sometimes referred to as “raves,” can draw hundreds of thousands of mostly young people for one, two or even three days of festivities.

For attendees, these can be enjoyable, safe events no more risky than a typical concert or music festival. For residents in the vicinity of these events, they can be a money-making opportunity, particularly for local business owners, or a headache, especially late at night. For local governments, they can provide an economic boost, but they can also be a cause of concern.

Such events have been held throughout Southern California for many years. As they have grown in popularity and frequency, however, they have also been subjected to increasing regulation and scrutiny from state and local governments.

Drug use, overheating and dehydration at such events occasionally lead to hospitalizations and even deaths of attendees. At least a dozen attendees are known to have lost their lives at electronic music festivals in Southern California since 2006.

The deaths last weekend have prompted San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford to call for a ban on such events at county-owned facilities.

“In light of these recent deaths, the Board of Supervisors should seriously consider banning these events from taking place at the county-owned San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore. We cannot wait for more young lives to be lost before we decide enough is enough,” Supervisor Rutherford said in a statement.

At least one electronic music festival, Nocturnal Wonderlands, is currently scheduled at the San Manuel Amphitheater for Labor Day weekend. In June, a proposal from Rutherford to ban such events failed to get enough votes.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors considered banning such events following deaths at county-owned facilities, but instead opted for the creation of “threat assessments,” through which promoters of events expected to draw more than 10,000 people must work with the county to minimize the potential risk of harm.

It must be acknowledged, regrettably, that even the best-prepared event can’t prevent all tragic outcomes. With this in mind, effective cooperation between local governments and event promoters, with an aim toward reaching an appropriate, functional level of safety and harm reduction, is preferable to knee-jerk bans.

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