- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Dec. 10, 2016.

Great strides in learning happen with young people whey they have exceptional teachers in the classroom, but educators will also tell you there are two (at least) other areas in which young skulls full of mush can be better primed for education: be sure students are fed and encourage them to be involved.

The effort to keep great teachers is an ongoing challenge for superintendents and their human resources departments. In recent years, federal and local programs have given kids new breakfast and lunch opportunities to get food in their stomachs so they’re not distracted all day by that hollow feeling.

Student involvement? As with many school activities, the student population falls into those who jump at the chance to be involved in extracurricular activities, those who do just enough to get along and those who, for a variety of reasons, don’t join in at all.

Yes, we’re talking football, basketball and other sports, but also dance teams, cheerleading, chess club, band and other organizations. When kids are engaged in activities in which they have an interest and a sense of belonging, they’re more likely to stay in school and more likely to perform well academically.

In Bentonville the other day, the school board took up the issue of cost for extracurricular activities. Not the costs to the district itself, but those borne by students and their families. As kids get older and move into junior high and high school, the individual costs of involvement grows.

Schools have a lot of opportunities for students to join in, but costs can be a barrier. For many families, cost isn’t a concern. But even in the Bentonville School District, home to Wal-Mart’s headquarters and well-paying vendor jobs, poverty exists. It’s less so - 25 percent of students are on free and reduced lunches compared to the state average of 63 percent - but surely nobody finds it acceptable that “just” a quarter of students might struggle to be involved in extracurricular activities. As in every school district in Arkansas, some kids know their families struggle to pay basic bills. They’re not about to go home asking mom and dad, or just mom or dad, for hundreds of dollars to join a team.

We appreciate Bentonville officials for bringing the subject up. It could be easy to ignore costs as a barrier to involvement when some parents can just say “who do I make the check out to?” To their credit, Bentonville leaders don’t accept that some students will just be the ones left out.

Costs can be eye-popping, a deterrent to a kid getting involved. Participating in the marching band can cost students $1,000 for trips and uniform accessories. Being a member of the dance team at Bentonville High comes with a price tag of nearly $1,200 for camps and apparel.

The larger the activity, the more aggressive organized fundraising seems to be. Athletic teams for football and basketball often have booster clubs that raise tidy sums. For others, there are the ubiquitous sales of candles, popcorn, candy bars and the like. Many a company makes money off of the need for school organizations to make money.

District officials say scholarships are often available for students who can’t afford to be involved, but school board members worried whether the message is getting out to all students. Or maybe it’s a little hard - as it would be for any of us - to acknowledge an inability to pay for something so many other students don’t seem to worry about.

The poor will always be with us, we hear from a good source. But when it comes to public schools, none can afford to let a significant portion of students sit on the sidelines. There’s too much risk of losing them.

So finding ways to reduce costs or cover more of them for students is a valiant effort, one that underscores our school systems’ mission to serve all who come through the doors of the school house.

As the discussion moves forward, a notion: Maybe it’s not just that high costs need to be covered. Perhaps the expectations for some of these extracurricular activities need to be modified, too. Are dance teams pushed to have more outfits than they really should? Are some of the clubs pushed to attend too many camps or contests? We recognize involvement in these activities may be the only way some students get to take a trip somewhere special or have a particular experience. Still, schools need to closely examine the “investment” students and their families are expected to make.

Are those expectations reasonable?

It’s the age-old question when it comes to public education - how to engage the haves and the haves-less in an institution that needs to serve them all with equal opportunity.

There are no perfect answers, but it’s good to see Bentonville asking the questions.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Dec. 12, 2016.

So here we were, reading through your statewide newspaper, thumbing through the articles that our wire folks have pulled for your reading pleasure, when we came across yet another one about medical marijuana. This one datelined Albany, New York.

New York state. Of course. That state approved medical marijuana even before Arkansas.

But as we read down into the story, we came across this passage: “New York’s medical marijuana law has some of the strictest rules among the more than 20 states that allow medical marijuana. Among its requirements: Marijuana can’t be dispensed in smoke-able forms, and physicians must complete a training course to approve—”

What?

Medical marijuana is legal in New York state but not in smokable form?

We went to that state’s health department website, and sure enough, physicians can prescribe dope for folks suffering from certain diseases, but it must be dispensed in an oil form for vaping or as a pill.

No joints.

Now that Arkansas has passed medical marijuana, the new Medical Marijuana Commission should follow New York state’s lead on the matter. And sell this drug in pill form. As we’ve been advocating for years.

That would separate those who advocate for marijuana as a legitimate medicine from those who see this change as the first step toward recreational use. And keep us from the gummy snacks that are getting popular in Colorado, endangering so many young people.

___

Texarkana Gazette. Dec. 12, 2016.

Congress moves to curb third-party sellers, but how far should they go?

How often have you tried to get tickets to a popular athletic event or concert, only to find that available tickets are gone, sold out within minutes of going on sale?

And then comes sticker shock. If you still want tickets, you’ll have to pay far above the original price at third-party tickets sellers.

That’s because the third-party dealers use a number of tricks to get access to tickets. Among them are online “bots,” robotic software that automatically scoops up tickets the second they become available online. The bots can even bypass limits of number of tickets that can be purchased, allowing them to grab hundreds of tickets in a brief amount of time.

Ticket dealers have been using these bots for a number of years and have made a lot of money off them. But the gravy train may be coming an end.

At least for a while.

Congress recently passed a bill, the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, banning the ticket bots and sent it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Should the president sign, no doubt it will inconvenience a lot of after-market ticket sellers. Until they find new technology to beat the ban, that is. And they will.

Ticket scalping is annoying, no doubt about it. And in our view this ban the kind of thing that sounds good on the surface. But we have to wonder - what’s next?

Technology is evolving ever faster these days. And one of the main drivers of innovation is profit.

Of course, profit for one often means loss for another. That means some will be happy, others not so happy. There is a big temptation for government to step in. But how far? Do we want the government picking winners and losers in new technology?

That is what will have to happen, since there is no way the government can keep up with new technology that exploits weaknesses in existing systems.

Clearly if criminal behavior is involved, government has a place in putting on the brakes. But legal or gray areas, even if they infuriate the public? That’s a lot trickier.

Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce. But we are in new territory online. Lawmakers should tread very carefully.

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