- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


March 14

The Dothan Eagle on Alabama’s unemployment statistics:

A report released this week shows Alabama among the top three U.S. states in unemployment. At 6.4 percent, Alabama’s jobless rate is about one-third higher than the national average of 4.7 percent. In the Dothan metropolitan statistical area, the most recent unemployment rate (Nov. 2016) is 6.2 percent.

That should give Alabama lawmakers something to chew on during their days in the statehouse this legislative session. They already have significant issues to tackle, such as re-configuring a dozen legislative districts under order of the federal courts, considering an enormous bond issue to build new prisons that won’t address the state’s prison overcrowding issue, and, presumably, finding a workable solution to the state’s chronic budget shortfalls.

However, a growing unemployment rate is particularly troubling, and should rise to the top of the legislative priority list.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alabama’s rising unemployment rate follows an influx of about 10,000 workers into the state’s labor pool last month. Only about 6,500 of those people found work.

It seems to be simple arithmetic; without enough jobs being created, there won’t be enough jobs to fill.

However, it’s not quite that simple. State officials say there are about 25,000 jobs available in the state for job seekers.

The variable in this equation lies in making a good fit for both employee and workplace.

Lawmakers should be troubled by the rising unemployment rate, and pursue strategies that would create an environment that would attract new business and encourage the expansion of existing business. It should also review current strategies for job placement to ensure that the sorts of jobs being sought are the sort of jobs available.




March 12

The Decatur Daily on expanding prenatal care and home birth in Alabama:

It’s not the first time a state lawmaker has attempted to get fellow legislators to expand prenatal care and home birth in Alabama, and it’s shaping up to be one more failed attempt.

Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, has introduced a bill to license and regulate the practice of certified professional midwifery. More than half the states allow this practice.

The bill establishes educational and training guidelines for midwives in a program recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and stipulates they must carry liability insurance.

There are many practical advantages. Of Alabama’s 67 counties, only 29 have hospitals with obstetrical care, and only 17 of them are in rural counties.

One-fourth of expectant women receive less than adequate prenatal care, and women in rural counties are less likely to receive any prenatal care.

Medicaid pays for more than half the births in Alabama. A study in Washington state found planned home births attended by midwives resulted in 40 percent savings to Medicaid.

This lack of access to care is reflected in statistics, the most sobering of which is Alabama’s ranking as fourth in infant mortality.

It’s not surprising that the Alabama Hospital Association is opposed to the midwife bill. They make convincing arguments about safety of the mother and child with a hospital birth. There is no arguing that, but it doesn’t overshadow the fact that too many expectant women in Alabama are getting little or no prenatal care.

Pressure is on to alter the bill to give hospitals liability immunity if an expectant mother arrives during a home birth attempt that develops complications. That likely would be rejected in court because it singles out a specific circumstance.

The lack of adequate medical care in rural Alabama is a serious problem that likely will get worse as federal and state changes to health care policies continue to occur.

With proper training and regulation, a midwife program would go a long way toward alleviating the lack of prenatal care for expectant mothers.




March 12

The Gadsden Times on the state school superintendent:

Teachers in Alabama weren’t pleased last year when Michael Sentance was hired as state school superintendent. The issues were his lack of both classroom experience (he’s only been an education adviser, consultant and reformer) and connections to this state (he’s from Massachusetts), and some apparent shenanigans aimed at veteran Alabama educator Craig Pouncey, who had been considered the favorite for the job.

Now, six months into his tenure (and his $198,000 annual salary), Sentance also has gotten on the state Board of Education’s bad side.

He was called before a special work session of the board last week and received, basically, an old-fashioned Alabama hide-tanning. Getting stuck in the corner in timeout certainly would’ve been more enjoyable.

No. 1 on the list of grievances was Sentance’s lack of communication with board members with Exhibit A being a situation that blew up a few days earlier when reports of proposed changes to the state’s Career and Technical Education office were leaked.

The reports indicated that office would be abolished as separate entity in the Department of Education, and career tech would be placed under the Office of Academic Affairs.

Sentance insisted it was just “moving the box on the organizational chart” and wouldn’t degrade the program in any way. Given the emphasis this state places on career tech, which we’ve addressed often (and support), the response was as predictable (and as messy) as vinegar going “fizz” when baking soda is added.

Frantic, angry emails and phone calls circulated throughout the career tech community and elsewhere (we were tagged) - including the inboxes and caller IDs of state board members. They weren’t amused; the word “blindsided” was used at last week’s meeting.

Sentance apologized, saying it was an “internal conversation” and he had planned to share details with the board. He called his department “less seaworthy than the Titanic” when it comes to leaks.

Let’s see: New chief executive, unpopular with a good many folks, coming in at 200 mph and moving people’s cheese around the pantry, and career employees concerned about those changes and the general direction of things singing like Adele. Sound familiar? It happens both in Washington and Montgomery and will never be stopped because it’s human nature for people to blab, especially if they’re mad about something. Good executives learn to deal with it and move on.

Board members also insisted they need to be in the loop when Sentance meets with politicians and when substantive committee discussions are happening.

“This board appointed you,” one of them told the superintendent. “You work for this board.”

We’re of two minds there. The ideal situation would be for boards like this one to hire a qualified chief executive or operating officer, and back off and let that person do his or her thing with oversight, not micromanagement.

However, there also should be a proper line of communication in place - especially for school board members who reflect the voters’ voice and will - and if that’s lacking in this scenario, it needs to be fixed.

There were other entries on Sentance’s “naughty list.” Board members don’t like his talk of possible changes to the Alabama Reading and Alabama Math, Science and Technology initiatives.

Sentance again was apologetic, conceded he may have moved a little too fast in some areas and indicated he got the board’s message.

We take the superintendent at his word, but would advise him that “getting the message” might involve more than just soothing hurt feelings. It eventually could be a case of self-preservation.



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