- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tahlequah Daily Press. Oct. 6, 2017.

If this month’s tragedy in Las Vegas brought home the need for a national conversation on gun violence, the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico are shining a spotlight on another controversial topic: climate change.

As President George W. Bush once commented, there’s no doubt “climate change” is occurring; the question is how much humans are affecting the process, if at all. Bush also quipped that by the time we know for certain, he’ll be long gone. Unfortunately, while he was being facetious, that view is a key reason why some folks don’t want to deal with the issue. If we’ll be dead by the time any serious effects can be measured, why worry about it?

The answer: Our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren - and the planet itself.

There’s now a wide scientific consensus that humans have at least some impact on the climate. Logic suggests that if we take tons of material from the earth, like oil or coal, then transfer it into the atmosphere, there’s bound to be a nominal effect, if not more. Scientists are sometimes their own worst enemies, though. Discussing “greenhouse gases” is confusing to those who understand the positive aspect of growing vegetables and fruits year-round in a “greenhouse,” and the phrase “global warming” doesn’t make sense to those living in areas of the planet where recent cooling is evident.

Dr. Suneeti Jog, assistant biology professor at Northeastern State University, pointed out some of these facts when she was interviewed earlier this week by the Daily Press. She said while climate change might not be that obvious to Oklahomans, it’s readily apparent in other parts of the world. The ice is indeed melting at the poles. Local residents also recognize the wetness of the past several years, which brought three historic floods, and the somewhat more temperate weather instead of seasonal extremes we once had.

A warm winter, as Jog pointed out, isn’t necessarily a good thing. It causes plants to bloom too early, and brings in an abundance of insects that can carry diseases. That’s concerning to many in the scientific community - that, and President Donald Trump’s removal from the U.S. from the Paris accord, which diminished this country’s status as a world leader.

Whatever the facts, economic concerns are - no pun intended - trumping the health of the planet and of future generations. That’s understandable to a degree, because widespread job loss in the energy industry could create financial black holes in many sectors. But “clean” energy, while currently more costly, will also create jobs, and letting a handful of tycoons and their bought-and-paid-for politicians set the tone is sheer folly.

Every time TDP hosts a poll on climate change theories, a few more deniers cross over to the realm of the believers. No one at the TDP is a scientist, so none of us have the temerity to swear unconditional support to either side. What we can say for certain is the subject must be taken seriously, discussed with mutual respect, and acted upon accordingly when a consensus is reached. And that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

___

The Oklahoman. Oct. 10, 2017.

In an op-ed Sunday in The Oklahoman, Thunder chairman Clay Bennett wrote about the important criminal justice reform being undertaken in Oklahoma County. A few lines were particularly noteworthy.

“It’s clear that by using evidence-based decision making and cooperating around a set of defined goals, we can be smarter as a community about how we address those in our criminal justice system,” Bennett wrote. “We cannot cling to the false notion that incarceration is the only or best way to deal with crime.”

Faced with serious safety issues related to chronic overcrowding of the county jail, officials have decided the status quo is no longer acceptable, and they’re trying to do something about it. A task force led by Bennett and comprising law enforcement, business leaders, elected officials and others is striving to find ways to divert offenders from the jail, or to streamline the process so fewer people are held inside the building for months at a time before they ever get to trial.

Progress is occurring, with a 26 percent drop in the number of people sent to the jail for municipal violations during fiscal year 2017. Bennett noted that as these efforts continue, the focus can turn to determining the resources needed for treatment and incarceration.

Demand for substance abuse and mental health treatment leaves publicly funded facilities with long waiting lists. This highlights the importance of privately funded sites such as Arcadia Trails, on the campus of Integris Edmond, which held groundbreaking last week and is set to open in spring 2019. It will have 40 beds for adults whose primary diagnosis is substance use disorder.

It will make an important contribution, but at the state level further strides will come only when lawmakers decide its worthwhile to make additional investments in mental health and substance abuse programs. Doing so would help to reduce the state’s prison population over time, and save the state money.

The Department of Corrections has estimated that four out of every five people who enter its system need mental health or substance abuse treatment. It costs $19,000 per year to incarcerate a person; $23,000 if the person has a severe mental illness. Meantime, it costs the state $2,000 annually for someone to receive treatment through the state’s mental health agency, $5,000 per year for drug court and $5,400 per year for mental health court.

Unfortunately, too many lawmakers seem to be OK with business as usual as it pertains to corrections. This includes watching the number of men and women in DOC custody grow steadily each year - the total eclipsed 63,000 a few weeks ago, a record. Roughly 27,000 of those are behind bars, keeping Oklahoma’s prison buildings constantly above capacity.

DOC Director Joe Allbaugh is planning to release some low-level offenders, in order to clear some space and because he expects little relief from the Legislature in the way of meaningful justice reform. “Essentially, I’m crying ‘help’ and nobody’s listening,” Allbaugh said recently.

That needs to change, as it is in Oklahoma County. Bennett put it well: “We cannot cling to the false notion that incarceration is the only or best way to deal with crime.”

___

Tulsa World. Oct. 10, 2017.

Hundreds of Oklahoma teachers are leaving the state, driven away by low pay, lack of respect and despair.

University of Oklahoma Associate Education Professor Theresa Cullen says more than 250 former Oklahoma teachers she has contacted online have told her that they are making much more - $19,000 more on average - when they leave, and they are happier.

When Tulsa World reporter Sam Hardiman reported on Cullen’s work, former Oklahoma teachers chimed in that it’s not just about money. One former Oklahoma teacher commented that she left the state for three reasons: higher salary opportunities in other states, the lack of respect for teachers in Oklahoma and the sense of “hopelessness” in the state.

“I do not regret leaving the educational institutes of Oklahoma,” she wrote.

Another teacher commented that she and her husband left after 15 years in the Norman public school system.

“We struggled to keep our heads above water the entire 15 years, and it seemed to get worse there at the end,” she wrote.

Since leaving the state, she earns $16,000 a year more and her husband is making $25,000 more. Her class sizes went from 30 or more to no more than 18, and she no longer has to struggle with district limits on school supplies.

“There is no real argument to be made here,” she wrote. “Oklahoma has got to wake up. I’d love to be back there with my family but there’s just no way we could justify that decision.”

Others, who didn’t appear to be teachers, argued that salary comparisons aren’t valid because the cost of living is higher in other states, but the commenting teachers said that is hogwash.

“My living expenses are lower than they were in Oklahoma,” one former teacher commented. “In five years (maybe fewer), I’ll be making more than double my (Oklahoma City Public Schools) salary.”

It’s anecdotal evidence, but it’s convincing because it fits what we know: Oklahoma teachers are underpaid, the lowest in the region and close to the lowest in the nation. Class sizes are creeping up and schools are increasingly unable to pay for the basic supplies needed in classrooms.

And too many of those teachers who can leave, do, only to be replaced by a growing number of unqualified placeholders with emergency certifications.

We hope the people in the state Capitol are paying attention. They’re being offered an important lesson on why things are the way they are, and what they can do to make them better.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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