- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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March 27

The Winston-Salem Journal on schools becoming increasingly segregated again:

A recent report from a progressive advocacy and research group that says North Carolina’s traditional public schools are becoming more segregated by race and income should concern everyone interested in education and a functioning society, as is the claim that the segregation is partly because of charter schools. This is a statewide trend that hurts students and families financially and morally, according to a policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center, as reported recently by Raleigh’s News & Observer.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg has become North Carolina’s most racially segregated district while also being one of the most economically segregated districts over the last 10 years, according to the report. The Wake County school system has become more racially and economically segregated as well, as has the Guilford County system.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system has improved its racial integration somewhat, but its income-based segregation has grown, the report says.

“Every one of North Carolina’s 10 largest school districts has become more segregated by income over the past decade - substantially so in many cases. These changes indicate that students from low-income families are becoming increasingly segregated from their higher-income peers within North Carolina’s largest school districts,” according to the report.

This is a trend that must be reversed.

According to the Century Foundation, students in integrated school have higher average test scores; are more likely to enroll in college; and are less likely to drop out. Integrated schools help reduce racial achievement gaps and encourage critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. They also help reduce racial bias and counter stereotypes.

But either advertently or inadvertently, the gains of the 1960s have become diminished.

Charter schools have contributed to the problem by becoming increasingly segregated, with some schools serving primarily students of color and others serving primarily white students, according to the report.

When charter schools were first introduced to the state, they were required to “reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition” of the population in the district where they were located. But in 2013, legislation dropped the diversity mandate and diluted the language so charters must “make efforts” to reflect the local school district’s demographics, according to the News & Observer. This has allowed charter schools to drift from this part of their mission.

The report makes recommendations for turning the trend around, including creating more integrated neighborhoods, requiring charter schools to provide transportation and school lunch and closing charter schools whose demographics significantly differ from the district in which they’re located.

But changing the picture will require extensive time and effort from all levels of government - which means legislators will require urging from citizens - school professionals and parents.

“North Carolina could create a much fairer, inclusive and integrated system of schools by spending just slightly more on student transportation and demonstrating a modicum of political will,” according the report. “In the end, failure to integrate schools is the much more expensive proposition - financially and morally.”

Online: http://www.journalnow.com/

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March 26

The Fayetteville Observer on Veterans Affairs care and bureaucracy:

The congressmen came to Fayetteville last week to see how well the Department of Veterans Affairs is caring for the men and women who served their country in war and peace. And even in the town were the VA has arguably improved more than anywhere, they found a work very much in progress.

The special field hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee was conducted by Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, the panel’s chairman, and by member Rep. Neal Dunn of Florida - an Army veteran who served at Fort Bragg. Both of Fayetteville’s congressmen, Rep. Richard Hudson and Rep. Robert Pittenger, also attended. All four are Republicans. It was good to see them here, where a fast-growing population of veterans lives and gets medical care. The Fayetteville area’s veteran population has grown by 70 percent in the last 10 years, VA officials say. The VA has added more than 420,000 square feet of medical space here and hired more than 840 staff members.

But the veterans are still dealing with the second-largest bureaucracy in the federal government, and sometimes that gets frustrating. Sarah Vaughn, executive director of The Independence Fund and the wife of an 82nd Airborne veteran who lost a leg in Afghanistan in 2010, talked at Friday’s hearing about that bureaucracy. She praised the medical care her husband has gotten from the VA, but offered no cheers for the rest of the organization. She said her husband has had to make multiple three-hour round trips to VA offices to prove that he’s still missing a leg and needs a prosthesis. He’s had long waits for repairs to his wheelchair and she’s had to fix his prosthetic leg with duct tape while they waited for the VA to approve repairs. It’s a picture of a system strangled by its own disorganization.

That’s what we heard Friday from retired Staff Sgt. Gary Goodwin, who has needed multiple surgeries, hospitalizations and visits to emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. He sought care outside the VA in 2016 for issues connected with a surgery, and not all of those bills were paid promptly. As a result, his credit rating dropped from a golden 820 to a shaky 670. “You can’t get a loan for a box of doughnuts when you have a credit score of 670,” he told the congressmen. David Catoe, the assistant vice president for patient financial services at Atrium Health, told much the same tale on a larger scale for his health-care system, including the difficulty in dealing with the VA’s slow and rigid systems that simply don’t get the payment job done. Catoe recommended that the VA consider using commercial payer portals instead of trying to do the work itself.

That, in fact, seems to be the larger story that we’re hearing about the VA: It’s making steady improvements in the medical care it dispenses and in the delivery speed. But the bureaucracy is hopelessly tangled and inefficient. It sounds as if some outsourcing of billing and other clerical functions is in order.

And especially in the area of covering veterans’ health care at non-VA facilities, the bureaucracy clearly needs more help. The VA doesn’t appear to have the staffing, networks or understanding to act as a health insurer. Expecting it to add that skill to an already overtaxed organization isn’t realistic. Outcomes are too much like those Sgt. Goodwin has experienced - or much worse. Why not let a private insurer do that job? Or even another federal agency that already does it quite well: Medicare. In places where there is little VA medical presence, why not issue veterans something we might call Medicare Part V?

Despite all the political pressure, all the funding increases, all the real improvements, it’s still clear that there are many things the VA doesn’t do well. Rather than continuing to wait for miracles, it’s time find new avenues for treatment and health services for our nation’s veterans, and better ways to make sure the entire job is being done well. Expecting the VA to be the master of all trades is hopelessly unrealistic.

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com/

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March 26

The Charlotte Observer on protests, political energy and voting:

No matter your views on gun control, what the country witnessed this past weekend - millions of people participating in marches across the country - is a welcome development in a troubled time. It’s just what the U.S. needs, young people choosing political engagement instead of apathy. It’s the kind of energy that can transform policy and save lives.

The bulk of the marches grew out of the aftermath of the horrific Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida, with the majority of protesters demanding various gun control options, including banning so-called assault rifles and improving background checks. There were also marchers who believe an American-style democracy cannot be sustained without the Second Amendment. The voices of the young, supported by a variety of groups and adults, were the most prominent.

It’s not the first time America’s youth has been on the front line of critical social movements. Children stared down dogs and water hoses during the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century. College students, including those in North Carolina, began transforming the world with sit-ins. This past weekend, busloads of middle school students from places such as Conway, South Carolina, left in the dead of night to join others in Washington to build upon that legacy. It was democracy at its best.

The cynics have tried to reduce what we saw to little more than politics as usual, as just the latest in the tired debate between liberals and conservatives to determine which major political party will benefit in the midterms and beyond. Don’t let them. If young people are more politically active, it means Democrats and Republicans and third-party candidates must vie for their support. That becomes truer by the day as millennials begin outnumbering boomers. It seeds the ground for a re-examination of the nation’s priorities.

Such as: What is the proper balance between sensible gun control and honoring the Second Amendment? Between supporting welfare programs and tackling the debt? Is the tax system too progressive? Not progressive enough? Can we treat the undocumented with dignity while enforcing clear borders? Should government pay more of the higher education costs? Or less?

These are sensitive, complex issues. When millions of Americans don’t bother to participate - roughly 58 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2016, and the percentage of voters ages 18-29 was closer to 50 - the most extreme voices shape the debate and policies. Until young people turn out to vote in greater numbers, office holders have reason to doubt the true impact of days like Saturday.

It’s true there were recent spikes in such engagement during the Bush era by anti-war and anti-capitalism protesters, by the Tea Party under President Obama and the unprecedented women’s march last year. Let’s hope what we saw this weekend is just the beginning.

Online: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/


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