- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


Medford Mail Tribune, April 17, on Senate taking it easier on juvenile offenders:

Oregon’s initiative process allows the people to enact laws directly when the Legislature cannot or will not do so. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to change Ballot Measure 11 to be more lenient toward juvenile offenders 25 years after voters passed it. It was the right thing to do.

Senate Bill 1008 - actually a combination of five bills - squeaked through with the required two-thirds majority (more on that later). Three Republicans, including Sen. Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls, joined 17 Democrats in voting yes.

Measure 11 was a get-tough-on-crime initiative passed in 1994 that set mandatory minimum sentences for crimes including murder, rape, kidnapping and arson and required juveniles 15 and older accused of those crimes to be tried as adults. SB 1008 removes that requirement and leaves the decision in the hands of a judge.

The measure also allows juvenile offenders scheduled to be released from custody before their 27th birthday to be released at 25 rather than being transferred to the adult Department of Corrections. It creates new provisions for early release of serious juvenile offenders and makes sure offenders who commit crimes before they turn 18 but are not sentenced until age 19 won’t be sent to adult prison.

The bill faces considerable opposition, but much has happened since 1994, including a drop in crime rates. Criminal justice experts say Measure 11 is not the reason. A study released last year by the Oregon Council on Civil Rights concluded that Measure 11 “has had no clear benefit to public safety as measured by deterrence or recidivism. In fact, most research suggests that interactions with the adult criminal justice system at such a young age increase recidivism and reduce public safety.”

Scientific research shows juveniles’ brains aren’t fully developed until they are in their 20s, and they have “a unique capacity for change and growth,” in the words of the study. Polls also indicate that changes in juvenile sentencing laws enjoy broad support among Oregonians.

Oregon’s district attorneys and others opposed SB 1008, arguing that the voters should decide. But in the same election that produced Measure 11, Ballot Measure 10 said lawmakers could reduce voter-approved sentences with a two-thirds vote.

That’s what the Senate did Tuesday. The House should follow suit.


The Register-Guard, April 14, on making STEM accessible to all students:

A recent gathering of educators in Portland drove home the point that technology, like time, doesn’t stand still and that public schools here and around the nation need to find creative ways to prepare students for the job skills they’ll need to thrive in rapidly changing workplaces.

The conference, hosted by the Consortium of School Networks, drew technology leaders from industry and school districts across the country to explore the challenges facing educators - as well as some of the successes they’ve achieved in the classroom. There was plenty to provide inspiration for school officials in our region as they build and refine a curriculum suited for the Class of 2030 and beyond.

Two particular ideas are worthy of focus: Every student should be taught computer science, and every student should have an opportunity to engage in hands-on, do-it-yourself projects to enhance their understanding of science, technology, engineering and math. Both ideas are rich with potential for new and expanded partnerships with innovative businesses and universities in our region.

Conference-goers learned that Springfield Public Schools in Massachusetts requires its kindergarteners to take computer science courses. Paul Foster, the district’s public information officer, said it’s important to start early because computational thinking is a valuable path to problem-solving, a skill that will serve the youngsters well as they progress through school and into the workplace.

Introducing computer science at an early age, instead of as an elective later in a school career, has other benefits, according to Foster. “Children have made up their minds about what they’re good at long before high school,” he said. If they’re exposed to computer science and tech-oriented courses early, they might find an interest and aptitude they wouldn’t have otherwise.

An early introduction is also critical to closing race and gender gaps in technology. Male students, typically white or Asian-American, tend to fill computer science and other tech-related classrooms in high school, a visible sign that young girls and people of color don’t see those fields as welcoming or well-suited for them.

Part of the problem is that the teachers standing at the front of the classroom are mostly white men, according to a study presented at the conference. In U.S. public and private K-12 schools, 93 percent of technology leaders are white, and 72 percent are male - and the number of women in information technology positions in schools is on the decline.

School officials need to be more aggressive in recruiting a diverse mix of candidates for IT jobs. They also should bring in more women and people of color from the business community and local universities and colleges to show students that STEM fields are open to everyone. The University of Oregon’s Girls’ Science Adventures, which partners women graduate students with elementary-school girls for hands-on science lessons, can provide a creative model for how to break the gender bias and gap in tech fields.

In fact, the hands-on approach in that program and similar ventures across the country could benefit all students as they prepare for work in an increasingly complex world. Many students thrive in tactile learning environments, where they can actually see the concepts under study instead of being told about them. Students thrive - and build lifelong passions - when they’re having fun.

Parents who want to get their kids engaged in the sciences or computer programming also have many summer camps and after-school programs from which to choose. Programs serve all ages and experience levels and can give students a leg up or a chance to decide one topic isn’t for them, but maybe something new is.

Sylvia Martinez, an aerospace engineer and leader in the “Maker Movement,” said DIY projects need to take the place of boring, uninspiring worksheets and screen work. “STEM projects have been frozen since 1892,” she said. “And yet we’re trying to bend it to our will and say yes, yes STEM is about finding jobs in the real world. And it’s not.” Highline Public Schools near Seattle has seen success by repurposing an old school as a “maker space,” where students can use 3D printers, ham radios and other tools to collaborate on projects.

Eugene’s business community - especially innovators like Arcimoto, Yogi Tea and Nancy’s Yogurt, among many others - has a wealth of knowledge and creativity that school leaders can tap for inspiration and resources as they integrate technology into the classroom and show students the practical applications of what they’re learning. Our region’s business leaders have a long history of contributing to our schools. New opportunities await.


East Oregonian, April 11, on guestworker minimum wage needlessly costing farmers:

A small facet of a once little-known federal program now poses a big threat to many farmers and orchardists across the nation.

The H-2A visa program has for years been used by farms and orchards to obtain adequate numbers of farmworkers for harvest, pruning trees and other chores. The visa allows farmers to hire temporary foreign guestworkers.

To do that, farmers have to scale a mountain of paperwork, advertise the job openings, pay for transportation to and from the workers’ home country and provide housing for them while they are on the job.

The use of H-2A workers has grown exponentially as the supply of domestic workers has dropped, mainly because they are finding jobs in other industries. The number of H-2A guestworkers has grown from 5,318 in 1990 to 242,762 in 2018.

The reason: Farmers cannot find enough domestic workers. They advertise the jobs, but the number of U.S. citizens who are willing and able to work is inadequate. As the Northwest tree fruit industry continues to grow the labor shortage has become even more critical.

Foreign guestworkers appreciate the opportunity to work in the U.S. They make many times more than they would make in their home country. For example, a field worker in Mexico makes about $10.50 a day. The same worker made at least $14.12 an hour in Washington state last year.

By and large, the H-2A program has allowed many farmers to continue when the lack of domestic workers would have otherwise crippled them.

A single aspect of the H-2A program, however, threatens to destroy it and the farmers who use it.

The adverse effect wage rate - known as AEWR - it is the minimum wage the federal Department of Labor sets for H-2A workers in each state. Farmers must pay all of their workers the artificially high AEWR wage.

The problem is H-2A workers don’t adversely affect domestic farmworkers, who are in short supply anyway. But it does hurt farmers, who are stuck paying their employees more than the market would otherwise dictate.

Just this year, the Department of Labor increased the H-2A minimum wage 22.8% in Nevada, Utah and Colorado; 15.9% in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming: and 14.7% in Arizona and New Mexico.

The AEWR is set to increase 6.4%, to $15.03 a hour in Oregon and Washington - far above the state minimum wages of $11.25 and $12, respectively.

Compared to the rate of inflation, 2.8%, the AEWR is indefensible and unaffordable, agricultural groups argue.

They are correct. An artificially high wage only puts farmers at risk.

A federal judge recently cited a technicality to rule against farmers who had challenged the AEWR and how it’s set. He found that the lawsuit was beyond the statute of limitations for challenging the rule.

The Department of Labor would do well to rewrite that rule so the AEWR matches a state’s minimum wage.

That’s the only fair way to set a minimum wage in each state.

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