- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

April 3

The Press Democrat on not rushing college admissions reforms:

California is at the center of the college admissions scandal. Prosecutors say officials at some of the state’s premier schools accepted bribes. Many of the families involved are Californians. And the ringleader business was based here. It is, simply, embarrassing for the state. That’s not a reason to rush to change state laws.

California must ensure that higher education isn’t just for the privileged. All high school students deserve a fair shot at attending a college or university. For every student admitted through bribery and chicanery, an honest student qualified student was denied a seat.

A group of state lawmakers has legislation ready to go. In their haste, however, they risk unintended consequences. This issue deserves thoughtful analysis and public dialogue, not bills hurriedly introduced to seize the limelight.



Lawmakers would, for example, consider phasing out national standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. They might require greater scrutiny of “special admissions” sometimes given to borderline applicants. And, most sensibly, they’re calling for an audit of admissions systems at state schools. Gathering solid data before acting is usually a good idea.

Some of their ideas, however, could cause serious disruptions to higher education. For instance, they propose banning legacy preferences in which the children of alumni receive some application boost. The ban would even extend to private schools that accept Cal Grant funding.

Legacy preferences serve a purpose, though. Colleges and universities rely on donations from alumni to balance their budgets. As the state has scaled back funding for higher education, schools have had to find other sources of revenue. Tuition can only go so high. Giving preference to the children of alumni cultivates a strong family relationship that can generate donations over time.

That’s not to say money should trump equity. But it is a consideration in the real world. And if lawmakers choose to change that, they must address how to fill the funding gap.

To be clear, some of these proposals have merit. But without a thorough vetting, you can count on unexpected surprises down the line.

It’s not as if the biases in the college admissions system have been secret. The system is rigged to benefit privileged students.

Wealthy families can make sure their kids participate in the right sorts of activities that make an application shine. They can hire tutors and test-prep coaches. They can enroll their kids in private schools with all the right support. It’s all on the up and up.

And if all else fails, a hefty contribution to a school’s endowment might help. That’s not a bribe; it’s a tax-deductible donation.

Meanwhile, students from more modest means and a public high school might be just as capable of excelling in higher education, but they lack those advantages. They’re lucky if they even have a guidance counselor who isn’t overwhelmed.

Those are endemic challenges that a few well-meaning bills won’t fix.

Yet lawmakers suddenly deem these issues so important that they are using a tactic called “gut-and-amend” to get around the Feb. 22 deadline to introduce new legislation. If fixing college admissions is important enough to resort to parliamentary tricks, it’s important to get it right. Put off the overhaul until next year, and spend the intervening months bringing everyone to the table and developing a plan that’s more than impulsive reaction to a scandal.

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April 2

Santa Cruz Sentinel on the two dilemmas of attempting to solve homelessness:

A fair amount of public policy discussion has centered on the issue of homelessness. And these discussions, which have gone on for decades, seem to have two components that don’t fit together well.

One is apparent: A lack of affordable, or available, housing. The high cost of housing, which is clearly a barrier to getting people off the streets and out of temporary shelters into something permanent.

Reports have shown that a majority of the nation’s homeless people live in its most expensive areas, such as ours. Studies have also shown that even modest increases in rent put increasing numbers of people out of their homes or apartments.

But the other aspect is the most intractable. It should come as no surprise that many homeless persons suffer from mental health disorders and drug and alcohol addictions, as well as other health issues. And it is the high percentages of homeless people who do suffer from drug, alcohol problems and mental health issues that often keep communities on edge about where encampments or shelters are located.

A report published on Kaiser Health News’ California Healthline this week outlines the challenges. The report notes that homeless patients made about 100,000 hospital visits in 2017 in California - a total up by 28 percent from two years previously.

More than a third involved mentally ill patients; many were also diagnosed with HIV and drug and alcohol dependencies.

Hospitals around the state have been reporting high numbers of homeless persons discharged, an obvious product of the surging numbers of homeless around the state. From 2015 to 2017, the state’s homeless population grew by about 16 percent, to 134,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The figures cover only a single day; the numbers over an entire year of people experiencing homelessness are undoubtedly far higher. With about an eighth of the U.S. population, California claims nearly a quarter of its homeless people and almost half those without shelter.

The Kaiser report also noted that while hospitals in urban counties such as Los Angeles and San Francisco saw high numbers of discharges of homeless persons, so do hospitals in smaller counties such as Santa Cruz. Again, this is hardly surprising. With many homeless people living on the streets because of mental illness and drug addiction, so they use hospital services at a disproportionate rate. Most of their inpatient health care is paid for through Medi-Cal, the state-federal insurance program for the poor, or Medicare.

Often, people who are homeless wait until they have a serious health problem before seeking medical help, and that leads to hospital stays. Once discharged, however, challenges abound for people living often outside in unhygienic conditions, to follow instructions for post-discharge care, although some communities such as Santa Cruz have made admirable efforts to provide public health services amid the squalor of homeless camps.

Addressing the issue of how to help people crowding into campgrounds adjacent to shopping centers, or along waterways, or underneath freeway overpasses, or even living in old RVs, must include public health services.

Some studies, however, have concluded homelessness cannot be blamed chiefly on drug addiction and mental health issues and that the overall problems of more homeless people in high cost of living communities can only be solved by building more affordable housing. Housing, however, is only one component. Since a disproportionate share of California’s homeless population suffers from mental illness and addictions, it becomes even more difficult in a tight, or stressed, housing market to place them in stable, long-term living quarters - even if such housing was available. It’s one of the great paradoxes of community life today: while local governments are forever seeking more help from the state to deal with homeless issues, the road to building more truly affordable housing remains paved with uncertain intentions.

State emergency grants seem to be headed in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties to acquiring property for year-round homeless shelters and extending existing shelters. But unless significant resources are directed at mental health services and long-term, comprehensive and intensive drug and alcohol treatment, the growing numbers of chronically homeless persons will likely remain outside the sanctioned programs.

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April 1

The San Diego Union-Tribune on Gov. Newsom’s needed overhaul of DMV:

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Friday announcement that he would seek a $162 million, 13% increase in the state Department of Motor Vehicles’ budget in 2019-20 was an understandable reaction to a harsh audit of the DMV released by the state Finance Department.

The audit depicted an incompetent, reactive management culture that badly botched its handling of Real ID, the program approved by Congress in 2005 that required states to begin issuing more secure identification cards for air travel on Jan. 1, 2018. This failure to anticipate public demand for the IDs led to massive lines at DMV offices.

Newsom hopes to add 178 new employees and more than double temporary positions from the present 900 to 1,870. He plans to add self-service kiosks and upgrade the DMV’s website and its computer technology.

Newsom is also likely to bring in a competent outsider to serve as the agency’s next permanent chief, and his “strike team” now evaluating DMV is expected to push for a much more transparent, analytics-driven management approach.

Basic improvements such as accepting credit card payments at field offices are also in the works, and some lawmakers think an expanded DMV-AAA partnership holds promise.

But another audit of DMV’s severe problems with handling automatic voter registration for those visiting DMV offices is pending, so more bad news is coming.

At least with Newsom - unlike predecessor Jerry Brown - Californians can expect a sense of urgency in responding to the coming critique.

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