- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Oct. 22

The Post and Courier on the red wolf, which is in danger of going extinct in the wild:

The red wolf is in dire straits and in danger of going extinct in the wild - again.

To avoid this sad fate, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to reinvigorate its once successful reintroduction program in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve, where the number of wolves has dwindled to about 14.

According to red wolf expert Christian Hunt of Defenders of Wildlife, “the tools are still there.” For starters, the USFWS needs to release more captive-bred wolves, reinstate adaptive management strategies and stand up to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which has fought the program, he said.

Meanwhile, the relatively healthy captive-breeding program needs to be continued to promote genetic diversity, and a coyote sterilization program, discontinued in 2015, needs to be restarted to prevent cross-breeding.

Eventually, the USFWS would need to find other habitats suitable for wild populations, such as the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. Smaller wild populations might be reintroduced to Bull’s Island in the Cape Romain wilderness, where the captive breeding program flourished, or parts of the Francis Marion National Forest. A short-lived effort to reintroduce red wolves to the Great Smoky Mountains (1993-98) might also deserve a second look.

Establishing multiple wild populations would be the best safeguard against extinction. As it is, red wolves exist in the wild only in the Alligator River wilderness.

At the moment, the USFWS is rightly being sued by conservation groups for failing to make public what it is doing to save the lone wild population from extinction. Absent renewed conservation efforts, most wildlife biologists expect red wolves to become extinct within a decade, according to a species status report published by the USFWS last year.

Declared extinct in the wild in 1980, the canine predator that used to roam much of the Eastern United States made a tentative comeback between 1987 and 2012, thanks largely to a captive breeding program in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge that enabled the USFWS to reintroduce the wolves in North Carolina.

But around 2006, the wild population in North Carolina peaked around 125 wolves and has been declining ever since. About a quarter of the wild wolves lost were shot or trapped. Others were run over by cars or poisoned. A 2016 study in the Journal of Wildlife Management concluded that about half the deaths involved some manner of “foul play.”

And in 2015, the USFWS stopped releasing captive-bred pups into the wild in part because of opposition from North Carolina wildlife officials. The federal agency also stopped sterilizing coyotes in the area to prevent cross breeding.

We shouldn’t give up on the red wolf and neither should the USFWS. Congress must provide the wildlife service with the funding and legislation needed to save the species. And farmers, hunters and the general public need to realize that predators like wolves play an important role in keeping nature in balance. For example, researchers believe sea turtles have fared better in areas where red wolves have been reintroduced because the wolves reduced the number of turtle-egg-eating raccoons.

It would be shameful to let red wolves go extinct in light of good evidence that they can be, and have been, successfully reintroduced to the wild. We may not get another chance.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/


Oct. 21

The Fayetteville Observer on the state of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina:

State lawmakers returned to Raleigh this week after a 10-day break. They will not be there long. Republican Sen. Phil Berger, head of the state Senate, intends for his chamber to wrap up the session by Halloween, and the state House is expected to follow suit around the same time frame. This session was supposed to end in July. But despite stretching nine months, it is one that will leave many North Carolinians deeply disappointed - and as vulnerable as ever.

The Republican-led General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper could not pass the main budget bill and have instead approved smaller spending bills that keep the lights on and make sure state employees are paid.

The major piece of unfinished business is expansion of the federal Medicaid program. Estimates say this move would extend life-saving health care coverage to more than a half-million state residents who do not currently qualify for Medicaid. This would include low-income residents and the working poor. Cooper made Medicaid expansion, as well as better pay for teachers, a condition of signing a budget; the GOP stood fast, Cooper vetoed and nothing has happened.

Or at least nothing that would serve people of this state. Instead of compromise, we got shenanigans. On 9/11, Republicans executed a sneaky vote to override Cooper’s veto in the House during the 8:30 a.m. session. Democrats say they had been led to believe there would be no votes taken in the morning, and Republican Rep. David Lewis, the House rules chairman from Harnett County, told a WRAL News reporter the previous day there would be no votes at 8:30. Most Democrats were absent during that session and the chamber was half-empty when Republicans voted 55-9 to override Cooper. Rep. John Szoka, the lone Republican in Cumberland’s delegation, voted with his GOP colleagues.

The action was reminiscent of the 2005 vote where Democrats used similar trickery to pass a vote approving the state lottery. But two wrongs don’t make a right. State residents do not want games. They want action, particularly on an issue where their basic health is at stake.

The surprise vote had no practical, immediate effect because the Senate by a very narrow margin has enough Democrats loyal to either Cooper or expansion to sustain his veto. The surprise vote did have the effect of adding more poison to the already nasty and divisive atmosphere in the General Assembly, which that body needed like a hole in the head. Trust is now likely non-existent.

Meanwhile, North Carolina finds itself on an increasingly less-populated island of holdouts on Medicaid expansion, according to data provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Thirty-three states and D.C. have approved expansion, and in the 2018 election, three more states voted for it. The 14 holdouts are mostly in the South, a region where many politicians remain resolutely hostile to President Obama, whose Affordable Care Act authorized the expansion in the first place.

One thing those lawmakers and state residents should keep in mind: We are already paying for Medicaid expansion, to the tune of $8.3 billion in federal taxes since the expansion went into effect in 2014, according to a report funded by the Cone Health Foundation and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. It’s just that the people benefiting from the expansion live in other states.

That makes no sense for our state, especially considering that the federal government will pick up the tab for 90 percent of the costs of expansion. Then too, Medicaid expansion is the quickest way to give a financial boost to rural hospitals, which are struggling to keep their doors open despite serving a population in desperate need of access to medical services.

If this session ends in inaction on Medicaid expansion as predicted, we can only hope the next session will have better news for our state.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/


Oct. 19

The Citizen-Times (Asheville) on helping North Carolina children who have dyslexia:

We know how to help dyslexic children reach their potential. All that’s missing is the determination, and the money, to get those techniques into every classroom.

People with dyslexia - including roughly 60 million in the U.S. - do not literally see words differently. Instead they experience a range of roadblocks to traditional language decoding. Dyslexia manifests in a multitude of ways: Words might skip, sounds don’t always line up with writing and letters can reverse in the mind.

Dyslexia is genetic and it never goes away. Without specialized instruction, students with dyslexia often sour on school, feeling unintelligent. Students with dyslexia are three times more likely to drop out of school, and the rate of dyslexia in prisons exceeds the national average.

There has been a lot of research recently into the nature of dyslexia, providing a lot of information as to how best help these children reach their potential. And that potential often is high. Pablo Picasso and Agatha Christie are among notable people who were dyslexic.

In recent years, MRI scans have pinpointed dyslexia as a neurobiological condition in which people process words in atypical parts of the brain. This neurological difference does not prevent comprehension but makes reading, writing and spelling cumbersome.

All schools are required to have programs for dyslexic children, but that doesn’t mean all have access to the most recent research. Due to a significant shortage of trained teachers, educators in North Carolina and nationwide say implementation of best practices still lags.

Not surprisingly, the gap between research and practice leaves students from low-income families most at risk. The Key School at Carolina Day School in South Asheville, a specialized center for students with learning disabilities, charges $39,400 a year tuition. Roughly a third of the 105 enrolled there, from second to eighth grade, receive some form of financial aid.

Key is one of four dyslexia-specific schools in North Carolina, All are private.

Brains of students with dyslexia can be rewired to better process associations between sounds and letters. To retrain the brain, the Key School applies the Orton-Gilligham approach, centered on 12 principles including systematic phonics, direct instruction and multisensory lessons. “It’s a real systemized process,” said Diane Milner, principal of Key School.

In multisensory, teachers trace letters on student’s arms. Students break down word spellings with taps of their fingers. The eighth-graders still recall the ditties they heard in lower grades about math facts and word orders.

In 2017, the N.C. General Assembly mandated more robust screenings for dyslexia in public schools as well as ongoing training for teachers. About half of the 100 counties have a dyslexia delegate, designated by the Department of Public Instruction to address persistent reading difficulties by promoting some of the same interventions present at the Key School.

“Continuing to bridge the gap between research and practice is the biggest thing that we need to accomplish, because the research really is robust,” said Matt Hoskins, assistant director for exceptional children at DPI. “It’s just ensuring that the science of reading makes its way to every classroom.”

To deliver best practices to all students, trained teachers are needed in a quantity many say does not exist. “Not having the instructors is a huge obstacle,” said Monica McHale-Small, consultant with the International Dyslexia Association. She says university teacher training programs must better prioritize multisensory techniques.

Such prioritizing should be mandated, along with enough money to see that there are trained teachers for every one of North Carolina’s dyslexic students. Making productive adults out of those youngsters with a learning difficulty is both good economics and good public policy.

Online: https://www.citizen-times.com/


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