- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Kansas City Star, Sept. 16

Missouri’s A+ scholarship program has opened doors for thousands of students by paying for two years of college. But too often, those who need the most financial help haven’t benefited.

As The Star reported, students in affluent suburban school districts are receiving the lion’s share of the scholarships - not struggling families. Because household income isn’t a criteria for the program, nearly 40% of the money is going to students from families with six-figure adjusted household incomes.

And while defenders of the status quo argue that the A+ program was not designed to be need-based, it’s evident that it’s time for an overhaul - as some educators and lawmakers have urged.

Administering the scholarships without consideration of financial need has excluded many minority students. And the requirements for the A+ program have precluded many low-income students in urban areas from qualifying.

Only 2% of the program’s participants are African American. Sixty percent of current funding is awarded to students from families with an adjusted gross income above $80,000, and approximately 12% is paid to families with an adjusted gross income above $150,000.

Suburban school districts have been the beneficiaries, while students in urban schools have struggled to meet the program’s requirements.

Students attending the three high schools in Lee’s Summit received more than $617,000 last year, while students at Kansas City’s Central Academy of Excellence received not one dime. Students at East High in Kansas City received a paltry $1,235.

State law requires students to exhaust any federal financial aid before using A+ funds. As a result, low-income students who qualify for Pell Grants are left with little or no A+ money.

The A+ program, which includes nearly every public high school in Missouri and some private and parochial schools, covers the cost of tuition for two years at one of the state’s public community colleges, vocational or technical schools.

Requirements include at least 50 hours of community service or mentoring, a 2.5 grade point average or above and a 95% attendance rate. Participants must also score proficient or advanced in an end-of-course Algebra I exam.

In October, the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workplace Development will release a report on the state of equity in Missouri higher education during its Equity in Missouri Higher Education Summit.

Revamping the A+ program through an equity lens should be at the top of the agenda. A tiered system based on financial need would be a start.

The Missouri Community College Association has opposed allowing award money to cover a limited amount of educational costs above tuition and general fees for students with financial need.

“We believe that A+ is an exceptionally successful program in its current form because it benefits all students who are eligible,” Brian Millner, president and CEO of the organization said.

Many educators and college access advocates say it’s time to rewrite the rules. They’re right. The neediest students should benefit from both A+ scholarships and Pell Grants.

As long as A+ is a “last dollar” scholarship, the funds will flow to more affluent students. And too many students with the greatest needs will see their college dreams slip away.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 15

There’s no hiding from the statistics. In 2018, 1,116 people died from overdoses in Philadelphia, according to that city’s Department of Health, amounting to about three deaths per day and one of the highest per-capita totals in the country. Sadly, Missouri and St. Louis aren’t far behind.

A 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of opioid overdoses in Missouri had increased by 18.9%, the second highest rate in the country. St. Louis and surrounding counties saw a similar increase, with 1,016 deaths, up from 831 in 2017, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. The problem is reflected in all kinds of ways on local streets, from the numbers of people rendered homeless by drug addiction to the fires and other security concerns in vacant houses posed by vagrant drug abusers.

The difference in Philadelphia, however, is that the city is trying to become the first in the country to establish a supervised injection site. Safehouse, the nonprofit organization in charge of the effort, is currently fighting in court with U.S. Attorney William McSwain, a Trump appointee, over the site’s legality. Safehouse doesn’t supply its clients with drugs but instead is creating a safe place to use drugs in the presence of health care professionals who could step in immediately if an overdose takes place.

McSwain is doing his best to stop Safehouse’s plan in court, arguing that visitors’ “fundamental purpose is to use drugs.”

The dispute pits an unyielding interpretation of the law against the compassionate recognition that overdose tragedies will continue unabated unless something is tried. McSwain’s insistence on rigid enforcement ignores various precedents that show the federal government can exercise leniency when it chooses. A perfect example is the decision not to enforce federal laws in the face of states’ growing legalization of marijuana - which the federal government lists as a Schedule I drug as dangerous as heroin.

The Safehouse program isn’t about enabling drug abuse but saving lives by providing users with locations that offer direct access to sterile needles, instant health care and rehabilitation. Similar supervised-injection sites have proven successful in Switzerland, Australia and Canada.

As of July 2019, Insite, a Vancouver based supervised injection site, had overseen 3.6 million injections and 6,440 overdoses - but not a single death.

Philadelphia’s project proposes to build on those successes, possibly with an eye toward expanding them to other cities like St. Louis. Even if the injection site ultimately is ruled illegal, other programs exist to attack the opioid crisis, such as those that distribute clean needles and syringes to users. Safehouse’s program substitutes harsh penalties and social isolation with patience and compassion. If it can help addicts turn their lives around, why not give it a chance to show results?


St. Joseph News-Press, Sept. 15

Trade tensions between the U.S. and China should be filtering down to pork producers, but another development is easing the blow while injecting uncertainty into the industry.

China slapped tariffs of 50 percent on American pig products, curtailing U.S. access to the world’s largest market for pork consumption. But wholesale pork prices continue to rise - they’re up 60 percent this year - because an outbreak of African swine fever is decimating China’s own swine population and forcing the company to lean heavily on imports.

By some estimates, China’s total meat imports increased 90 percent in July, compared to the same period last year. Even if those imports come from countries other than the United States, our domestic producers feel the impact as China’s appetite for pork drives up prices worldwide.

This is an important development for St. Joseph, where a large portion of the economy is dependent on pork production. Three companies - Triumph Foods, Daily’s Premium Meats and Tyson Foods - employ more than 3,500 people in various capacities of pork production. Only Triumph, with around 2,900 employees, is a major exporter from St. Joseph, but other Tyson facilities ship pork overseas and all three companies feel the impact of global supply issues.

For all these companies, the African swine fever outbreak could blunt some of the impact of the U.S.-China trade war.

In its most recent earnings report, Tyson executives said the company didn’t see an immediate benefit from increased demand in China earlier this year. That’s expected to change, with U.S. Department of Agriculture export data showing accelerating shipments of U.S. pork to China.

“We’re optimistic this will lead to a positive impact on our pork business,” Noel W. White, the company president and chief executive, said in an earnings call with investors. “We estimate increased exports of pork to China may happen late in the calendar year.”

The longer-term issue centers on a need to keep African swine fever out of the United States. A domestic outbreak could cost the U.S. pork industry as much as $8 billion a year, according to the National Pork Board.

No treatment exists for what’s known as ASF, but Boehringer Ingelheim is working on a vaccine, the company said on its website. That process could take years, so for now the focus is on monitoring the U.S. hog supply for signs of the disease.

For other parts of the world, the ASF outbreak is an unfortunate development, but U.S. producers are more than capable of meeting the challenge, especially if China drops punitive pork tariffs, as that country promised late last week.

The ASF outbreak shows how much the world, and not just U.S. producers, need a deal to end this trade war.

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