Editorials from around Oregon

October 25, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Eugene Register-Guard, Oct. 25, on not all children having equal opportunities to succeed

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that children of color and children in immigrant families face significantly higher barriers to success than children from white, non-immigrant families.

About 57 percent of children from immigrant families in Oregon are living in low-income households, for example, while only 40 percent of those in non-immigrant households are.

Similarly, 63 percent of African-American children, 64 percent of Native American and 67 percent of Latino live in low-income households in Oregon (an income of less than $49,000 per year for a family of four). Only 33 percent of white children do.

These findings and others in the report (www.aecf.org) have ramifications that go far beyond the children and their families.

In 1985, Grammy-award winner Whitney Houston sang “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” In a very real sense the children, including children of color and from immigrant families, are Oregon’s future.

They will provide the goods and services, make the discoveries, pay the taxes and fund Social Security for those who came before them.

But many of them are being failed by education and other systems. Children in immigrant families are far less likely to be proficient in reading and math. Many have suffered trauma, including a half million nationally who were separated from their immigrant parents between 2008 and 2013 alone.

The vast majority of these young people — 88 percent — are U.S. citizens. Another 7 percent are legal permanent residents or have other legal status. (Almost 80 percent of their parents are citizens or are otherwise here legally.)

Researchers at the Casey Foundation attribute barriers these children are facing to several factors, including a national history and past policies that have been racist in nature, the suspicion and hostility directed at immigrants and people of color today, a failure to connect minority children and children from immigrant families with opportunities that are available, lack of resources for schools in low-income neighborhoods where many of these children live, and language and cultural barriers.

Failing to provide the tools to narrow the gap between these children and their more privileged peers will harm Oregon and the United States.

This will require a concerted effort at the national, state and local levels to deal with what has become a nationwide issue.

The Casey Foundation offers a variety of suggestions, all of which are worth consideration. These include developing programs and policies to improve opportunities for low-income workers; helping parents in immigrant families become fluent in English; connecting families to services such as child care, food and medical assistance; and making a concerted effort to enroll immigrant and minority students in early childhood education programs. Oregon also should look to other states to see what could be adapted for use here, including California’s system to fund schools with large numbers of English-language learners.

The United States’ greatest resource has been, and will continue to be, its people. Making sure that it embraces the needs of all, so that they can contribute to the best of their ability, is of critical importance.


The Bend Bulletin, Oct. 24, on University of Oregon needing to protect campus from extreme protesters

The meanings of “free speech” and “fascism” are apparently unclear to some University of Oregon students who shut down a speech by UO President Michael Schill earlier this month.

The need to take a firm and public stand against such assaults by punishing the perpetrators is apparently unclear to the university leadership.

In supposed defense of free speech, the students used a megaphone to shout down the president and take over the stage, complaining about tuition increases, indigenous rights and minority student safety, according to a report in the student newspaper. One speaker said the protest was prompted by fascism and neo-Nazis who have made the campus unsafe for students. The reality that the protesters were making the campus unsafe for everyone else didn’t register.

University officials vacated the stage, leaving it to the students, and proceeded to post a pre-recorded video of the speech.

Writing an op-ed in Monday’s New York Times, Schill did a fine job of laying out the ironies, most importantly that in preventing others’ speech, the protesters were defeating the principle they claimed to be asserting. Also, that their protest against fascism was itself a form of fascism, which he described as a “smothering of dissent.”

And he described an alternative approach taken by other UO protesters in 2015, where they ended up in a constructive dialogue with Schill that led to significant action to address their concerns.

But Schill’s well-argued defense of rational discourse didn’t mention any steps by the university to take control, to protect the rest of the campus from these misguided students. And the university said Tuesday it can’t tell us anything about that.

The university’s Media Relations Manager Molly Blancett wrote in an email: “The incident is under review, but . the university is not able to share specifics on conduct decisions in this or any case, as it is protected under the Family Educational Records Privacy Act.”

The university needs to take a public stand against this kind of protest, making it clear that it will not tolerate students physically taking over an event and preventing anyone, be it a student, a visitor or the university’s president, from expressing themselves. The community needs to know what steps were taken to punish such unacceptable conduct.


Albany Democrat-Herald, Oct. 23, on Congress taking another whack at wildfires

This year’s brutal wildfire season in the Western United States, which continues in California, has prompted yet another congressional effort to try to help communities prepare for and prevent catastrophic blazes.

A bipartisan group of Northwestern senators last week introduced a bill that would authorize more than $100 million to help at-risk communities prevent wildfires and also would create a pilot program to cut down trees in the most fire-prone areas. The group behind the proposal includes Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Washington state’s two Democratic senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and Idaho’s Republican senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.

The idea of getting help to at-risk communities isn’t particularly controversial, but you can bet some eyebrows in the conservation community went up at the notion of cutting down trees in fire-prone areas; some environmentalists are suspicious that some of these wildfire-prevention bills are just ways to encourage logging without heed to environmental regulations.

Which was part of the reason why it was interesting to see that last week’s proposal did win praise from some conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Federation.

According to an Associated Press report, the bill would create a streamlined approval process that would allow forest managers to thin pine forests near populated areas and to do controlled burns in remote regions. The bill also calls for detailed reviews of any wildfire that burns more than 100,000 acres. In 2016, six wildfires hit that 100,000-acre threshold, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center.

We like the idea of gathering additional information about the very biggest fires. The more we know about their causes and how they spread, the better, especially since wildfires generally appear to be growing larger. According to the center’s statistics, the number of wildfires during the last three years (from Jan. 1 to the third week of October) has hovered just around 50,000. But the total number of acres burned each year is ramping up: In four of the last seven years, more than 8 million acres have burned. (The 10-year average is just over 6 million.)

The new proposal appears to attempt to strike a compromise that would give forest managers some of the resources they need to reduce the fuels that allow fires to grow bigger and bigger. In general, Republicans have wanted to make it easier for federal land managers to thin overgrown woodlands, while Democrats are wary about allowing timber companies greater access to harvest federally owned forests. But it’s never seemed to us that those two goals should be mutually exclusive, so it will be interesting to watch how this bill fares.

In the meantime, Congress still is kicking around a proposal that would consistently allow forest managers access to the funds they need for maintenance work on federal forests — work that would, year in and year out, remove some of those fast-burning fuels. The proposal would end the practice known as “fire borrowing,” in which money originally budgeted for maintenance work is siphoned off to help pay for firefighting. The result, of course, is that much of that maintenance work goes undone for want of funding, leaving the fuels behind to help create the next batch of extreme wildfires.

To be fair, it’s not as if Congress has ignored this year’s of fires: An emergency-aid bill passed in the wake of this year’s devastating hurricane season included $577 million for wildfires. But that bill didn’t address the fire-borrowing issue.

Maybe this is the year: It’s October, and Congress is still thinking about wildfire funding. Usually by this time of year, the issue has been placed on the congressional back burner, where it simmers until the start of next year’s fire season. Maybe this is the year when we’ll finally make progress on an issue shows no signs of going away.


East Oregonian, Oct. 23, on when online and real worlds collide

The internet troll, once an anonymous denizen of message boards and chat rooms who held little sway in the real world, has come into the light with the prevalence and power of social media.

We used to be able to dismiss his presence as the ugly fringe of cyberspace, a reaction-seeking miscreant spewing inciting, hateful speech from a basement somewhere far away. We used to be able to rationalize that his words represent no real human being, and certainly none we respect or admire or who have any actual power in our lives. And we could altogether ignore him quite easily, as our daily lives weren’t so intertwined with the internet.

But now that we’ve all (or nearly all) moved into his domain, the troll is everywhere we turn. And we’ve come to the chilling realization that he is among us in real life, too.

We saw it earlier this month as Echo city councilman Lou Nakapalau weaponized his Facebook account in a war of words with a documentary filmmaker. Nakapalau accosted director Joe Wilson, who is gay, on the page for his film “Kumu Hina,” using slurs and saying if Wilson died of AIDS he would spit on his grave. The men have never met in person. Nakapalau has since removed the comments from the page.

Nakapalau has not responded to several attempts to ask about the encounter, and as the city council met Thursday about how to address the remarks he sat silent and expressionless in the chambers. He didn’t say a word as the council voted to apologize for his offensive words, and none of his fellow council members addressed him.

That’s shameful, and a real shame.

The city issued a broad apology to any who were offended by the comments and noted that the personal accounts of individual councilors are not endorsed by the city. It also said the city does not and will not enact policies that are biased against classes or groups of people. And in the final line it says the council is made up of volunteers who have the right to free speech.

It’s the kind of statement that doesn’t make anything better, but is issued to make sure things don’t get worse. It’s a safe and generic stance that declines to mention the offending party — Nakapalau — by name, though it does take the time to mention the East Oregonian, who first reported the insults, and Facebook, the platform on which the comments were made. As if either are more responsible for the behavior than the man himself.

Nakapalau has the right to speak his mind. He’s a volunteer councilman solely on the merit of earning eight write-in votes last November. And because he was elected, his words — even the ones he fired off to antagonize and belittle a stranger from another state, but never meant to be seen by friends and neighbors — carry weight. The citizens of Echo deserve to hear what he has to say for himself. The people of Umatilla County and beyond deserve to know how the city responds to this kind of hate.

Echo is not the sleepy town it once was. New wineries, downtown dining and Main Street restoration have created a beautiful place for a visit, and events like last weekend’s Oktoberfest and the springtime Red 2 Red mountain bike race have brought in new life and the potential for even more tourism.

While some have demanded an apology from Nakapalau, we don’t believe forcing such a statement has value. If he regrets the statement and the effect it had on another person, we want to know that. If he just regrets the trouble it has caused himself, he should say it.

If he doesn’t have the decency or courage to even own his words, we’d suggest he step down.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oct. 21, on Gov. Brown’s education ‘vision’ being blurred by contradictions:

The forced resignation of Salam Noor, Oregon’s deputy superintendent for education, would seem to be a political two-fer for Gov. Kate Brown.

First, sacking Noor helps give the impression that Brown means business when it comes to reversing the state’s worsening performance in K-12 education, reflected in declining test scores and increasing chronic absenteeism as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Betsy Hammond reported. Second, the change gives her the opportunity to declare to Oregonians that yes, she does, in fact, have a vision for education.

The move fails on both counts. Brown’s automatic response to failures under her leadership has been to jettison the department head. So getting rid of Noor simply continues her pattern of deflecting blame. Her education vision, as laid out in a recent letter to her education cabinet, largely gussies up plans or programs that have long been in the works. But most important, Brown herself has clouded her own education strategy with a mess of contradictory actions. She signed legislation hobbling accountability metrics. She recommended only partial funding for an educational measure she endorsed. And she blocked efforts that would have directed more money to students’ needs, rather than employee benefits. If Brown is serious about digging out of this educational crisis, she must figure out how to back up her words with the policy, funding and follow-through that so far has eluded her.

Consider her emphasis on accountability. In her letter, she notes the importance of measuring student achievement and outcomes. The key way that the state tracks such progress is through standardized tests given to students in third through eighth grades, and to high school juniors. Participation is so important for accurately measuring and comparing schools’ success in educating students that the state pledged to meet a 95 percent participation threshold as part of its plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

One problem: In 2015, Brown enthusiastically signed a bill pushed by the teachers union that allowed students to opt out of taking such tests for any reason whatsoever. Not surprisingly, students did. As a result, some schools had such low participation rates that administrators cannot draw any meaningful conclusions from the data they do have. That means the state cannot reliably measure whether schools are successfully teaching students grade-level material or accurately measure if they are closing the “achievement gap” between white, higher-income students and minority or low-income students. So much for accountability.

Consider, also, Brown’s proposed budget earlier this year. The governor in 2016 enthusiastically endorsed Ballot Measure 98, which called for increased investment in dropout prevention and career and technical education in high school. She has routinely highlighted the opportunities that career and technical education opens up. But after the measure passed, she recommended devoting less than half the money that the measure called for. The Legislature was more generous - though still considerably short of the ballot measure.

Even her personnel choices reflect muddled objectives. Six months after becoming governor, Brown named Lindsey Capps as her chief education officer, tasked with providing strategic leadership and coordinating education strategy spanning pre-kindergarten through college and career.

But Capps has zero experience as an educator. A former lobbyist and teachers’ union official, Capps has been lauded for his collaborative style and professional demeanor. But when close to 10,000 students a year are dropping out of school and graduation rates are among the worst in the nation, selecting a non-educator as chief education officer sends a curious message. Capps’ annual salary is $143,000.

Brown later added another six-figure-salary position - education innovation officer - and appointed longtime superintendent Colt Gill to the post. His task was to focus on stemming the drop-out rate and helping more students graduate. But Gill lacks his own budget to carry out such functions. Gill, who is assuming Noor’s duties on an interim basis, makes more than $185,000.

Meanwhile, Brown continues to duck the most pressing issue facing education - and social services and public safety and health care and child welfare and any other public function: The ever-escalating burden of the Public Employees Retirement System. Because the pension system carries a $25 billion unfunded liability, all public employers are making higher contributions to the system with larger spikes expected for years to come. That means fewer dollars will go to hiring teachers, counselors and reading specialists and more will go to the PERS system.

Instead of immediately attacking the problem, however, she and other Democratic leaders said reform will have to wait. Until 2019.

That’s time for another 20,000 students to drop out of high school. That’s time for another two rankings showing how low Oregon’s graduation rate has fallen. And that’s time that Oregon students don’t have.

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