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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

January 3, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Muskogee Phoenix. Jan. 2, 2019.

— Save lives to start year

Area residents should consider donating blood at the Charles Morrison Memorial Blood Drive on Saturday.

Morrison died in November following a battle with cancer.

Morrison was a longtime foster parent and worked with several community organizations. He also was an active member of his church, New Jerusalem Baptist Church.

Morrison was a compassionate, caring man who, with his wife, Barbara, began fostering children in Arizona before coming to Muskogee after his retirement. He soon opened his home to foster children here.

“Working with them sure is rewarding,” Morrison said in a January 2018 interview with the Phoenix. “But we don’t do it for us, we do it for the kids.”

His pastor, the Rev. Roscoe Beasley, said Morrison was the example of what a father should be.

“He was an example of a real man, somebody a young man could look up to,” Beasley said.

In addition to his work with the NAACP, Morrison served as a board member with the National Association for Criminal Justice and Green Country Behavioral Health, Neighbors Building Neighborhood’s Bridges Out of Poverty Program, and the Phoenix News Neighborhood Input Board.

Residents can pay tribute to Morrison was donating blood from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Old Agency Baptist Church, 1115 N. 24th St.

Start the new year off right and donate in Morrison’s honor. Or do it to honor a loved one. One blood donation can save three lives. We think Morrison would be pretty happy about that and would be honored to be a part of the effort.

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The Oklahoman. Jan. 3, 2019.

— School discipline reform failed, repeal was needed

The federal Department of Education has withdrawn 2014 guidance on school discipline that led schools to severely curtail suspensions. This is a welcome sign that federal officials recognize good intentions don’t outweigh real-world impacts, because the guidance document was mostly credited with making schools less safe for students and teachers.

The document advised schools they could be considered in violation of federal anti-discrimination law if racial disparities existed in student suspension rates. In essence, if black pupils comprised 30 percent of a student body but 50 percent of suspensions, that fact alone could be considered a sign of racism. This was true even if black and white students were treated the same way in comparable situations. The mere existence of statistical difference was considered a sign of institutional racism.

Thus, schools adopted policies that dramatically reduced suspensions. Included was Oklahoma City, which was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights following a complaint. Suspensions did decline, but that fueled classroom management problems.

Last year, Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told The Oklahoman, “What I hear is the behavior is still the same and lots of principals are telling their teachers, ‘Sorry, I can’t suspend,’ even when the code of conduct is being violated. The district will deny that they send that message out to principals, but that’s what we are hearing.”

In 2017, the AFT presented the results of a union survey that found nearly half of Oklahoma City teachers reported having a student with a chronic discipline problem who should not be in the classroom. Between 75 percent and 80 percent of teachers polled said they had students who either failed to comply with classroom rules or refused to complete work. About 70 percent said they endured “disruptive outbursts” that “impede the learning process,” and 61 percent said students had used “foul language.”

Oklahoma City’s challenges gained national attention. Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley wrote last week, “In Oklahoma City, principals told teachers not to request a suspension ‘unless there was blood.’”

We weren’t alone in having these problems. Riley reported that after adoption of suspension-reduction policies, teachers in Los Angeles and Chicago “reported more disorder, and students reported feeling less safe.” In New York, “schools with the highest percentages of minority students were more likely to experience an increase in fighting, gang activity and drug use.”

Riley, who is black, also noted many schools where “these uneven discipline rates persist have minority principals and no shortage of minority teachers and administrators.” In other words, the Department of Education was assuming black teachers were racially discriminating against black students. That makes little sense.

If students commit the same infraction but are given different punishments, that should be addressed. But if all students are treated the same, regardless of race, then schools shouldn’t have to worry about civil rights lawsuits. It’s good news the Department of Education now acknowledges that reality.

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Tulsa World. Jan. 3, 2019.

— Oklahomans are paying for Medicaid expansion, but the Legislature’s stubbornness means they can’t use it

Legislators on both sides of the aisle say improving access to health care for Oklahomans will be a priority in 2019. Every voter in Oklahoma should hold them to that promise.

House Democrats have called for reconsideration of Medicaid expansion using money available from the Affordable Care Act. If Republican leaders won’t allow the measure to be considered, the Democrats are threatening to mount an initiative petition campaign, as has been successful in GOP-controlled Idaho, Nebraska and Utah.

Here’s the fiscal reality of Medicaid expansion: Oklahomans have been paying the taxes to support it for years now, they just haven’t been getting anything in return, because the Legislature has stubbornly refused money offered at 9-to-1 match. The idea that the money would go away once Barack Obama left the White House is now proven wrong.

Even Gov. Mary Fallin came around on the issue, eventually advocating during her second term for bringing the money into the state through the popular and successful Insure Oklahoma program. It was a good plan, and it still is.

Every Oklahoman suffers as a result of the state’s refusal to accept the funding. Working poor people are denied health care coverage. They get sick or injured anyway and end up in emergency rooms, where the costs of their treatment are either absorbed by hospitals (some of which are now teetering financially) or passed on to insured patients.

It’s an unsustainable business model that clogs our emergency rooms, increases the cost of insurance and leaves us with an unhealthy workforce.

Meanwhile, other states have received the economic stimulus of millions in federal Medicaid funding. Oklahoma does not.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he isn’t interested in pursuing the Medicaid expansion. His promise to bring business savvy into the governor’s office should lead him to reconsider that position.

With the threat of an initiative petition hanging, his choice may be to mold a Medicaid program that he can be comfortable with or having one imposed on him by the voters.

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