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Alabama editorial roundup

December 19, 2018

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Dec. 18

Gadsden Times on later school starting times:

Parents, raise your hands if getting your teenagers out of bed on school mornings is like World Wars III, IV and V waged simultaneously on multiple fronts. (We won’t ask if brooms or buckets of cold water have ever been employed.)

Middle and high school teachers, raise your hands if you’ve been greeted, especially in first-period classes, by bleary-eyed, slack-jawed looks, or maybe even some outright snoring, from your audience.

We imagine the answer would be “yes,” given that these scenarios have been going on for generations, long before the advent of electronic gadgets, games and social media that can keep kids transfixed for hours when they should be sleeping. Teenagers were night owls and definitely not morning people back in the days of wide skirts and penny loafers bearing actual 1-cent coins, even if the technology was limited to marathon phone calls. ...

Yet early bell times continue, partly from tradition, partly from the notion that schools should prepare students for life in the real world, but mostly because the average school day is crammed so full. Bus routes especially in rural areas often begin a couple of hours before classes take up. Afternoons mean extracurricular activities like sports and band for some kids, and part-time jobs and home responsibilities for others. There’s also got to be time for the most important activity — studying.

Still, scientists have wondered if changing things around might actually have a positive impact, and are getting some actual data from an experiment in Seattle.

Two years ago, the school district there switched the starting time for all high schools and many middle schools from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. In two of those schools, researchers at the University of Washington got 178 sophomore biology students to wear wrist monitors for two weeks to track light exposure and activity. The first half did so before the change, the others followed a year later. The goal was to compare the students’ sleep habits both before and after the change, to see if they were getting more sleep or using the extra time to do more teenager things.

The verdict: Students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep each night after the change. Exam scores and grades improved slightly, and in one school that is in a poor area of the city, there was a reduction in tardiness and absences.

We can hear the kibitzers out there railing about “snowflakes wanting special treatment in a tough world.” We actually think there is something to the idea of preparing students to deal with a society where “on time” generally means “early” if you want to remain employed, and sleeping in is a luxury even on weekends. (We’ll note that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks the average school day starts too early; it recommends 8:30 a.m. or later.)

Our assessment: It’s one small study and we’d like to see some more research, but we’re intrigued by these results and think anything that would improve the learning process for students deserves discussion.

It never hurts to talk about something; that’s how mutually beneficial compromises are reached.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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Dec. 17

The Dothan Eagle on the state’s corrections system:

Before his personal shenanigans caught up with him, forcing his resignation from office and guilty plea to misdemeanor charges, former Gov. Robert Bentley had championed a billion-dollar prison construction plan he hoped would cement his legacy.

Instead the plan failed to gain the necessary support in the legislature two consecutive years.

That hasn’t stopped some lawmakers from continuing to push the idea, crafting a $10 million contract to hire a firm to analyze prison needs and design new facilities.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the contract has been put on hold by a legislative contract committee whose members aren’t convinced the plan is viable.

That’s a good start. There’s no question that the state’s corrections system is in crisis, with severe overcrowding, dangerously low staffing and deficiencies in mental health services that have drawn the involvement of the courts. New buildings won’t solve most of those issues.

Instead, lawmakers should embark on a thorough review of the existing challenges and create strategies to address them. Alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders could reduce the inmate population, reserving state penitentiaries for those who have committed the most egregious crimes and are dangers to society. Better working conditions and compensation might help attract prospective prison staff, and an overhaul of the prison system’s mental health initiative is necessary regardless.

Of course, all of this would require that lawmakers allocate adequate resources to pursue such plans.

It’s encouraging that the legislature has repeatedly balked at committing a billion dollars to a prison construction program. It would be more encouraging, however, if lawmakers would warm to the idea of committing the necessary funds to stabilize the corrections system.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com/

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Dec. 15

The Cullman Times on lingering concerns over President Donald Trump’s tariffs:

The lingering concerns over President Donald Trump’s tariffs are beginning to weigh on the minds of Americans on the left, middle and right of the political scale.

While many are applauding the president’s desire to lower the nation’s trade deficit, there seems to be no end-game that will make a long-term difference. Trump did secure a truce with China in the trade war, which promises only temporary relief for American interests such as soybean farmers.

Efforts to negotiate up front were short-lived, leading to Trump’s rash of tariffs, including several impacting the largest importer of American goods, China. Among the products sought from the U.S. are soybeans, a crop that is abundantly produced in America, and particularly in Alabama.

China responded with a 25 percent tariff on American soybeans, opening the way for another leading producer, Brazil, to win more business while U.S. farmers watch their crop go to waste.

There has already been plenty of publicity about tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. for the booming automobile business and other prospering industries.

The president’s goal is to ramp up manufacturing in the U.S., creating a larger domestic availability of certain products and, hopefully, create more jobs.

The argument of trade deficits and whether they matter is an ongoing debate, while in the meantime American businesses are starting to feel the pinch.

No one can ensure American steel and aluminum plants can be updated with the technology to compete against those overseas. The gamble would be expensive for such investments without some government assistance or supplement.

What we do know is that the U.S. has been enjoying a lucrative economic run, which has some dependency on being able to take advantage of the global market to import materials for domestic production and creating jobs.

The issue’s complexity is intermingled with nationalism, the belief by some that the United States has no need to depend on anyone around the globe.

American farmers are exporting billions of dollars of products, which keeps farms productive and boosts local economies. Small, efficient industries have also been growing because of their ability to obtain high quality steel and aluminum for production, which, again, is adding jobs.

Everyone wants the president to be successful in negotiating trade agreements that benefit Americans and keep markets open.

However, the president’s calls for tariffs are creating trade wars that are having a negative impact. Additionally, the uncertainty of future trade is impacting markets globally and many investments, including pensions and 401ks that were in a growth mode earlier this year.

The reality is economies are intermingled around the world and in many cases creating employment and expansions will strengthen markets.

Trump understandably wants to ensure that American producers have multiple markets for exporting goods, but a tariff war is not the way to go.

A closer look at what has worked well for businesses in the past might be a good starting point for better negotiations and the preservation of healthy U.S. farms, businesses and investment income.

Online: https://www.cullmantimes.com/

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