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Mississippi editorial roundup

By The Associated PressMay 29, 2019

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

May 29

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on the opioid problem:

Tupelo has recently joined a growing number of local governments pursuing potential legal claims against opioid manufacturers.

Earlier this month, the Tupelo City Council authorized Mayor Jason Shelton to enter into an agreement with an outside law firm to investigate and pursue any claims for damages the city of Tupelo may have against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opiates.

Tupelo’s contract is with Ridgeland-based law firm Gill, Ladner & Priest. Lee County supervisors entered into a similar agreement with a different law firm last summer, and Starkville, Columbus and Lafayette County are among the local governments also considering action.

The opioid epidemic is real, and while many people are probably familiar with that statement, we suspect most don’t grasp the true depth of the problem, particularly in Northeast Mississippi.

The epidemic grew as the prescribing of opioid painkillers became more common across the nation. Too often, individuals would undergo surgery, receive a prescription to aid their recovery and eventually find themselves addicted.

And despite efforts to tackle the issue, the epidemic may still be on the upswing. Mississippi - and Northeast Mississippi in particular - finds itself with an elevated exposure to future complications due to a high rate of opioid prescriptions.

According to 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control, Mississippi had a rate of 92.9 prescriptions dispensed per 100 people, a total that ranked fourth in the nation, trailing only contiguous states Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. (Louisiana ranked fifth.)

Meanwhile, Lee County’s rate of 112.6 was the 17th highest out of Mississippi’s 82 counties. Fellow Northeast Mississippi counties Alcorn (161.5, third highest), Webster (141.9, fifth) and Tishomingo (133.7, ninth) were even higher.

Under Tupelo’s agreement, local taxpayers will not be on the hook for any expenses if no damages are collected for the city. Gill, Ladner & Priest will work on a contingency basis and collect a little over 33 percent of any awarded damages as payment, plus the cost of expenses, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Caleb Bedillion. The city would collect all remaining damages.

Many government entities have targeted opioid manufacturers and distributors for legal action, claiming the drug makers downplayed addiction risks and overstated potential benefits.

It is good for the city to pursue such recourse, particularly given the public health cost that opioids have wreaked on the city and county - a cost that is expected to continue growing.

However, solutions to the epidemic must probe much deeper. While the manufacturers are a part of the process, there are others involved in getting a high number of pills into patients’ hands. There needs to be a reckoning of why the prescription rate is so much higher in Mississippi and in Lee County and how we can address that issue.

It is time for the community at large to truly understand the broad scope of the problem and work together to tackle the underlying issues.

Online: https://www.djournal.com

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May 24

The Commercial Dispatch on state-wide pre-K education complimenting Third-Grade Gate:

Can the quality of education be reduced to a simple mathematical equation?

As much as we would like, it’s not that simple.

A good case in point is the third-grade reading proficiency requirements adopted by Mississippi in 2014, which tests third-graders to determine if those students can read at a third grade level.

Often referred to as “third-grade gate,” the testing requires students to demonstrate the grade-level reading competency. Students have up to three chances to meet the minimum level requirements. If they fail to do so, they must repeat third grade.

Last year, 25 students in Lowndes and Oktibbeha County were returned to third grade this year.

This year, the pass rate for those schools slipped. Only 60.9 percent of third-graders in Columbus met the requirements. In Oktibbeha County, 68.4 percent passed. Lowndes County third-graders passed at a 87.2 rate, well above the state average of 74.5 percent.

Those numbers do not necessarily reflect a step back, however.

Rather, the lower scores reflect the higher standard to which students are being held. Student performance on the test is graded on Levels 1 through 5. Last year, any student who attained Level 2, was considered to have passed. This year, a passing score required the student to attain a Level 3 score.

This year, there were 305 students in Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties who failed to reach Level 3 in the first test. The second test was administered last week and results will be announced later this month. A third test will be offered in June.

The intentions of the third-grade gate are good. Reading is the foundation of virtually all learning and students who cannot read at grade level by third grade often not only make up the deficit but fall further behind. We’ve all heard stories of high school students who can barely read.

Allowing students to move from one grade to the next without regard to their aptitude is derisively called “social promotion.”

That term is judgmental and punitive.

We absolutely agree that students should meet grade-level standards as they progress through the K-12 process. But we believe that retaining children should be an absolute last resort, based on a thorough understanding of the child’s circumstances.

We argue that to the extent the third-grade gate is used to evaluate a child’s reading ability, it should be applied judiciously. Holding a child back might be the simple response, but it is often not the best response.

Children who struggle in the classroom should have access to the resources they need and one of the best resources is a fully-funded state-wide Pre-K program, something that our state has failed to provide.

When children are exposed to the world of learning at age 3 or 4, there is a wealth of evidence that shows they perform significantly better once they reach first grade.

This is especially true for children who live in poverty, often with little exposure to books before entering school. Those children are behind before they even start.

If third-grade gate proves anything, it’s that many of our children could benefit greatly from Pre-K education.

It’s time our state made that investment.

Online: https://www.cdispatch.com

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May 23

The McComb Enterprise-Journal on comment by Clarksdale’s mayor to pay for criminals to move:

Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy, in a remark clearly born of frustration, said recently he is willing to spend up to $10,000 of his own money to help criminals move away from his city in the Mississippi Delta.

The city of 18,000 people does have problems with crime. In 2018, it reported 12 homicides — a count that seems far too high for its population. The good news is that through five months of 2019, there has only been one killing.

Espy said that if criminals don’t think they can turn around their lives in Clarksdale, he’d be glad to help them start fresh somewhere else. It’s an understandable impulse, but in the big picture, it’s unworkable. If every city in the South did the same thing, they would simply be shuttling their problems amongst each other.

The mayor, to his credit, did add that he wants to focus on rehabilitation and intervention for lawbreakers, and that’s a far better plan of action. Clarksdale might also consider improving the lighting of its most dangerous areas, following a recent six-month New York City experiment that reported sharp decreases in crime in public housing facilities that had extra floodlights installed.

The real challenge, of course, is finding productive employment for more people. Clarksdale and other towns that face crime problems would use their limited resources most wisely by figuring out how to teach job skills to rehabilitated criminals. If employment is unavailable, that’s when it would be time to move someplace where the job prospects are better.

Online: http://www.enterprise-journal.com

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