The Detroit News. July 26, 2018

Fight Detroit illiteracy in classroom, not court

Reading is the gateway to a successful life, and it's one of the fundamental skills children should learn in school. But many kids, especially in Detroit, aren't gaining that basic building block. This is a shortfall that must be addressed in the classroom, however — not the courtroom.

A federal lawsuit filed in 2016 on behalf of several Detroit students and their families had sought to prove a constitutional right of access to literacy. Late last month, U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III dismissed the case.

But the California law firm, Public Counsel, representing the Detroit students isn't giving up and has recently begun to appeal the decision, which would go before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Students sued the state of Michigan because they said their school conditions were so bad and that their resources were such that learning was next to impossible. The lawsuit also sought to use the 14th Amendment equal-protection clause to prove that the students were being denied equal access to a good education, compared to their largely white, more affluent peers in the suburbs.

Murphy had rejected those claims, ruling that literacy is not a fundamental right. And he said the plaintiffs didn't prove the state was directly responsible for conditions in the schools.

Lawyers for the state argued that while literacy is important, it is not a constitutional right and involving the courts could serve as a detriment to the "democratic control of schools."

That's a good point.

Detroit illiteracy is a huge concern. The nonprofit literacy organization Beyond Basics works in Detroit schools and claims 93 percent of the 50,000 children in the Detroit Public Schools Community District can't read or are years behind. And national test scores back that up. In 2017, just 5 percent of the district's fourth graders scored at or above proficient in reading.

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is well aware of the reading challenges in his district, which he's overseen for the past year. And he's begun important work to rebuild the district's reading curriculum and train teachers to better instruct struggling students.

This is the kind of effort that's essential to helping children learn to read.

Mark Rosenbaum is the lead attorney representing the students, and he says Murphy got it wrong in his dismissal of the case. "Historically, denial of access to literacy has been a tool of unlawful discrimination used in an attempt to stigmatize, disenfranchise, and otherwise hold back certain communities," he said in a statement.

Public Counsel likely wants to push this case to the U.S. Supreme Court to force the issue of a constitutional right of access to literacy. A 1973 Supreme Court decision found there is no constitutional right to an education, so this lawsuit would challenge that precedent.

Federal courts have been hesitant to intervene in local school decisions, and that's probably going to hold true in this case, too.

Vitti and state officials should keep focusing on what they can do to boost literacy among schoolchildren. This lawsuit isn't the answer.

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Lansing State Journal. July 29, 2018

Editorial: Lansing road plan a good start, but only a start

As seen elsewhere, one major issue on the minds of Lansing residents is roads, and it was a major issue in the campaign of Mayor Andy Schor. He has heard it from hundreds of people across the city, he said, and for many it was the top concern - even surpassing crime and schools.

Fast forward to last week when the city announced a comprehensive road project plan for improvements now through 2020.

This is what everyone's been waiting for: The plan.

"We are honoring our commitment to provide resources to inform the public of the road plans that we developed, and updates on previous work that has already been completed," Schor said.

Plan highlights include:

Street improvements on 11 major thoroughfares and 10 neighborhood streets to be completed in the 2018-2019 fiscal year (for the full list, visit lansingmi.gov/450/Construction-Projects)

Significant ramping up of pothole fixes throughout the city with an average wait of 48 hours for repairs (to see a map of repair sites, or to report a new pothole, visit lansingmi.gov/1530/Potholes)

A mobile and online service request system for non-emergency issues that connects you directly with Lansing officials and allows you to track requests for service (visit lansingmi.gov/lansingconnect, or download the Lansing Connect app)

These new channels of information - including reporting issues and receiving updates on when they will be fixed - will help residents stay informed and feel like part of the process.

And for the first time ever, the full $2.1 million allocated to roads - from the police, fire and road millage paid by homeowners since 2012 - will be used exclusively for road projects, Schor said in a release.

In addition, $400,000 from the general fund has been allocated to infrastructure work and the city expects additional revenue from the state gas tax.

This combination of increased funding and new channels of information are clear indicators that roads are a priority for the city's administration.

The sad truth is that years of neglect on the state and local levels mean thousands of miles of Michigan roads and highways are in substandard condition. And costs to reconstruct or rehabilitate them are high.

A Michigan Department of Transportation fact sheet prepared in January shows the average cost statewide is $1.3 million per lane mile, but costs vary widely based on type of road and whether it is rural or urban. Still, in all cases it will take years to catch up - far more than can be done in a single season.

Schor's commitment is a good starting point, but is still just a starting point.

Fixing the roads will take consistent, sustained improvements. And residents will need to see those improvements for a while before they truly believe roads are getting better. Lansing residents may salute the plan to make roads a priority, but they won't know roads are a priority until they stop noticing the bumpy ride.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). July 25, 2018

Value of senior tax keeps growing

The future of St. Clair County is older.

According to Census data, the fastest growing demographic in the county is adults aged 65 and older, while the number of working-age adults is shrinking. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments expects that trend to accelerate in the near future, with the number of people aged 85 and older more than doubling by the year 2040.

The age shift will change everything. It will have huge impacts on everything from how retailers market their goods to how fire departments respond to emergencies. The graying of the county will remake the area's health care industry and challenge its social services.

There is only one agency already preparing to deal with what's been called the silver tsunami. And for four decades, St. Clair County taxpayers have been helping it do that. When you go to the polls Aug. 7, vote yes to renew the county property tax that supports senior citizen services. The 0.8 mill tax renewal generates more than $4.6 million a year to help the county's senior citizens.

When last on the ballot, county voters approved it overwhelmingly. They should do so again.

The Council on Aging is not the only agency that uses the tax money generated to help and support senior citizens. Funds also go to a handful of other agencies that help with everything from housing to legal assistance.

The Council on Aging alone used the tax to provide more than 65,000 rides for senior citizens to medical appointments, shopping and more. It delivered more than 321,000 meals both to home-bound seniors via its Meals on Wheels program and also at its seven hot meal sites around the county. It entertained thousands of seniors, keeping them healthy and engaged with a wide range of activities ranging from bowling and bingo to yoga and Zumba.

Council on Aging funds also helped keep seniors happy and safe in their own homes, with chore services, tax assistance, personal care, homemaking and more.

As the population qualifying for senior services continues to grow, demands for Council on Aging services will expand and make the countywide property tax ever more valuable.

All of us hope to be around long enough to never need the services provided by the agencies supported by the countywide senior citizens tax. Many of us, and our neighbors too, will come to rely and depend on those things. We should make sure the money is in place to provide them.

If we're not there yet, supporting seniors and keeping them healthy and in their homes benefits both our communities and ourselves, protecting property values and keeping St. Clair County a vital place to live.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. July 28, 2018

Info doesn't cause panic, but a lack of info does

A plume of contaminated groundwater is a scary thing. It creeps quietly into our lives in gentle shushes from our faucets, the soft snap of a garden-grown pea.

We drink, we eat, we line the kids up at the drinking fountains after recess. And then, the news arrives, and the tug of war begins between the light tread of calmingly manufactured, tip-toed answers and people's righteous desire for information.

This dance is going on in at least 30 sites in our country and in places around the world when it comes to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known in shorthand as PFAS.

This marvelous invention of the 1930s and its derivatives gave us nonstick skillets, waterproof shoes and jackets, stain-resistant carpet and a white foam that snuffed out nasty fires.

When we eat and drink it, it also can interfere with growth, learning, and behavior of infants and children and human hormones, lower a woman's chance of getting pregnant and increase cholesterol levels and cancer risks.

Now these robust, non-degradable compounds are turning up in soil and groundwater — most recently, in a 4-acre site less than 1,000 feet from Blair Elementary School.

The contamination is the likely result of the weeks-long dousing of a 1995 tire fire with PFAS-containing aqueous film forming foam at Carl's Retreading.

Contamination was first detected in May — ahem — that could potentially impact drinking water at the school and 35 surrounding homes. The state's PFAS action team (just created in 2017) took samples July 16, and could have results next week, according to a health department statement released Thursday.

This now presents a grand opportunity on the behalf of our government agencies that take our tax money to protect our health — talk to us.

Talk to us in plain language. Talk to us early, and talk to us often. Do not hide behind the guise of scientific methodology.

We understand that testing takes time. Educate us. Be proactive and honest. Don't mince your steps because you're hiding from the specter of liability.

Of course we're scared to learn the results. Who knows what we — our kids — have been unwittingly exposed to? How will it impact our health, our homes, our livelihood?

But no or slow information just muddies — or foams, in the case of the PFAS contamination of Camp Grayling's Lake Margrethe — the waters.

We don't know the far-flung, far-reaching impacts of PFAS contamination. But we want to. And we want to show the other communities across the country and world that we've learned something from contamination information flow — i.e. Flint or any number of others — that has varied from a drip-drop mishap to a gully washer of criminal conduct and coverup.

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