Montana Editorial Roundup
Billings Gazette, June 18, on improving the well-being of children:
Wyoming and Montana rank in the middle of the states — 21st and 22nd, respectively — for overall child well-being in the 2019 Kids Count data book released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. But the 30th annual report shows the two states have above-average room for improvement in kids’ health.
Wyoming ranks 49th for child health, worse than every state but Alaska, largely because Wyoming’s rate of uninsured children is 10% — double the national average and 1 percentage point higher than in 2000. Wyoming’s child death rate exceeds the national average, although the state rate dropped between 2000 and 2017. The percentage of Wyoming teens who abuse alcohol or drugs remains above the national average, although the state rate declined in the past few years.
Montana ranked 44th for child health. Despite dramatic improvements in the proportion of children covered with health insurance, decreasing the rate of teen births and decreasing the rate of child deaths, Montana is behind all but a few other states.
A 50% reduction in traffic fatalities involving people under age 18 is the greatest factor improving child health measures in the past 10 years, according to Thale Dillon, longtime director of Montana Kids Count at the University of Montana. Recent surveys indicate that over the past decade, Montana youth have increased their use of seat belts, while becoming less likely to drive drunk or to ride in a vehicle with a drunken driver, Dillon told The Gazette Monday.
Not coincidentally, the reduction in youth traffic deaths coincides with Montana’s introduction of graduated driver’s licenses for drivers under age 18, putting restrictions on the youngest drivers to promote safer driving.
“A lot of small factors have been adding up,” Dillon said.
Unfortunately, Montana’s child death rate remains above the national average because of suicides. The toll of suicide has not trended lower.
Like Wyoming, Montana has a higher rate of teen alcohol and drug use than the national average, according to Kids Count. In Montana, the No. 1 drug teens abuse is alcohol, Dillon said. The rate of teen use of marijuana, opioids and other illegal drugs is close to average.
Low math skills
Montana ranked 20th in education while Wyoming ranked 14th, but the data is not cause for much celebration. In Wyoming, 59% of fourth graders aren’t proficient in reading while 65% of eighth graders lack math proficiency. In Montana, 62% of fourth graders aren’t reading at grade level and 63% of eighth graders aren’t proficient in a math. And the math lack of proficiency got significantly worse between 2009 and 2017. Those rates are better than the national average, but the national average is abysmal.
Montana’s eighth grade math proficiency declined by 13% percent, Dillon noted. These are poor results for the foundational skills students will need to succeed in Montana’s workforce, she said. Children who haven’t learned to read well by fourth grade lack the reading skills needed to learn other subjects. Students who miss out on math skills won’t be ready to do the technical and more complex jobs demanded in Montana’s tight labor market, she said.
The data compiled by Kids Count gives policymakers and other citizens useful information to assess our children’s well-being — data that can be used to plan private and public initiatives. We encourage K-12 school trustees and legislators to review the report. It should be required reading for the Montana Legislature’s Interim Committee on Children, Families, Health and Human Services, which has scheduled its first meeting for June 27 in Helena.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 18, on student’s work to get solar panels for Bozeman school:
A middle school student’s desire to make her school environmentally sustainable has turned into a textbook case of how little things can make big differences.
Three years ago, then seventh-grader Claire Vlases led an effort to get solar panels installed on Sacajawea Middle School as part of the school’s remodeling. When she pushed the School Board to fund the panels, she was told: Nice thought, but the money just isn’t there.
Undeterred, she spearheaded a campaign to raise the needed money. With the help of an $80,000 donation from a national philanthropic group, she raised $118,000 — more than enough to complete the $78,000 solar panel installation. Now the remainder of the money has helped pay for the installation of panels on two additional buildings, Hyalite and Meadowlark elementary schools. And plans are in the works to get panels installed on more school district buildings — including the soon-to-be second high school as well as the existing Bozeman High School.
This hasn’t just been a lesson in the importance of persistence in pursuing a cause. The panels are proving to be quite practical. They will supply 20% to 25% of the electricity needed by the schools and, after seven years, the installations will have paid for themselves.
The seventh grader’s push for alternative energy sources was somewhat prescient. News broke last week that two coal-fired power generating units at Colstrip will be shut down this year — 2 ½ years sooner than planned because they are no longer financially viable. The closures are indicative of the world’s rapid retreat from coal energy — and fossil fuels in general.
School administrators are applauded for their support they gave to Vlases’ and other students’ efforts get the solar panels installed at Sacajawea and for carrying the momentum forward by including plans for incorporating solar and other alternative energy sources in school construction.
This has been an important educational tool to make students aware of the need for alternatives to fossil fuels in our energy future. But it is also turning out to be smart financial policy.
Daily Inter Lake, June 16, on Montana residents pushing back against hate groups:
Northwest Montana’s recent history with hatred and extremism can be best described as erratic.
Scroll through the Southern Poverty Law Center’s online “hate map,” and the cluster of dots indicating groups they designate to be hate-oriented fluctuates wildly. In 2002 the Law Center labeled only two groups on its map. By 2009-10, the Law Center tallied 13 hate groups in the state. The number dropped to six by 2015, before spiking again a few years later. The most recent map showed seven hate groups that call Montana home, including three in northwest Montana.
While these designated hate groups, ranging from neo-Nazi to white nationalist, have filtered in and out of the state over the last 20 years, one thing remains consistent: Montana’s unyielding rejection of their ideologies. And make no mistake, this is absolutely a point of pride for local residents who have seen groups like the neo-Nazi Creativity Movement stake claim on the Flathead Valley, only to see them lose traction in spreading their ideologies and eventually fizzle out.
Certainly we recognize assertions that the Southern Poverty Law Center has grappled with its own biases, and we encourage readers to seek out facts about the nonprofit’s work. But whatever you decide about the Law Center’s criteria for defining extremism and hate, their map puts to rest the false narrative that this corner of the state is a place where hate groups can flourish.
“Montana sort of has a bad rap of being this place that attracts extremist groups and individuals,” said Travis McAdam, a research director for the Montana Human Rights Network. “But the second part of that story doesn’t get told as much.”
That second part being the community’s resilience and the lesser-told stories of locals rising up to combat hate. Most recently, the valley was tenacious in its outright rejection of white supremacist Andrew Anglin’s call for an armed march in Whitefish.
But while Montana has pushed back on extremism time and time again, experts warn that this area is by no means immune to such events.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers in Congress in April that “underlying drivers for domestic extremism . remain constant.
“The danger of white supremacist violent extremism — or any other kind of violent extremism — is, of course, significant. We assess that it is a persistent, pervasive threat.”
Wray said there are new challenges with tracking extremist groups, saying “It’s less structured, less organized, fewer groups, more uncoordinated, one-off individuals as opposed to some structured hierarchy.”
Social media is also playing a more significant role in recruitment, he warned.
Officials ask that people who witness hate incidents — whether online, in the work place or places of worship — should contact local law enforcement immediately.
Now is not the time to rest on our laurels — let’s stay vigilant and consistent in pushing back on hate.