Green Guide

Georgia editorial roundup

Posted November 23

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


Nov. 22

The Savannah Morning News on corporal punishment:

This week, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and other governors asking them to end the discredited practice of allowing corporal punishment in their public schools.

The federal agency can't force states to outlaw corporal punishment; it can only urge states not to paddle students. Education Secretary John King has condemned corporal punishment as "harmful, ineffective and often discriminatory" and would constitute "criminal assault and battery if experienced by adults."

He's right. Besides, if paddling students for misbehavior was effective, Georgia would have one of the best and most well-behaved public school systems in the nation.

According to 2015 Georgia data, as reported by districts, 5,849 students were disciplined in school using corporal punishment. The total number of incidents of corporal punishment was 9,713. (Some students were paddled more than once.)

Experts from the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are on the same side as Mr. King and agree that paddling is ineffective.

Most of the states that allow paddling are in the South or West: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming. Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C., prohibit it. (Seven states neither expressly permit nor ban corporal punishment.)

That doesn't mean that students who misbehave should face no consequences for their actions. It simply means that teachers and principals shouldn't automatically grab their paddles to make a point. There are other ways to discipline students besides striking them, such as detention, suspension or loss of privileges.

Most kids are smart when it comes to punishment. They know that paddling is over and done with quickly. Many of them would rather endure a brief moment of pain than suffer long-term grief over detention or the loss of a valued privilege.

Yes, paddling might be a tradition in some school districts, including in rural areas where adults grew up believing that sparing the rod means spoiling the child.

More modern research suggests that the opposite is true.

Federal officials believe that in the short term, students who receive this form of punishment show an increase in aggressive and defiant behavior — the opposite of the intended outcome. In the long term, students who experience physical punishment in school are more likely later to grapple with substance abuse and mental health issues, including depression, personality disorders and post-traumatic stress. They add that corporal punishment in school is also associated with poorer academic outcomes. Research has shown, for example, that corporal punishment can affect students' cognitive functions by lessening brain development, verbal ability, problem-solving skills in young children and academic achievement. If spanking doesn't work and actually might do more harm than good, why do it?

The letter to the governors builds on the Obama administration's work with states and districts through its Rethink Discipline campaign, which has focused attention on the importance of school disciplinary approaches that foster safe, supportive and productive learning environments in which students can thrive.

Educators aren't the only ones who wrestle over the question of whether to spank or not to spank.

Many new parents agonize over it, too, especially when their children reach the "terrible twos" and become more unruly and rambunctious. Pro-spanking and anti-spanking advocates can be found all over the internet, and there seems to be little consensus.

Still, parents who spank their child in the privacy of a home environment are different from public educators who spank other people's children in a school setting.

"Our schools are bound by a sacred trust to safeguard the well-being, safety and extraordinary potential of the children and (youths) within the communities they serve," Mr. King said. "While some may argue that corporal punishment is a tradition in some school communities, society has evolved and past practice alone is no justification. No school can be considered safe or supportive if its students are fearful of being physically punished. We strongly urge states to eliminate the use of corporal punishment in schools — a practice that educators, civil rights advocates, medical professionals and researchers agree is harmful to students and which the data show us unequivocally disproportionally (affects) students of color and students with disabilities."

A spokesman for the Department of Education was a bit more forceful:

"It is a disgrace that it is still legal in states to physically punish a child in school. Students are subject to corporal punishment for something as minor as cellphone use or going to the bathroom without permission. And students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately victims of physical punishment," said Fatima Goss Graves. "Not only does corporal punishment inflict pain and injury, it also stifles students' ability to learn. Policymakers must eradicate violence against schoolchildren and instead foster learning environments that are safe and productive. This barbaric practice must end."

Paddling a child who goes to the bathroom without permission or uses a cellphone is disgraceful. It shows a genuine lack of creativity on the teacher's or principal's part. For example, why not send children who don't ask for permission before leaving the classroom to detention? And regarding cellphone usage by students, why not just take the offenders' phones away? Whether spanking is "barbaric" goes to the issue of intent. A parent who spanks as a form of discipline is different from one who strikes in anger with a goal of injuring a child. That would be barbaric.

That's why, if an adult were on the receiving end, it could be a potential criminal act of battery. Perhaps some of the impetus behind corporal punishment is that many teachers and principals are like many of today's parents — stressed, fed-up, tired and angry. It's too easy to lose one's control in carrying out punishment in such a tense environment. Hence, easing the burden on teachers could end much of the public concern about spanking in public schools.

That's where Gov. Deal should focus his efforts. Still, the Obama Education Department is right. Putting away the paddles would be a good step toward making all schools more healthful environments for learning and not places where some children fear to tread.



Nov. 20

The Newnan Times-Herald on Georgia and the presidential election:

The tabulation of votes on Election Day reordered Georgia's political landscape in ways that may not be fully realized. It President-elect Donald Trump appoints some key Georgians to administration posts, it will create a round of musical chairs that will have long-reaching impact on things like the next race for governor and the Washington delegation. Having friends in high places has the potential to bring benefits to the Peach State, although there is no guarantee.

While we won't know about those appointments until they are made, we can predict some changes that are already evident.

First is the Trump plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which eliminates any impetus for the Peach State to consider expanding Medicaid. Until the new Trump proposal is passed by Congress, all state-level health policy discussions will be silenced, including a vague plan pushed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for a sort of streamlined version of Medicaid expansion that legislative leaders were lukewarm about anyway.

Other state actions required to cope with regulations pushed by the Obama administration are also on hold, such as Georgia's response to the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S. Plenty of time and energy has been expended by bureaucrats and lobbyists on these types of state rules to implement federal regulations, so now they'll have free time for other issues.

Another source of tremors emanating from the vote tally was the thumping Gov. Nathan Deal received with the thrashing of his Opportunity School District amendment to the state constitution. He might have written off a narrow defeat to special interests, but a loss in nearly every county and by a total of more than 800,000 votes is a clear signal that he's out of touch with the public on that issue.

The amendment setback comes after he vetoed two controversial bills that the legislature was solidly in favor of, the so-called religious liberty bill and a measure to open college campuses to guns for permit holders. In the case of those bills, Deal appeared to be more in synch with public opinion.

The potential upset of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed a similar religious-liberty bill, could give opponents more ammunition when that state's votes are finally all counted. Still, Deal's vetoes put him at loggerheads with his own legislature.

Deal, the child of two public educators and the spouse of a former one, has made education reform a priority. A major item on his personal to-do list is revamping the state's formula for school funding, including endorsing districts' freedom to institute merit pay. Although merit pay is allowed under current law, his formula revision would offer districts scenarios that could make it a greater likelihood that they would switch to performance pay.

In January, the governor postponed legislative consideration of his new funding formula until the 2017 legislative session. Some say it was because he recognized the opposition it would face as long as it included any merit-pay provisions. Now, that opposition hasn't lost any steam, and instead is feeling more potent after Deal gained no return on the political capital he invested in the amendment battle.

A possible beneficiary of Deal's shorter shadow is the group supporting expanded legalized gambling. Deal's opposition to casinos and horse tracks stalled them during his tenure even though he can't veto a constitutional amendment. The perception of his diminished influence opens the door wider. Already, the Columbus city council passed a resolution Tuesday backing casinos in what could be just the first of many dominoes to tumble.

Casino supporters may also benefit from the unseating of state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, as chairman of the Georgia Senate Republican Caucus. He was a strong supporter of religious-liberty legislation and an active opponent of casinos.

One other source of shudders on Election Day was the change of suburban Atlanta counties from red to blue, like Cobb, Henry, Douglas, Gwinnett and Newton, in a year when the Republican nominee beat the Democratic standard bearer by 5 percent in the overall state. Demographic trends foreshadowed the shift, but many observers thought they wouldn't formally flip until the next presidential election.

This new Democratic majority in the state's most populous counties, plus Bibb, Chatham, Muscogee and Richmond, may not immediately alter state elections that are held in non-presidential years. They do suggest an erosion of Georgia's conservative muscle on votes for constitutional amendments like gambling expansion and referenda on taxes, bonds and Marta extensions. Even though Trump's victory offers signs that the White House will tilt to the right, the state is now tilting less so.

What all this means is that conservative leaders have to be smarter. They can't count on automatic passage of their every proposal any more. Timing contentious referenda will have to be strategic. And they will have to do a better job of convincing voters in the newly blue areas rather than just taking their agreement for granted.



Nov. 17

The Telegraph of Macon on the Georgia Department of Transportation:

There was a lot of backslapping going on when news that the Georgia Department of Transportation was planning on spending $880 million on transportation projects in and around Interstate 75 and Interstate 16 in the next two decades. That's a lot of money, and while there is celebration now about the idea of it, the reality will soon start to hit right between the axles.

The first phase of the work will widen I-16 from I-75 to Coliseum Drive from four to six lanes. Right now, traveling that stretch of road northbound can be a life-altering experience as two lanes disappear into one just north of Spring Street. Traffic that would like to continue on I-75 north that's caught in the left lanes has to maneuver to the right lanes with very little asphalt to do it. While southbound traffic from I-75 to I-16 isn't nearly as treacherous, it's remarkably easy for drivers wanting to stay on I-75 south to miss the dog leg right and end up on I-16 east.

But that's just one of the phases of the project and not the point of this comment. Traveling through a construction zone is always frustrating. There is no way to click Dorothy's ruby red slippers and wake up and have it all better. No, ask the people who are living with the improvements (some would take issue with the usage of that word) of Forest Hill Road. And the scope of the I-16/I-75 work is more complex than Forest Hill Road and will impact huge volumes of traffic.

While we can all philosophically believe the project will make it all be better someday, that doesn't help much when you're sitting bumper to bumper with your newest best friends. And with the extensive construction time frame, children will be born and graduated from high school before the full completion of the project if plans remain as they are — and knowing the Georgia DOT, there are no guarantees.



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