Georgia editorial roundup
Posted January 11
Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Telegraph of Macon on Gov. Nathan Deal:
As Gov. Nathan Deal enters his seventh legislative session, we would have to say he's been a pretty good governor overall. He's shown courage — pulling out his veto pen last year on a disastrous campus gun proposal, House Bill 859, that every college president abhorred, and House Bill 757, "Religious Liberty" legislation, saying during his press conference to announce the veto, that the bill didn't reflect Georgia's welcoming image as a state full of "warm, friendly and loving people." To be sure, it was a business friendly veto, and Gov. Deal has been all about business during his tenure.
That said, he's also made his share of missteps. We'll only mention two because the two are related. In his January, 2016 State of the State address, Deal said, "Over the past five years, members of this General Assembly and I have shown our appreciation for our teachers by making public education a priority, and we will do so again this year by appropriating an additional $300 million for k-12 education, which is more than is required to give teachers a 3 percent pay raise.
"We will distribute this money to your local school system under the existing QBE formula, but it is our intention that your local school system pass the 3 percent pay raise along to you. "
Here's what the governor didn't say. That $300 million wasn't enough spread over the state's 181 school systems, many of which were still dealing with furlough days. Nor did he say that with the stroke of his budget pen he could have given teachers a 3 percent raise and not left it up to local systems, but that would have made the state put additional money into k-12 education. So it was better, he may have thought, to rope-a-dope teachers into thinking they were going to receive a raise because he said so.
Instead, the pressure really fell on local systems, such as Bibb County, that had to raise taxes to fulfill Deal's empty promise. That tactic may have been one of the factors that riled up teachers and their sphere of influence to vote against a Deal sponsored Amendment 1.
Now comes another Deal sponsored salary issue that could have the same local tax impact. Back in September, Deal announced a law enforcement reform package that includes a 20 percent pay raise for more than 3,300 state law enforcement officers. It is in his amended fiscal year 2017 and 2018 budget. It also includes an extensive overhaul of training and certification at a cost of $78 million. He is so confident it will pass muster during the 2017 session that the raises started Jan. 1.
While law enforcement officers employed by the state are receiving a well-deserved 20 percent raise, they make up a small percentage of the more than 27,000 law enforcement officers in Georgia. What about all the others, you ask?
That's the same question Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills asked in a recent letter to Georgians proposing a statewide special purpose local option sales tax to pay local law enforcement what they deserve.
According to The Telegraph, "Sheriffs are seeking legislation in the upcoming Georgia General Assembly session that will mandate that starting salaries of full-time, certified officers be at least the starting salary for the Georgia State Patrol." The gap is amazing. Sills said the starting salary for the State Patrol is $46,422 annually, compared to an average $29,900 for a deputy sheriff in the Georgia.
He says, law enforcement has reached a "crisis point," not because of pay, but because of the recent attacks on officers. And he notes that local agencies lose trained officers to higher-paying state and federal jobs. But the risks of the profession can't be discounted, particularly locally, and those risks are also borne out in the difficulty in hiring quality personnel. Bibb County Sheriff David Davis has 157 deputy vacancies.
Both tax increases for teachers and for law enforcement, if that happens, will be devoid of state legislative fingerprints. The party of no tax increases will still claim — inaccurately — that they did not raise taxes.
The bottom line is this, the governor has set in motion a chain reaction of events that will eventually lead to either a statewide or various local tax increases to pay for much needed and deserved raises for teacher and law enforcement personnel. Though his fingerprints and those of the General Assembly will be absent, they collectively held the pool cue that set the balls in motion.
The News of Brunswick on the effects of poverty on education:
Glynn County Schools got some good news and some not so good news this week from Gov. Nathan Deal.
The good news was that St. Simons Elementary and Oglethorpe Point Elementary both made a fairly short list of the highest performing schools in the state. The Governor's Office of Student Achievement announced that St. Simons Elementary was ranked as a gold-level school in the 2016 Highest Performance or Greater school awards and Oglethorpe Point ranked as a silver.
For a bit of perspective, they were among 218 public schools in Georgia from 53 districts on the list. There are 181 public school districts and more than 2,200 schools in Georgia, which means making the list as either a gold or a silver is quite an accomplishment. To earn the distinctions, their scores on the College and Career Ready Performance Index had to average at least in the 93rd percentile over three years.
Everyone involved at those schools — students, teachers, staff, administration and parents — deserve the recognition and we congratulate them on their achievements.
On the other end of that spectrum was the announcement that Burroughs-Molette Elementary School made the list of Gov. Deal's chronically failing schools. The school's CCRPI scores also landed it on the more dubious list. The school scored a 49.7 in 2014, a 58.1 in 2015 and a 58.3 in 2016.
Those scores do not indicate a staff of teachers and administrators who are ineffective. On the contrary, they have been able to make gains in the past three years despite still falling below scores of 60 in the index.
Instead, the scores indicate how what is considered an impoverished student population impacts levels of academic achievement. The common standard used to indicate poverty in student populations is the percentage of pupils who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. At Burroughs-Mollette, more than 95 percent of the students qualify.
On St. Simons Island, where family incomes tend to be higher, the numbers drop significantly. At St. Simons Elementary, 51.04 percent of the students are eligible for free lunch and at Oglethorpe Point, only 27.5 percent of the students qualify.
Statistics show students from low income families have more absences and higher dropout rates in high school among other things that serve as roadblocks to them getting high marks in school. Additionally, parents in low-income families are often working multiple jobs and have a more difficult time spending time getting involved in their children's education.
To ensure improvements continue at Burroughs-Mollette and other schools that do not perform as well as others, Superintendent Howard Mann said "There are initiatives in place that are actively working to increase their rating at the county and state levels, and we know we have work left to do."
Mann said those initiatives include working to increase parental involvement and helping parents learn how to set an example for their children in school.
If they are successful, the results will begin to show.
The Savannah Morning News on hospitals and the number of complications that occur within them:
How useful, perhaps even life-saving, it would be to know which hospitals make sick people sicker. In fact, a federal agency compares hospitals according to the number of complications that occur within them, such as infections, falls and blood clots. It has been doing that survey annually for three years now and penalizes the hospitals with the worst records. This is a valuable public service, theoretically speaking.
This year, all three of Savannah's major hospitals were cited, which has got to unnerve anyone in the county needing hospital care. But it turns out our three — Memorial University Medical Center, Candler Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital — are in good company. Also dinged for high rates of patient complications was the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, generally regarded as one of the finest hospitals in the nation and the absolute best for cardiac care.
Compiled by the U.S. Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the list of 769 hospitals where patients are most likely to suffer complications also includes such respected places as Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The problem is that the rankings don't necessarily carry the meaning they appear to. A disproportionate number of hospitals being penalized admit larger numbers of really sick people than do other hospitals. Patients arrive in worse shape and stay longer, so it makes sense that they would incur more complications even with high quality medical care.
Memorial is the only place in the region with a Level I trauma center, meaning it treats all kinds of trauma, from mild to severe, from start to finish. It's also the only hospital around that offers intensive care for newborns with serious health problems. And all three of Savannah's major hospitals admit patients from around the region who are too sick or too injured for closer clinics to handle.
This is not to blame the patient. No one's adopting the view of former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox when asked about prison reform. "We're going to have to get a better grade of prisoner," he replied.
Regardless of condition, all patients deserve high quality care, of course. And they are getting better care overall. Nationally, hospital-acquired conditions dropped 21 percent between 2010 and 2015, reports Kaiser Health News.
Locally, hospitals report fewer complications, too. But CMS is required under the Affordable Care Act to list the bottom 25 percent of hospitals, no matter the improvement. Those 769 hospitals that constitute the bottom 25 percent lose 1 percent of their Medicare reimbursements, so a fair ranking is critical.
And yet, for the consumer the list clearly means something. No one wants to go where they are more likely to get worse, even if that's less likely than it was last year. CMS assessments should continue.
But if the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, survives another year, the CMS should modify its groupings to make its findings more meaningful and its penalties fairer. It doesn't help an adult patient's understanding of the hospital's complications rating if it is down-listed because of a neonatal intensive care unit.
So, whatever Congress does to Obamacare, let's hope that it requires a more meaningful list. But it should still tell patients the hospitals where the sick get sicker.