Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
The Columbus Dispatch, June 17
If it feels like Ohio has been fumbling around trying to come up with lasting graduation requirements for an awfully long time, it's because that is in fact the case.
We're hopeful that a proposal before lawmakers now can be the breakthrough long sought.
At the moment, Ohio schools are in a three-year limbo of sorts, operating through next school year on temporary requirements put in place by the legislature when it became clear that the ones that were supposed to take effect for the class of 2018 were going to leave too many seniors without diplomas.
Lawmakers have before them two competing proposals for yet another new set of requirements, and some version is expected to end up in the biennial budget once the House and Senate reconcile their respective spending plans at the end of this month.
The goal and challenge, as always, is to create requirements meaningful enough that no one graduates from high school unprepared for work or further study, without setting a bar that unreasonably prevents too many from graduating.
It isn't just a matter of a higher or lower bar, because there isn't a single bar. Most experts recognize that different students can demonstrate their readiness in different ways.
One plan is being put forward by the State Board of Education. The other was developed by a trio of education and business groups. Both describe a number of areas in which students must satisfy certain requirements. Both provide multiple ways for each area to be completed.
A key difference between the two is that the state board's plan would allow some of the areas to be satisfied with what it calls a "culminating student experience" - a type of independent project often called a capstone.
Because lawmakers reportedly are favoring the plan developed by the consortium (Ohio Excels, a business-focused group; the Alliance for High Quality Education, a group of 75 suburban school districts; and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank), the state board passed a resolution Wednesday offering to back the consortium's plan if it were changed to allow a capstone project to satisfy its competency requirement.
The consortium is adamant that capstone projects aren't consistent or rigorous enough to carry so much weight.
To meet its plan's competency requirement, students would have to either earn a certain score on the state's Algebra I and English II end-of-course tests or meet one of several other alternatives involving College Credit Plus courses, career skills or military enlistment.
We agree that a capstone project allows too much variance to be a reliable and meaningful way to judge a student's readiness for career or college. Many school districts already require capstone projects, and they can be a valuable add-on to a high-school senior's portfolio. But any project significant enough to completely demonstrate a student's readiness for career or college likely would require an unrealistic amount of effort for students to devise on their own and for schools to fairly evaluate.
Both plans deserve praise for better recognizing the value of preparing for careers via vocational education and industry credentials. The consortium's plan does a better job of ensuring that every diploma is meaningful, and we hope to see it reflected in the final state budget bill.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 16
In a party-line vote - Republicans for, Democrats against - the Ohio House is seeking to require those claiming compensation for injuries they suffered on the job in Ohio to answer a question about their citizenship.
Approved 58-36, the amendment to Ohio's pending workers' compensation budget, House Bill 80, would ask a claimant if he or she is a U.S. citizen, or an "illegal alien or unauthorized alien" or someone who has an alien registration number, "or other signifier that the claimant is authorized to work." The amendment's sponsor is state Rep. Bill Seitz, a suburban Cincinnati Republican.
The amendment wouldn't deny compensation to injured workers if they are undocumented, Seitz said (which would be against current Ohio law). Instead, Seitz argues the amendment is aimed at gathering data so the General Assembly can determine what, if anything, needs to be done about such claimants.
With due respect, that's baloney. There is no evidence that undocumented workers are gaming the system.
This unneeded House amendment is a solution in search of a problem. Yet it will have a major impact if enacted.
The amendment will likely cause many non-U.S.-citizen workers -- including but not limited to undocumented aliens -- from filing claims for help they're entitled to under Ohio law. That includes rehabilitation and health care when they lose fingers, or break limbs, or are otherwise hurt on the job.
It will impact, disproportionately, immigrants who do dangerous jobs because they are without good English language skills, or, yes, because they lack proper papers.
As Seitz well knows, undocumented workers in Ohio are entitled to collect worker's compensation when they are injured on the job. This amendment would use a back door to clamp down on immigrants' ability to collect just compensation by making those claims less likely to be filed.
Ohio law defines "employees" - people covered by workers' compensation - to include "aliens." And last decade, the 7th Ohio District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the claim of an injured alien slated for deportation, warning of the negative consequences in on-the-job hazards for all workers if undocumented aliens were excluded: "If (they) were injured, the employer would not lose any money because the aliens could not collect workers' compensation. Therefore, the employer may become lax in workplace safety, knowing it would suffer no consequences if its employees were injured at work."
Seitz says the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation makes it very difficult to ascertain the number of workers' compensation claims filed against specific employers. But he said a fellow legislator determined that "well in excess of 200 claims" had been filed against Ohio employers raided last summer in federal immigration raids that targeted meatpacking and landscaping firms in Columbiana and Sandusky counties.
But meatpacking is dangerous work, so claims likely would be high, by citizens and noncitizens alike. The Guardian, the British newspaper, reported last year that "U.S. meat workers are already three times more to likely suffer serious injury than the average American worker."
Whatever the intentions of those who back the Seitz amendment, it's fundamentally a political swipe at men and women with dangerous jobs. The Senate, or a Senate-House conference, must delete the amendment.
The Marietta Times, June 17
Across the country, one in 167 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth.
That translates to a fetal mortality rate in the U.S. of about 3.98 per 1,000 pregnancies. But in Ohio, the rate is 4.39 per 1,000.
Ohio's Department of Health is working to do something about that, and has partnered with public awareness campaign Count the Kicks to develop a new smartphone app that may help prevent some stillbirths. It tracks fetal movement during the third trimester of pregnancy by: helping count a baby's kicks, reminding to pick a time when the baby is active and time how long it takes to get 10 movements, and then reminds to call a doctor immediately if there are changes from what is normal for the baby.
The idea is to give expectant mothers tools and education because they are the people best positioned to evaluate their baby's health. It has been developed in 10 languages and is available free online, along with other educational resources and information about hospitals, maternal health care providers and social service agencies.
Bravo to the folks at the Department of Health who took a step toward addressing this grim statistic. It may be a small step, but if it saves even one baby, the effort is well worth it.
___The Toledo Blade, June 14
Major hacks of facial-recognition data have long seemed like an inevitability, but that does not make the recent breach of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection subcontractor any less frustrating.
Customs recently revealed that tens of thousands of travelers' faces may have been compromised after a "malicious cyberattack" targeted an unidentified contractor - though the company Perceptics seems to have been implicated thanks to Custom's public statement, which was headlined "CBP Perceptics Public Statement."
These guardians of security and secrecy estimate that fewer than 100,000 people had their photos taken in the data breach.
Concerns about the use of facial-recognition technology and the storage of the resulting data have been growing in recent years. Parallel to that, the government has been expanding its use of facial-recognition systems, particularly at border crossings. CBP is reportedly working to use facial-recognition technology on "100 percent of all international passengers," including American citizens, within the next several years. And because congressional oversight on this technology is lagging behind, the bureau has been able to move forward without much regulation.
This has allowed Customs to partner with contractors who have a less than stellar track record, like Perceptics.
Just last month, hundreds of gigabits of data were breached at the Tennessee-based company, namely scans of drivers' license plates that tracked their locations. It is unclear if that data breach is related to the facial-recognition hack, though investigators will surely want to look into such a possibility. Efforts are under way at all levels of government to address the growing use of facial-recognition technology.
San Francisco recently banned city agencies from using the technology and, in Congress, a bill has been introduced by Sens. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) and Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) that "would strengthen consumer protections by prohibiting commercial users of facial-recognition technology from collecting and resharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent."
But the government must begin serious discussions about how to regulate its own use of facial-recognition technology and how to provide meaningful oversight that will limit abuses and system breakdowns.
Without such safeguards in place, more problems are sure to arise and more innocent people will have to pay the price for governmental incompetence and failure.
That is unacceptable.
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