Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Evansville Courier & Press. Dec. 2, 2013.

Congress now free from the threat of too much work

The headline on the Congress-watching newspaper Politico said it all: "Done."

The subhead expanded on the assertion, but there wasn't much to add: "Congress is through legislating for the rest of 2013." And that was mid-month, even before the lawmakers knocked off for a 10-day Thanksgiving recess.

House Speaker John Boehner said the House shouldn't even remain in session in December. He was joking — we think.

As it is, the House, according to Majority Leader Eric Cantor's schedule, is to be in session only eight days in December and go home Dec. 13.

This is no accident; the schedule was made out in January.

The Senate doesn't have a strict schedule but generally sticks close to the relaxed pace of their House colleagues.

The immigration bill is not likely to pass in December, and neither is the farm bill.

The 12 appropriations bills that fund the operations of the government and were supposed to have been passed by Sept. 30 haven't been passed. Meanwhile, Congress will resort to continuing resolutions, as a fancy way, as they say on Capitol Hill, of kicking the can down the road.

Dealing with the "sequester," the automatic, across-the board budget cuts Congress passed in a vain attempt to galvanize itself into action, will have to wait until next year; in the meantime, it's beginning to do real damage to critical government operations such as defense.

The House spent much of the year occupied with pointless trivia, such as repeated and fruitless attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act

Now it has found a new distraction, beating up on the White House for the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

The Republicans had better hurry. The act is starting to work, especially in those states that opted to administer the law themselves.

Thanks to Senate Republicans needlessly blocking President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, Senate Democrats changed the rules to allow the nominees' approval by 51 votes instead of 60.

Thus, the major legislative trophy the Senate will have for the year end is filling three seats on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Winston Churchill said democracy was the worst form of government, except for all the others.

He was right, of course, but sometimes you can't help wondering.

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The Tribune, Seymour. Nov. 29, 2013.

Lack of vaccination puts child, community at risk

U.S. vaccination programs appear to have become a victim of their own success. Because many parents have never experienced the effects of childhood diseases such as mumps or measles — let alone polio — they don't always appreciate the health risks the diseases pose and the continuing need for vaccinations.

By the time children are 2 years old, they are recommended to have 10 different vaccinations to protect them from diseases such as chicken pox, polio, mumps and flu. But some parents who can't afford vaccinations for their infants or are concerned about possible side effects from the shots are choosing not to have them vaccinated.

According to recent information from the Indiana State Board of Health, Jackson County fares better than the average in terms of children who have been vaccinated from 19 to 35 months with a 60 percent compliance rate. The state average is 47 percent with a median rate of 57 percent.

That's good news, but how about that other 40 percent?

While most vaccinations prevent diseases that have been eradicated from the U.S., getting them for children — whose immune systems are weaker than adults' — is important because some illnesses, such as polio, are just a plane ride away, Vaccinate Indiana executive director Lisa Robertson said.

In today's mobile, global business environment, it's highly likely that a person will regularly come in contact with someone who has traveled overseas. Some of those areas could be centers where a disease is more common, and an unvaccinated person could bring it back home.

Some parents are concerned about possible side effects from vaccines and decide not to have their children immunized. But not vaccinating infants is dangerous not just for the health of the child but for the community. If a child who hasn't been immunized is exposed to a disease and then comes in contact with someone whose immune system is weak, such as an elderly person, the child could spread the disease to that person as well.

In order to protect the child and the wider community, it is vital that parents vaccinate their children. Just because the parents have never known someone with polio, for example, doesn't mean they should leave their children unprotected.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Nov. 27, 2013.

Welcome help for Purdue's international students

With more than 20 percent of Purdue University's student population coming from other countries, it's not surprising that the campus is still grappling with ways to handle language barriers.

Stories about the communication gap between international graduate students who help teach courses and native English speakers in the class are nothing new. But Purdue is looking to take a new approach with students who come to West Lafayette with marginal English skills, with hopes of getting more international scholars cut in with academic and social life.

Earlier this month, University Senate President David Williams announced plans for a centralized English language and writing program. The goal is to replace the bit-and-piece approach Purdue departments and schools have tried to use to acclimate international students and get them ready for life on a U.S. campus.

The program apparently is getting juiced by Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who not only has leant his support but also has been pushing to get it done. Williams says Daniels wants it done "yesterday."

"I think some of the reticence of our some of our international students to get the full value, and give full value, to Purdue by mixing more frequently with our American students is based on their English bashfulness," Daniels said last week in connection with the announcement to the University Senate.

Purdue's international student population is nothing new; the campus has been among the leaders in that field for some time. But this is an example of an outside eye is bringing fresh attention to an issue that affects not only classrooms and laboratories, but also the larger community. This is attention well placed.

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The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. Nov. 26, 2013.

Early-childhood education offers fighting state factions chance to cooperate

In the struggle pitting Gov. Mike Pence and Republican Statehouse leaders against Democratic state schools chief Glenda Ritz, it would seem the two sides can't agree on anything. In fact, they all are pushing for the one school policy initiative the state most needs: early learning.

So here's an opportunity to break the tension by working toward a common goal. In finally advancing an effective preschool framework, the elected officials can prove they truly are interested in helping students. Advancing early childhood education, after all, is the one school reform measure Indiana officials haven't tried.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Ritz has been consistent in calling for investment in preschool. Approval of IREAD-3, the reading test Indiana third-graders now must pass to be promoted, is what prompted the former media specialist and National Board Certified Teacher to challenge former Superintendent Tony Bennett. Ritz rightly argues the state should help children earlier, so they won't be at risk of falling behind by grade three.

The governor also has promoted early childhood education, repeatedly citing a preschool program in his hometown of Columbus as a model. He made appointments to an early childhood learning advisory committee earlier this fall and has indicated that his legislative agenda for 2014 includes early learning.

Legislators in recent years yielded to an administration more interested in approving school vouchers and creating charter schools than in investing in preschool, but they didn't hesitate to approve the modest steps made in finally moving to full-day kindergarten.

Still, Indiana remains stubbornly at the bottom of the class when it comes to investing in young children, holding the starting line for learning back as other states move far ahead. Of the 10 states with no preschool program, Indiana is the only Midwest holdout.

State officials blamed budget constraints when the Early Learning and School Readiness Commission created by former Gov. Joe Kernan was dissolved in 2005. That excuse no longer works as they boast of a surplus and prepare to push more tax cuts. Nor can they continue to champion the unproven school reform measures while ignoring the success other states are seeing from research-backed preschool programs. Some examples:

— A 1998 law was quietly pushed past Oklahoma legislators who failed to read the legislation, making preschool available to nearly three-quarters of the state's 4-year-olds. The results are impressive. A Georgetown University study found that children who attended preschool in Tulsa classrooms were nine months ahead of their peers in pre-literacy and seven months ahead in pre-writing, with the biggest gains going to children from the poorest families.

— In New Jersey, a longitudinal study of the Abbott Preschool Program, offered under court order in the state's poorest school districts, found children made significant gains in literacy, language, math and science through fourth and fifth grade. The study found persistent gains in all subject areas on standardized tests. Preschool participation also was linked to lower retention rates and to fewer children needing special education services.

— An October research brief by the Foundation for Child Development analyzed recent research on preschool to confirm that "evidence across decades" shows a substantial effect on learning and development. It also addressed the argument that effects decrease in later years: "The most recent research is showing . that even when the difference in test scores declines to zero, children who have attended preschool go on to show positive effects on important adolescent and young adult outcomes, such as high school graduation, reduced teen pregnancy, years of education completed, earnings, and reduced crime."

With convincing results elsewhere and rare common ground here, Indiana officials should have no excuse not to put down the boxing gloves and finally create high-quality early-learning opportunities for Hoosier children. They must resist using the initiative to direct more voucher payments to faith-based programs with little regulation or accountability. Strong and successful models are easy to find and should guide Indiana as it makes up for precious lost time.

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