Roundup of Oklahoma editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Journal Record, June 16, 2014

A long way from health honor roll

The latest report on Oklahoma's health isn't likely to make anyone feel very good.

Measured against the rest of the nation, Oklahoma scored a C or below in every health category except influenza and pneumonia vaccinations for seniors. In the other 34 categories, Oklahoma brought home eight C's, 17 D's and nine F's. Sixth-graders with report cards like that live in fear of the woodshed.

The report showed that Oklahoma has the fourth-highest death rate in the nation, a whopping 23 percent higher than the national rate. And although the state's mortality rate dropped 5 percent since 1992, the national rate dropped 20 percent in the same time.

Oklahoma has the highest respiratory disease mortality rate, the fourth-highest death rate from diabetes, the fourth-highest death rate from stroke, the third-highest from heart disease and the 12th-highest from cancer.

It's not hard to understand why the numbers are so bad. Oklahoma has the next-to-lowest rate of fruit consumption in the nation; it places 44th in vegetable consumption and 44th in physical activity, and has the sixth-highest obesity rate.

In other words, Oklahomans eat a lot of unhealthy food and spend a lot of time on the couch. Even worse, about one-fourth of them are having a cigarette after that meal, a rate 25 percent greater than the national average.

Smoking kills more Oklahomans than alcohol, auto accidents, AIDS, suicides, murders and illegal drugs combined, and costs taxpayers an estimated $1.16 billion per year in related health care. Sadly, it also contributes to Oklahoma's infant mortality rate, the 43rd worst in the U.S., an overall mortality rate that's 23 percent higher than the national average. More than 85 percent of COPD deaths are caused by smoking. Thirty percent of cancer deaths are from lung cancer; 75 percent of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking.

There were some bright spots, thanks to programs such as Certified Healthy Oklahoma and Every Week Counts. Smoking is down 2.8 percentage points compared with last year, but the rate remains 3.7 points higher than the national average. Infant mortality rates improved from 8.6 per 1,000 in 2007 to 7.6 per 1,000 in 2010, but that's still 43rd worst in the country.

Oklahomans value hard work and prosperity. Neither occurs for sick residents. The state's health grades are still a long way from the honor roll, and there is no chance of a superior lifestyle as long as Oklahomans are sick and dying. We deserve the woodshed. We must do better.

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Tulsa World, June 17, 2014

Police prudent to prepare for the horrifying possibility of mass school shootings

Last week, a large group of law enforcement officials took part in federal emergency training at the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa campus. An important part of that work was training in how to deal with school shootings.

The danger of shootings has become increasingly a concern for everyone since the April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., left 14 dead and 24 injured. Police say they are constantly reviewing and revising their plans for how to deal with dangerous campus situations.

Oklahoma hasn't been immune to school violence. A few months after Columbine, a 13-year-old shot five classmates at Fort Gibson Middle School.

As the nation was reeling from news of a 2012 massacre that killed 20 people and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., police arrested an 18-year-old who allegedly planned to kill students, staff and first-responders at Bartlesville High School.

An advocacy group's map that claimed to show all the U.S. school shootings since Sandy Hook spread like wildfire on social media last week, but then truth-checkers followed with information that the realities of many of the 74 reported incidents were stretched to meet the group's agenda.

Regardless of the true number, one violent incident on a school campus is too many. So, it is prudent for police to train for how to handle a campus tragedy, to minimize the danger to everyone involved.

We pray it's training that is never called into action.

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The Oklahoman, June 16, 2014

Another legislative assault on Oklahoma's Promise scholarship program

Oklahoma's Promise has helped thousands of students attain college degrees. For many of these lower- and middle-income students, higher education would have been out of reach without this taxpayer-funded scholarship program.

So why would lawmakers mess with one of the best things they've ever done for younger Oklahomans?

Last week, the Oklahoma Policy Institute noted that budgeting sleight-of-hand could leave the program without enough money to meet obligations in the coming academic year. The institute questioned whether the budget move, which involved diverting about $8 million from the program, is even legal.

In 2007, the Legislature protected funding for the program. Money needed to pay for scholarships is taken off the top of the state's budget, meaning the money isn't available to legislators during the appropriations process. Or at least it's not supposed to be.

Democrats want an attorney general's opinion about the budgeting move. Meantime, Gov. Mary Fallin has called for delaying implementation of the shift to ensure no child loses out. The diversion will come up Monday before the state Board of Equalization.

Oklahoma's Promise is a proven, effective way to increase the number of college graduates in Oklahoma, an issue that's long been on the minds of economic development-minded policymakers. This state needs more college-educated citizens, to attract and retain well-paying jobs that will sustain and improve the Oklahoma economy. That those reaping the most benefit from the scholarship program are talented, hard-working students of lesser financial means makes it an even greater source of pride.

The $50,000 family income limit for qualifying students hasn't been adjusted for inflation since its adoption in 2003, so fewer students qualify. In fact, the number of scholarship recipients has been on the decline since 2010. Some students who initially qualify are excluded if family income grows too fast as the student progresses through high school. State higher education officials have said that federal and state regulations regarding academic progress and tougher college GPA requirements likely mean that the decline will continue.

Instead of working to enable more students to participate in the program, the focus is typically on how to further restrict access. In the realm of mistakes, this is a whopper. We understand that budgets are tight. Everyone wants more money. At around $60 million a year, Oklahoma's Promise isn't cheap. But rather than a straight expense, it's an investment — in our kids and the state's economic future.

Oklahoma's Promise recipients are better prepared for higher education than their peers. They go to college and stay in school at a better rate. They're more likely to get a degree. Many of these students are the first in their families to attend and complete college — an accomplishment that could make the state's initial investment pay off for generations.

If the Legislature's budget diversion endangers the ability of the state to keep its promise to a deserving group of students, then the equalization board, legislative leaders or the governor should have the wherewithal to right this wrong. Students begin working as early as eighth grade to meet the academic requirements of the scholarship. They've earned and deserve more than an IOU from the Legislature.

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