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Why support the Nampa library?

A guest opinion from educator Michael Strickland.

When was the last time you visited the Nampa Public Library? If it has been a while, you may be surprised at the plethora of resources to help every sector of our community, from the homeless, to teens, to seniors, to small businesses and YOU.

“While public libraries are simply an abstraction to some, for many of us they were and continue to be a sanctuary, a community, a public rejection of the notion that knowledge should be contingent on what you can afford, a place where no price can be placed on the access to ideas,” said public intellectual Clint Smith on Twitter.

In the midst of a national trend of waning support for public libraries, it is a good time to visit just of few of them many reasons that the Nampa Public Library is a priceless community center:

1. Books music, and dvd checkouts: By offering access to a massive collection of books, music, and movies, the Nampa Public Library fundamentally advances the idea that culture is a public good. It is one that all people have a right to enjoy, regardless of their income.

2. Educational help and guidance: Reference librarians show patrons the correct websites to go to, help them navigate and interpret resources, and teach them how to scan and use email. Nampa Public Library staff helps people fill forms for low-income housing and other documents, which are often complicated and overwhelming. Sometimes this means showing them how to access and fill out an online PDF.

3. Story time and children’s programming: Mothers, fathers, grandparents, foster parents, nannies and children attend regular story times. Many of them acknowledge this as some of the only time they spend out of the house socializing. It’s a rare place that creates a sense of community, bridging socioeconomic gaps. The library is also a safe and creative space for teens.

4. Community events: Government officials, candidates, nonprofits, charities, health providers, businesses, church groups — all types of groups and leaders hold Q&A sessions and discussions at the library. The Nampa Public Library is a safe place for all people to gather.

5. Computer, internet and academic resources: Hardware, laptop, internet and wi fi access are available for those who don’t have them.

6. Job trainings: The library has courses as well as a wide variety of resources for the unemployed and homeless. Nampa librarians help patrons search for the correct offices. They print Google maps with walking or bus instructions. They give residents a running start to help improve lives. In a world heavily skewed toward people who can pay for access to resources, the library helps level the playing field.

7. Art, music, history and culture: There are more than this article can even list: Check out the Nampa Public Library Event Calendar.

Our library is essential to the Nampa community, in ways that even frequent patrons might not know. “Public libraries are a unique and irreplaceable amenity at the foundation of our democracy of informed citizens,” said Christopher Platt, Chief Branch Library Officer, New York Public Library. “That is not changing. If anything, the public needs its public libraries more than ever, as we work to close the digital divide, help the less fortunate, and separate fact from fiction. We’re not going anywhere.”

Take a minute and donate to the Nampa Public Library today! Follow the Nampa Public Library Foundation on Facebook for details and updates.

Michael Strickland teaches at Boise State University and is the Administrative Associate for the Nampa Public Library Foundation.

Of demagogues and democracy

This is a guest opinion written by Gregory A. Raymond, which is Distinguished Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Boise State University and a past recipient of the Idaho Professor of the Year award from the Carnegie Foundation.

Of those men who have overturned the liberty of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by playing obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.
—Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 1

When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia during 1787 to craft a new system of governance for the United States, they drew upon their knowledge of history to identify potential dangers that might one day undermine the republic. The founding fathers believed that understanding the problems that marred previous experiences with citizen-centered rule would alert them to the perils that America could face in future. Foremost among their concerns was the threat that demagogues posed to civil discourse and democratic norms.

The term “demagogue” (dēmagōgos) arose in Greece during the fifth century bce to describe a new breed of charismatic politicians who sought to lead the masses by arousing their passions and appealing to their prejudices. In contrast to political figures who advocated courses of action that they believed were in the common good, demagogues used their rhetorical skills to promote policies that advanced their self-interests.

In ancient Athens, those skills were used when speaking before the Assembly (Ekklēsia), which met forty times a year on the Pnyx Hill above the city’s bustling marketplace. After speeches were delivered on an issue, the Assembly would vote and pronounce a decree, which was then implemented by magistrates and boards appointed by lot for yearlong terms. Because under the principle of isegoria (freedom of speech) all adult male citizens had an equal right to participate in Assembly deliberations, education in persuasive speaking was popular among Athenians. Gorgias of Leontini, Hippias of Elis, and Protagoras of Abdera were among the most famous itinerant teachers, known as sophists (“men of wisdom”), who offered instruction in the art of rhetoric. Pericles, the leading general and statesman of the period, mirrored the pride that Athenians had in their tradition of civic engagement. “Our ordinary citizens,” he proclaimed, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, …instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all.”

Following the outbreak of plague in 430 bce, Athens fell under the spell of demagogues who flattered the common people and vowed to make them “winners.” Cleon, the most notorious of these individuals, was described by the biographer Plutarch as “a fellow remarkable for nothing but his loud voice and brazen face.” The son of a wealthy leather tanner and merchant, he was seen by blue-blooded Athenians as coarse and vulgar. Like an outer-borough New Yorker rebuffed by Manhattan patricians, Cleon was spurned by Athens’ social and cultural elites. He disparaged intellectuals, belittled critics, and lashed out at adversaries, once apparently threatening to prosecute Callistratus, producer of the play Babylonians, claiming that the performance slandered the state.

Although Cleon received an inheritance upon his father’s death, Critias, a controversial Athenian poet, insinuated that he was mired in debt and only recovered after leveraging his political position for personal gain. Knights and Wasps, satirical comedies written by Aristophanes, also implied that Cleon was corrupt, though we possess less evidence about his alleged venality than we have regarding his insolence.

Whereas Cleon was heralded by his supporters for speaking frankly (parrhēsía)—ostensibly, “telling it like it is”—Aristotle demurred that on the contrary bluster and bravado typified his oratory: “He was the first who shouted on the public platform, who used abusive language and who spoke with his cloak girt around him, while all the others used to speak in proper dress and manner.” The historian Thucydides added that Cleon was the most violent man in Athens, someone prepared to brand those who disagreed with him as “enemies of the people.” During the fourth year of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (431-404 bce), when Mytilene, the principal city-state on the island of Lesbos, attempted to break its military ties with Athens, Cleon urged the Athenians to kill the city’s men and enslave the women and children. The Mytilenians were disloyal, he thundered. They deserved harsh punishment. Not only would this be just, but it would deter others from betraying Athens.

Even though the Athenian Assembly chose not to heed his counsel, over the next few years Cleon goaded its members into adopting a more aggressive strategy toward Sparta. He persuaded his fellow citizens to assault the Spartan position on the island of Sphacteria and reject any peace offers; he convinced them to demand a larger contribution to the war effort from Athens’ allies in the Delian League; and he recommended that they execute the adult male inhabitants of Scione, a city that had revolted against Athens. Ironically, despite his inexperience in armed conflict, Athenian forces under Cleon’s command succeeded in capturing several towns in the Chalcidice. But his ineptitude contributed to their failure to take Amphipolis, an important naval base that controlled access to timber, mines, and grain. Though he was accused by some of cowardice during the battle for the city, we lack independent corroboration of allegations about his behavior under fire. However, what the record does indicate is that Cleon was a shamelessly arrogant politician and mediocre military tactician who fraudulently promised to make Athens great again.

Cleon and the other demagogues of ancient Greece are removed from us by over two millennia. Their stories are intriguing, but what insights can we gain from them that might promote a better understanding of the political challenges of our day? Of course, the past never exactly presages the future, but examining history in a careful, discriminating way can help us think more deeply about the present.

By rebuking would-be tyrants who manipulated the anxieties and resentments of the crowd, the historians, playwrights, and philosophers of antiquity have forewarned us of the dangers that demagogues pose to democratic governance. Uppermost among these dangers is what demagogues do to civic life. Although, as Plato observed in the Republic, demagogues portray themselves as “protectors of the people,” they widen social cleavages by peddling conspiracy theories, playing one group of citizens against another, and by singling out scapegoats to blame for both real and imagined problems. They further degrade public discourse by hurling insults and spurious allegations at anyone who dares to challenge them, attempting to cow opponents into silence.

Demonizing the opposition, denying its legitimacy, and calling for its leaders to be locked up undermine the prospects for fair, inclusive, and competitive elections. Within this toxic climate, political divisions become almost impossible to bridge, which dissuades elected officials with differing viewpoints from deliberating together.

Thucydides presents a shocking description of what can happen when a society becomes polarized and political debate is infected by mutual loathing. During the fifth year of the Peloponnesian War, he depicts how Corcyra, an island located in the Ionian Sea, descended into a hellhole of civil strife. In the mayhem, political rivals became mortal enemies, with partisan loyalty transcending the bonds of family, religion, and ethnicity. Language was perverted as words lost their ordinary meanings. Recklessness came to be seen as courage, prudence as cowardice, and temperance as weakness. Extremists were considered honorable; moderates, traitorous. Piety and law were distorted for factional ends, as militants in each camp disavowed common moral ground.

When language is debased, and conventions governing honest discourse weaken, demonstrably false claims presented as “alternative facts” increasingly contaminate policy discussions. “What you are seeing,” demagogues tell the populace, “is not what is happening.” “Truth,” their apologists assert, “isn’t truth.” Deliberately employed to sow doubt about what to believe, incessant falsehoods overwhelm listeners and beget resignation, inducing people to live public life as passive subjects rather than as active participants. In this environment of uncertainty and suspicion, civic trust erodes and the normative pillars of democracy—tolerance, forbearance, and compromise—crumble.

America’s founders recognized that modern demagogues, like their ancient predecessors, posed a serious problem for democratic governance. Armed with beguiling words but bereft of realistic plans for solving social and economic problems, demagogues hope to capitalize on the chaos they provoke. Writing in Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton cautioned against any “man unprincipled in private life” and “bold in his temper” who would “throw affairs into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind’.” Rather than embodying what the Greeks called sōphrosunē—discretion and self-control—such a person, Hamilton feared, would act impulsively and “fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day.”

The founders believed that the Hellenic world’s experience with demagogues was worth pondering because the ancients wrestled with questions about the advantages and drawbacks of rule by the one, the few, and the many. Demagogues would occasionally gain power in democratic political systems, the Greeks acknowledged; nevertheless, no matter how entrenched such aspiring tyrants might seem, their footing remained insecure. Deep-seated character flaws ultimately would trip them up.

Individuals who unendingly boast of their intelligence and wealth, who traffic in malice and divisiveness, and who bully and humiliate others, show symptoms of hybris—unbridled arrogance.

“All arrogance will reap a harvest rich in tears,” warned the tragedian Aeschylus. His portrayal in Persians of King Xerxes’ catastrophic losses at Salamis to a smaller flotilla of Greek warships underscores the heavy reckoning ordained by overweening pride. Those suffering from hybris lack the capacities for empathy and introspection. Callous and unreflective, they succumb to atē, the commission of an outrageous, morally blind act that leads to their fall, or nemesis. “A man’s character,” concluded the philosopher Heracleitus, “is his fate.”
 

Another look at school safety

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This is an opinion piece written by Cindy Wilson, a candidate for Idaho superintendent of public instruction.

About 10 years ago, I started beginning my school year watching safety videos before the first day of class. It’s part of a teacher’s preparation for the year, along with lesson planning and syllabus preparation.

I’ll never forget the first time I watched a video that included a new role for teachers. Prepared by the police department, it showed a teacher doing everything she could to protect her students from an attacker – she quickly led them outside and they all ran to safety. I felt sick to my stomach. I knew the responsibility I had to protect “my kids,” the students in my classroom, should the unthinkable ever happen at my school.

Years later, I’m now a bit more comfortable with what I’m watching, but it is still frightening. The responsibility that teachers feel to ensure their students’ safety weighs heavily on their minds.

School safety should not be taken lightly – and it hasn’t been in Idaho. It’s a serious matter that affects all educators, students, parents, and everyone in the community, which makes it especially important to manage our resources wisely. If we approach school safety like we are reinventing the wheel, then we will surely see redundancies, short-sighted spending, and miscommunication – or worse, no communication at all – with key stakeholders.

Two of those important stakeholders can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise about school safety. First is Idaho’s Office of School Safety and Security, created in 2016 to assist school districts in ensuring student safety precautions. Second is our local public safety officials from the county sheriff’s department or the city police department, who are well-trained to confront violent threats. These groups are also well aware of the needs of each community and how they should customize their responses. Any plan that is considered for Idaho must include a partnership of these two areas, as well as those who are most closely involved with the students – teachers and administrators, which of course would include groups like the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho Education Association.

But most importantly, in addition to ensuring we have safe buildings and prepared responders, we need to focus on the reason behind the violence. Violence in schools is a symptom of what’s happening with our young people today: feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and mental illness generally. Many have had traumatic experiences in their young lives, which can affect their mental health.

No measure of school safety will be complete without addressing these student needs. And how do we do that? Schools must create a culture of community where everyone is nurtured, where individual needs are met so students can feel successful and learn how to communicate with one another in a civil way. Students should have access to highly trained counselors, and families should know that expert help is available from partners who care about their kids. Children should be taught to care for one another and feel empowered to act on these lessons. And of course, they should learn to notify adults whenever they see something out of sorts or when they have concerns for a classmates’ well-being.

Adding the civic dispositions of kindness, respect for one another’s differences, respect for the law, compassion, honesty, courage, negotiation and compromise to the culture of a classroom, school, and district can help eliminate early signs of bullying, and yes, even help protect students from violence at school.

But it takes everyone working together, everyone on the same page, and everyone having the same goal in mind: protect our children.

As this new school year begins, let’s all make a pledge to work as partners in ensuring our students’ safety and healthy development. We must focus on the root causes of school violence and not just cover it with a bandage. After all, Idaho’s public schools are not just about securing the fort during the school day; they are also about partnering with communities to coach our kids into lives of meaning, respect and dignity.
 

Undercover with the homeless

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This is an opinion piece written by Idaho State Senator Mark Nye, D-Pocatello. It earlier appeared in the Idaho State Journal at Pocatello.

I had been campaigning for re-election to the Idaho Senate, getting out to learn about our needs. What I found was shocking.

It started when I stopped by the community action center. I’d helped get this going in the 1960s — with the help of Idaho Purce, Perry Swisher and others. It was nice to come back, and happened to meet the head of veteran’s programs in the hall. I ask him about his priorities for Pocatello.

He said, “Priorities? Are you kidding? I need 12 beds for homeless vets tonight! We don’t have them. No one else in town has room. Priorities? Excuse me, I’m really busy right now...” and then he left.

This was a blunt wake-up call. We hear about how bad things are, but being there and seeing it is different. This was for real. I decided to find out more.

I learned where the homeless can get a hot meal. One place is a hall near Poky High. I saw poor people lined up there waiting for the doors to open. I watched and wondered where they came from and how this could be happening in our city. I volunteered to wash dishes and watch. I did this for a couple of weeks, but this wasn’t enough.

Sixty-eight people were needing a meal and there were some children. One women was tall, with stringy hair, wild eyes and skinny like a stick. Her clothes were a mess and she wasn’t the only one like this. It was cold outside and some had coats — ratty coats. Some had no coats.

All of a sudden these people were not statistics. Idaho’s poverty numbers indicate that perhaps 20 percent of our population are under the poverty level. This didn’t matter. These people weren’t numbers; they were real.

We all have a natural sympathy for those in need, and I began to wonder what it would be like. I decided to go incognito and find out.

The next week, I put on my old Levi’s, a black T-shirt and old baseball cap and drove down to the place. I hid my car blocks away and went to the front door early to wait. About 18 people were already there. They were standing around, some on the stairs, some on the curb, some alone and in small groups. There was little talk. I was afraid what they might do to me if I was recognized.

But I had learned the walk. The walk was a slow shuffle, with head bent down and no eye contact. We waited for the door to open. I felt conspicuous but no one was watching. I was just another one standing there. Not noticed, not acknowledged, just here.

The door opened, and we went in. It was warm inside. We all just went to where the food was. It was served on plastic trays like in school. I had some, but was there to quietly watch and listen. The thought crossed my mind that as a senator I represent them, too.

I sat next to six to eight others at a long table. No one said much. I’ll never forget the four little children. They were dirty and a little disheveled but were just like other kids playing and having fun. But I couldn’t look up. I didn’t dare make eye contact and kept my baseball cap pulled down low. But being there was eye opening.

Each had a quiet dignity and was there for different reasons. As they left, I learned that it wasn’t just about the food. For them it was also being together. We shuffled and walked the walk outside together.

For a brief moment, I had been one of them. I came away feeling we can and must do better. We are from Pocatello, and I know we can and that we will.
 

The argument for Little

In recent days, we've run posts from people arguing the case for two of the Democratic candidates for Idaho governor, and today a post - from former Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa - arguing the case for one of the Republican candidates. Comparable posts advocating the other two major candidates in the case, Raul Labrador and Tommy Ahlquist, would be welcome and we'd be glad to run them too.

ysrsa

In 40 years of managing elections in Idaho, I noticed a few characteristics that the best candidates – and leaders – have in common.
They talk less and do more. They under promise and over deliver. They are collaborative. They take the long view even when it’s unpopular in the here-and-now. And they know that in a state as close-knit as Idaho, today’s opponent could be tomorrow’s ally – so they don’t burn bridges.

Brad Little embodies those qualities in this year’s Republican primary race for Governor.

Brad Little the Emmett rancher would rather listen than pontificate. He has the experience to know his own mind and the humility and empathy to know that what others think matters just as much.

Brad Little the former State Senator knows the policy-making process firsthand and inside-out. He won’t need a tutorial because he already understands what it takes to get things done in State government. And he knows that no matter how bold the claim, no one can do it alone.

Brad Little the Lieutenant Governor knows that whether it’s raising cattle or presiding over the Idaho Senate, working together is the best way to accomplish shared goals and come out the other side without bitterness or backbiting.

Brad Little the husband, father and grandfather knows that working in State government has a lot more to do with preparing the next generation and the one after that for the challenges ahead than it does with achieving personal political success. He’s in it for a better long-term future, not better numbers in today’s polls.

I know Brad Little to be the kind of candidate and the kind of person who will make us proud as Governor. He and his wife Teresa are gracious without being self-congratulatory. They are engaged without being condescending. They are hard-working to their very core. And they are Idaho, through and through.

There are certain givens when it comes to successful candidates in Idaho. They must be for stronger families. They must be protective of Idaho’s water, rural lifestyle and public lands. They must have at least a healthy skepticism about the federal government. And they must be willing to put their ego and personal agendas on the shelf to make tough choices for the common good.

Brad Little fits all those criteria and more. He will work hard to help ensure that Idaho’s economy keeps growing, Idaho’s communities are safe, Idaho’s budget is balanced, Idaho’s public policies are sound and responsible, Idaho’s voice is heard in Washington, D.C., Idaho’s children get a world-class education, and their own children have the kind of career opportunities that keep them right here at home.

That’s why I’m voting Brad Little for Governor in the May 15 Republican primary election, and it’s why you should too.
 

Education money laundering?

A guest article by Levi Cavenner, an educator from Canyon County. His web site is IdahosPromise.Org.

You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, had tutilege from a drug cartel’s money launderer while he was drafting the school voucher bill passed by Idaho’s house last week. A cursory read of the legislation makes it painfully obvious what the proposed law really is: a money laundering scheme.

The goal of money laundering, of course, is to conceal the origin of dollars. Except, in this case, the origin of the money is painfully obvious and the purpose of the legislation is also equally so. See, here’s the deal: Article Nine, Section Five of Idaho’s Constitution makes it abundantly clear that the state cannot distribute money to sectarian entities.

And instead of having a legitimate debate about amending Idaho’s Constitution, Rep. Vander Woude has instead come up with a convoluted plan in which money will be distributed by a quasi government scholarship fund entity to pay for students to attend private schools including religious institutions.

If it doesn’t make the dental fillings in your teeth hurt to see the contortions the bill goes through to avoid actually upholding both the wording and substance of Idaho’s constitution--something, as it turns out, our legislators took an oath to protect--then you might need a trip to the dentist for a checkup.

But don’t let the law stop you. Idaho’s school voucher bill, known formally as the Guided Education Management Act, or HB 590, passed Idaho’s House last week with votes from Gem State representatives. It now heads to the Senate.

And let me be clear: If you are a supporter of the possibility of using state dollars for students to attend private institutions, then let’s have that debate on amending Idaho’s Constitution. It is a legitimate policy question that it appears the citizens of Idaho are interested in having.

But that’s not what this legislation is. It is a blatant workaround that avoids both the text and intent of Idaho’s governing document. If it doesn’t scare you that our elected representatives are actively seeking ways to avoid enforcing the foundation of Idaho’s law, then perhaps skip the dentist office in favor of a different type of hospital.

Because that’s exactly what this is. Vander Woude, at least, is honest enough to admit that this is the first step in a greater scheme to eventually have the state subsidize businesses or individuals who donate to the slush fund ... err, scholarship account, to pay for kiddos to attend private schools by providing a tax credit.

See, the state can’t provide the money directly as it would be a clear violation of the law. So instead, in a series of mental gymnastics and suspension of disbelief, the state will instead operate a laundering racket where the money, per se, didn’t come from the state. And the fund, per se, is not necessarily operated under the management of the state. So therefor they aren’t breaking the rules. Get it?

Keep in mind that no group, others than those who stand to benefit, wants this legislation. The Idaho Education Association, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho Board of Education all stand in opposition to the bill which is the kindle for a larger voucher based system in Idaho.

We all want to do what's best for kids. For some families, private schools provide an excellent option. But let’s not abandon both the text and intent of our state’s laws for the sake of expediency in providing that education option.
 

The special-ed problem

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The shortage of teachers in Idaho has generated particular problems in some areas, notably in special education, as one special-ed teacher reports here.

By Levi B. Cavener

As a parting gift before the new year, the Idaho Board of Education released a painfully grim picture for teacher recruitment and retention in its ironically named “Teacher Pipeline Report.”

That report details a current a woefully inadequate current mechanism to attract and retain qualified teachers in the Gem State that is anything but a pipeline delivering the necessary flow of new talent.

A few takeaways: One third of newly certified teachers in Idaho leave to teach in greener pastures outside Idaho; one in ten current Idaho teachers will call this year their last--much higher than the national average; of teachers quitting, three out of four are doing so before retirement age.

And while recruiting and training highly qualified teachers of all kinds across grade levels and content areas is concerning, let’s narrow this discussion to a persistent trend that is plaguing Idaho's schools: the ability to find and retain special education educators.

It is an open secret that finding qualified special education teachers--particularly in rural areas--is just about as easy as electing a Democrat to a State office. Good luck!

In fact, since the 2013-2014 school year, the number of new Special Education certification awards has grown by only 32 to a depressingly low 292 annual certificates. Hardly the type of bumper crop that would even put a dent in the statewide shortage of SpEd teachers.

Add to that stormy picture that the average special education teacher has an astonishingly low career lifespan, with an especially low teacher retention and high attrition rate in comparison to other teaching positions.

It has become an especially ugly cycle. Each year, the surviving special education teachers are tasked with their already overflowing plates to teach the brand new special education staff--often arriving brand new to the teaching profession, let alone to special education, through programs like ABCTE and Teach for America--to teach the new teachers after the diaspora at the end of the previous academic year.

For those schools who were not able to fill the positions, the remaining special education teacher was likely tasked with teaching a paraprofessional how to lead the classroom since a teacher could not be located. All the while, their own caseload and paperwork duties increase exponentially without another teacher to share the weight.

This is in no way intended to disparage our paraprofessionals who work miracles in the classroom each day in the midst of a staffing crisis. However, keep in mind the paraprofessionals cannot complete the bushels of paperwork required for special education students on the teacher's caseload.

The result is that many special education teachers spend far more time typing on a keyboard completing IEP documents and eligibility reports than they should be spending instead of teaching the kiddos who need excellent instruction the most.

And to be fair, this is a national problem. But in a state that is the first to be last in wage compensation to our neighborhood, the added burdens to the resource teachers are simply too much too handle.

It is time the state addresses this problem as the crisis that it is. A starting point in addressing the problem is tasking that fresh data containing average certified special education teacher to special education student ratio from each school and district be placed in the legislators’ hands.

It is past time this issue receives the attention it deserves, both for the benefit of exceptional children and for the teachers working with them.

Levi B Cavner is a special education teacher living in Caldwell, Idaho.
 

The impact of cats

By Grant Sizemore

Domestic cat legislation is probably not the top of most people’s legislative priorities. How much cat legislation could even exist, right?

It turns out that recent years, 2017 included, have seen a flurry of introduced bills pertaining to cats --bills that could drastically affect pet owners and non-pet owners alike. These bills have implications for public health and wildlife conservation that are often overlooked and, if the past is any indication, will soon be debated in a state legislature near you. It’s time to start paying attention.

Some background: The U.S. is currently suffering a cat overpopulation problem. There are simply too many cats for the number of homes that want a pet, and we humans are not always the most responsible guardians even when we do accept these animals into our homes. Too frequently, cats end up lost or abandoned and revert to a feral lifestyle in order to survive. Animal shelters suffer under the weight of high demand for services and too few resources, and the result is a burgeoning population of unowned cats that urgently require attention and effective management.

What few people realize, however, is that these free-roaming cats are a public health risk. Cats are the top source of rabies among domestic animals and, according to a study led by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are disproportionately more likely to expose people to the disease than wildlife. A person is far more likely to attempt to interact with an unknown cat than, say, a skunk. But mention rabies to someone today and they are more likely to think about dogs, despite rabid cats consistently outnumbering rabid dogs by approximately three to one.

The public health risk from cats, however, does not actually rely on a cat scratching or biting anyone. Felines – both domestic and wild – are the critical host for the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. The parasite only sexually reproduces in the feline gut and is then spread into the environment in cat feces. A single cat can excrete hundreds of millions of tiny, infectious eggs called oocysts, which persist in the environment for years and can infect any warm-blooded species that might accidentally ingest or inhale it, including humans.

Most people have only heard of toxoplasmosis if a doctor has advised against a pregnant woman cleaning cat litter. Although pregnant women and their fetuses are certainly at risk, they and the immune-compromised are not the only ones. Research has shown that, in addition to maladies such as blindness, miscarriage, organ failure, and death, the symptoms of infection may also be subtle, including behavioral changes. Free-roaming cats, which are more likely to host and transmit the parasite by defecating in parks, gardens, sandboxes, or other locations frequented by people, unnecessarily increase the risk of human infection with toxoplasmosis.

As efficient and opportunistic predators, the free-roaming cat population also threatens wildlife communities. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species worldwide and are the top source of direct, human-caused mortality to birds in both the United States and Canada. Cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals annually in the United States alone. For many species, this added source of mortality is simply unsustainable and is a contributing factor to the documented declines of over one-third of all migratory bird species in the U.S.

Despite these risks and the abundance of free-roaming cats, many of the bills introduced in recent years would only have added to the problem if passed. Legislative proposals have included exempting certain people from prohibitions against abandoning cats, treating homeless cats with less care and respect than homeless dogs, and commandeering public funding to purposely maintain colonies of feral cats roaming unrestricted outdoors. These bills would do more harm than good and ignore mountains of science, including the warnings of public health and wildlife conservation professionals. Rather than resolve the crisis, such bills only facilitate the problems that already exist without addressing the root issues, resulting in the needless suffering of cats, wildlife, and people.

What do we need instead? Legislation that takes a more focused and evidence-based approach to reduce the numbers of unowned cats and their impacts. To combat the problems caused by the cat overpopulation crisis, we as a society need to acknowledge the value of cats and raise the level of care and responsibility for these domestic animals to the same level now enjoyed by dogs. We do not permit hordes of feral dogs to run amok, and it should be similarly unacceptable for feral cats. Instead, we should encourage responsible pet ownership, including efforts like microchipping, sterilization, vaccinations, and containment, and support animal shelters, especially those whose doors are always open.

For more information on cat legislation based on sound science and public policy protecting human health please see American Bird Conservancy’s model companion animal ordinance.

Grant Sizemore is Director of American Bird Conservancy’s Invasive Species Program.
 

What not to do

This is a guest opinion by Levi Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org.

One can’t blame the Albertson Foundation for wanting to avoid an appearance that it continues meddling in public affairs. After spending years in an effort meant to undermine public schools, most Idahoans have little trust left in Albertson’s intentions.

But Albertson’s intentions have not changed. They continue to belittle public schools (recall an advertisement in which a public school bus literally abandoned students in the middle of the desert) in an effort to promote charter schools.

However, Albertson has apparently realized Idahoans growing negative attitude toward the group. To combat this, Albertson finances a troop of secondary organizations to implement their agenda without putting their own name in the middle of it: Idaho Charter School Network, Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, BLUUM, and others are all entities funded and working in an effort with Albertson to achieve this goal.

I’m not being hyperbolic. BLUUM’s tax returns, for example, literally state that, “BLUUM assists the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation where to make education investments that will result in higher performing seats in Idaho.”

Albertson was reminded the hard way of the public’s lack of faith in the group when their offer to fund a study revamping Idaho’s education spending formula was rebuffed. The apparent conflict of interest was even too much for Idaho’s legislature to ignore. They declined Albertson’s offer and have been working without the interference of Albertson for the past two years.

Or so it seemed. The reality is that dispatched one of its entities, BLUUM, to work behind the scenes.

In fact, as reported by IdahoEdNews, BLUUM even offered simulation software to the committee during the same meeting this year in which the legislators listened to Marguerette Rosa of the “Edunomics Lab” pitch a charter-friendly enrollment based funding model that it just so happens BLUUM is lobbying Idaho to adopt.

BLUUM’s CEO, Terry Ryan, hails from Ohio. During his tenure there, Ryan worked with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to promote charter-friendly laws in the Buckeye State. It worked. Perhaps too well.

The rampant corruption and ineptitude of Ohio’s charter schools have become the national template of “what not to do” in the school choice movement. The loose regulation and mismanagement of school choice in the Buckeye State is so blatantly obvious that Ohio Senator Sharrod Brown declared “Ohio’s charter school system has become a disgrace on our state that is denying too many students a quality education, and defrauding taxpayers.”

A large portion of this problem is the enrollment based funding that is now being peddled in Idaho’s statehouse. In Ohio, enrollment based funding resulted in thousands of so called “ghost students” who are enrolled in charter schools, but never actually attended. Unlike the current model of average daily attendance, in an enrollment based model the school continues to collect money for every student on the roster regardless of attendance.

In Ohio, the result is millions of tax dollars spent on fraud. In fact, in June of this year the Ohio Board of Education voted to force a single online charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), to repay an astonishing 60 million dollars for enrolling fake ghost students.

And that is precisely the type of funding model that our legislature is being pitched to adopt. Behind the smoke in mirrors is reality: A group funded by Albertson continues to have an outsize influence at the Capitol Building, and that influence may very well result in Ohio’s current state of affairs coming soon to an Idaho charter school near you.