A Happy(ish) Mississippi Story

Getting to Graduation: Mississippi’s Statewide Push to Keep Kids in School

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Coahoma County, Miss.— A few months back, DeAngelo Bryant, a 19-year-old senior at Coahoma Agricultural High School, was in danger of not graduating. He had failed the state subject-area test in U.S. History, which is required for graduation. And he wasn’t entirely clear on the point of getting a diploma. Most of the people he grew up with in Jonestown, a small outpost outside Clarksdale, don’t have high school degrees. Even the ones with diplomas usually can’t find good jobs.

But a series of events recently changed Bryant’s outlook.

One afternoon during football practice this fall, he noticed some men working near the field. They were welding, a teammate told him. Bryant watched the men at work and was intrigued. A few weeks later he told Angela Jones, an administrator at the high school, that he wanted to become a welder.

Jones recognized Bryant’s interest as an opportunity to explain what can be a foreign concept in this poor region with scant job opportunities: School can actually lead to well-paying work.

“I told him it’s a very lucrative field,” said Jones, who showed Bryant a path that began with graduating from high school and ended with a stable career in welding. “I told him to get his certificate so he could become a journeyman and move on and make the top dollar with the union.”

Bryant, who is already a father and has seen his parents struggle to support 10 children, took note—especially when Jones explained that the certificate could help him land a job that pays $25 an hour.

Jones also made sure that Bryant had multiple opportunities to score well on his ACT test, which, due to recent changes in graduation requirements, improved his chances of getting a diploma.

read more here

Still Segregated After 50 Years

Cleveland High School was founded in 1906 exclusively for whites. Today, it has an almost even mix of black and white students. (Sharon Lerner)

CLEVELAND, Miss.—The wheels of justice have been said to turn slowly. Andfew things move quickly here in Cleveland, Mississippi, a town of 12,000 people with no movie theater and a quaint commercial district that’s shuttered on Sunday. But when a deadline on a school desegregation suit—originally filed in 1965—came and went last month with opposing sides still unable to agree on a resolution, some locals admitted frustration.

“If you fight for something for 50-some-odd years and it don’t work out? Good gravy, that’s a long time,” said Leroy Byars, 67, who is known around town simply as “Coach.” Coach led East Side High School’s football team, the Trojans, from 1972 to 1987 and served as the school’s principal from 1988 to 1997. Back then, East Side High was all black—as it had been back when it was called Cleveland Colored Consolidated High and officially served only black students.

read more at The Atlantic

A Sad and Complicated Story…

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I wish I could say that this story wraps up neatly. But, unfortunately, cancer cluster investigations rarely do..


After a Florida Cancer Cluster…

A pixielike girl with big blue eyes and long brown hair, Hannah Samarripa began experiencing headaches and fatigue in the middle of eighth grade. By the time the spring dance rolled around, Hannah didn’t have the strength to paint her own toenails. Her mother, Becky Samarripa, did it for her, and then drove Hannah to school and waited outside, knowing she’d be able to put in only a brief appearance. The teenager’s mysterious decline continued on to limping, vomiting, incontinence and—perhaps her most disturbing symptom—occasional fits of barking laughter that sounded so strange and demonic, her father wondered whether she was on drugs. Then, in the summer before ninth grade, while her family was visiting a Civil War memorial on the coast of Alabama, Hannah collapsed.

Still, it was a full six months later, when a doctor spotted her brain tumor during an eye exam—literally seeing the growth through the lens of Hannah’s eye—that the 14-year-old got the diagnosis and then the surgery that saved her life.

When Hannah got sick in 2007, her mother had no idea that, just a few blocks away in the Acreage—their lush South Florida community—other children had also suffered through the same awful symptoms. Had she known about Jessica Newfield, who was close to her daughter’s age and had been ill for many months before being diagnosed; Joey Baratta, who developed two tumors before dying at age 20; or little Jenna McCann, who got sick at age 3, perhaps she’d have gotten Hannah’s tumor diagnosed sooner.

read more at The Nation

Is Paid Family Leave Bad for Business?

Paid family leave, which tops the agenda of next Monday’s White House Summit on Working Families, is a good idea whose time has come — and gone. And come. And gone.

Efforts to pass paid maternity leave in the United States stretch back to at least 1919. In the intervening years, as most other countries have guaranteed income for new mothers taking time off and many have also covered new fathers and those caring for seriously ill family members, we’ve learned much about the specific ways paid leave helps babies, parents and entire families.

So why don’t we have a law requiring paid leave yet? At virtually every juncture, its benefits have been overshadowed by a single powerful argument: that paid leave is bad for business.

But is it? As a journalist and researcher, I set about trying to answer that question over the past year.

…read more here


The Case for Universal Pre-K

Imagine: What if the country could agree on a way to address the huge unmet needs of young children? What if our solution marked a shift in national priorities, directing substantial money toward high-quality child care and early learning? And what if—and here’s the part that strains credulity—Congress approved such a plan?

Well, it already happened. In 1971, back when All in the Family was hitting the airwaves and Muhammad Ali was battling charges of draft dodging, the House and the Senate passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act. Although it was named for its child-care component, the legislation would have created a nationwide system for providing education to young children and was the product of years of debate and planning among child-development experts, women’s rights groups, and the business community. But President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill, giving a speech (written by Patrick Buchanan) that warned about the dangers that “communal child–rearing” posed to the traditional family. His goal, he explained, was to “enhance rather than diminish both parental authority and parental involvement with children.”

Until recently, the federal government has made no effort to address young children’s needs that rivals the breadth and ambition of the 1971 legislation. Though incremental improvements over the intervening decades have been made, resources for young children have remained scarce. Nationally, less than 1 percent of public investments in education and development are spent on children ages four and younger, which, internationally, makes us an outlier. The U.S. ranks 24th of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries in terms of per-child spending on early childhood education.

Read more…


The New Push for Paid Family Leave

Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Family Act, a bill that would grant every employee in the country access to up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. It’s a move that’s been long in coming. Really long.

For the past 20 years, workers who have needed time off to care for a seriously ill family member or a new baby have had to rely on the Family and Medical Leave Act. With its 12 weeks of job-protected leave, the FMLA has helped people hang on to their jobs while dealing with the exigencies of life in more than 100 million instances. But, about 40 percent of workers aren’t covered by the law. And, because its leave is unpaid, countless workers have qualified for time off but been unable to afford to take it.

The FAMILY act, which would provide workers with two-thirds of their salary up to a cap for as much as 12 weeks, solves those problems. Polls show high levels of bipartisan support for the idea. And recent evidence from California, which has the oldest of three state paid leave programs, shows having a family leave insurance fund can financially stabilize workers, save businesses the expense of providing their own benefits, and even increase fathers’ participation in the care of their babies.

Still, if the history of pushing for paid maternity leave is any guide, today marks the first day of what will likely be a long and ugly battle. Advocates first started pushing for paid time off for new mothers back in 1919, when the Model T was switching from a crank to an electric starter. Back then, Germany and France had paid-leave laws that had been in place for decades, and the U.S. government came close to signing on to an international agreement that said women workers should receive cash benefits in addition to job-protected leave for 12 weeks in the period surrounding childbirth.

read more…

(I Wish They All Could Be) California Dads…

Many mornings this year Matt Nuttall and his friend Ryan Faulkner met up in one of several neighborhood parks located between their houses in Pleasant Hill, California. While they changed diapers, dispensed snacks, and made sure their little ones didn’t fall off the playground equipment, the dads “talked to each other in adult,” as Nuttall puts it. Before too long, their children would begin to fade, and they’d head back to their respective houses to prepare lunch and oversee afternoon naps.

“We didn’t do much, just sat around and kept the kids and ourselves from going crazy,” says Nuttall, who teaches ninth- and tenth-grade English at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco. After his wife returned to her job, Nuttall took 12 weeks off from his. For half of that time, he received $945 a week through California’s Paid Family Leave program. The program, which has been in existence since 2004, offers workers up to six weeks off with maximum pay of $1,067 a week to care for a new baby or sick relative.

For Nuttall, the decision to take paid paternity leave, which is funded by deductions from employees’ pay, was a no-brainer. “This is money that comes out of my check every month,” he says. “Not to take advantage of something I’d been paying into the whole time would be foolish.”

While at least 81 countries provide paid paternity leave and all but a handful provide paid maternity leave, the United States has yet to enact any national paid leave. As a result, only about 1 in 20 fathers nationwide takes more than two weeks off after the birth of a child, and only 1 in 100 takes more than four weeks off. But in California, one of three states that has paid family- and medical-leave laws, the percentage of dads taking at least some time off to care for their children is on the rise. (The other two states are New Jersey, where the program is four years old, and Rhode Island, where the law goes into effect next year.)

Read more at The Prospect

What Happened To Christine Quinn’s Lead?

With Christine Quinn limping toward primary day, the question for many poll watchers is why more women haven’t supported her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the New York City mayoral race. Though she’s the only woman running, and stands to be both New York City’s first female mayor and its first openly gay one, Quinn is coming in third among women. Only 19 percent of women likely to vote in the Democratic primary Tuesday support Quinn, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll—the last before tomorrow’s election. Forty percent of women are behind public advocate Bill De Blasio, and 22 percent back former comptroller Bill Thompson. The latest poll from Public Policy Polling has Quinn’s chances looking even longer; she snags only 12 percent of women voters, and only 13 percent of voters overall.

Women seem to split into two main camps when it comes to Quinn. In the first, made up of her stalwart proponents, the fact of her being female is essential. These women think Quinn is more likely to tend to the causes they care about. This camp also sees her election as breaking an important symbolic barrier. Gloria Steinem may have painted this group’s unifying vision in her endorsement of a Quinn mayoralty: “Imagine how much it would mean to girls and young women.”

In the other camp, any allegiance to female candidates is trumped by policy differences. Or, as Susan Sarandon recently put it when she was endorsing now frontrunner Bill de Blasio: you can’t “just vote your vagina.” In a very progressive city, that’s meant the leftier-seeming de Blasio has edged out the Bloomberg protégé who, despite being an out lesbian, comes across as the establishment candidate.

read more at The Prospect

Rhode Island’s Big Victory

When Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby.

Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out.

Workers will be able to use the time to care for a broad range of people, including children, spouses, domestic partners, parents, parent-in-laws, grandparents, and foster children. And, though the maximum single leave is four weeks, each parent can take four weeks off to bond with a new baby. A mother recovering from birth could combine that with an additional six weeks paid through an existing state program, bringing her total paid time off to ten weeks. An entire family with a new baby could have 14 weeks off paid.

Coming just two years after the bill was first introduced, Rhode Island’s quick victory can help us understand why progress in the rest of the country has been so slow—and why it might be picking up.

In the United States, such paid leave is a huge leap forward. But, globally speaking, it’s more of a baby step. Many rich countries, including Canada, Australia, and most of Europe, have long granted their workers paid time off to care for sick relatives. And virtually every country in the world, rich or poor, provides paid time off to care for a new baby—if not for both parents, then at least for mothers. Most provide more than six months of paid maternity leave. More than a dozen countries grant new fathers as well as new mothers more than a year off with pay. READ MORE AT THE PROSPECT


Teachers Left Behind

As budgets are cut and standards raised, new evidence that teachers are growing disenchanted with their profession

athleen Knauth has had a rough school year. The principal of Hillview Elementary, near Buffalo, New York, has spent so much time typing teacher evaluations, entering data, and preparing for standardized testing, she barely had a minute to do what she used to do in her first 12 years of being a principal—drop in on classes, address parents’ concerns, or get to know students. When a school social worker stopped by her office a few months back to get Knauth’s take on which children might need her help, she realized she had hit a new low.

“Normally I’d say, ‘This one’s grandma is seriously ill. This child is going through a huge custody battle. This one has clothes that are too small. I could reel off six to eight things,” says Knauth. “But this year, I had nothing.”

Two weeks ago, after she was asked to raise the standards her students would be expected to meet for a fifth time this year, Knauth decided to resign and sent a public letter explaining that the educational reforms she’s been asked to implement are at odds with what’s important for kids.

Knauth is not the only one finding it tough to work in a public school these days—or, for that matter, detonating explosive public-resignation letters that only people with no hope of working in the public-school system again would send. (See, among others, the beautiful and heartbreaking retirement announcement sent by Syracuse social studies teacher Gerald Conti and the angrier but equally heartbreaking farewell sent by North Carolina math teacher Kris L. Nielson.)

read more at The American Prospect


The War on Moms

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